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No matter who you are, whether newbie or veteran, your Windows system will eventually run into problems that aren’t so easy to diagnose. (It happens on other operating systems too Why Isn't Linux Mainstream? 5 Flaws That Need Fixing Why Isn't Linux Mainstream? 5 Flaws That Need Fixing Linux market share crossed the 5% mark in late 2010, and sat there for about five years, spiking at 5.9% in June 2015 before settling back down. So why has it failed to grow? What... Read More .) When that happens, what will you do?

You could hire somebody to troubleshoot the problem for you, but that should be a last resort. There’s no need to pay someone when you can easily figure out the problem on your own using tools you can download for free.

If you STILL can’t fix the issue, then sure, bring in the cavalry. But we recommend giving these tools a try first. You might be surprised by how much you can solve with these alone.

System Diagnostics

Hardware problems can be a huge pain in the neck on Windows. They tend to occur most often when you’re using an older version of the operating system (Vista, 7, or 8) or a cutting edge version (the Windows Insider program Be the First to Test New Windows 10 Builds as Windows Insider Be the First to Test New Windows 10 Builds as Windows Insider Windows Insiders are the first to test new Windows 10 builds. They are also the first to suffer from bugs. Here we show you how to join or leave the program and how to share... Read More ).

But sometimes you just want to know which hardware you’re using. These are the tools you should absolutely know how to use for any of these use cases.

1. CPU-Z

CPU-Z is a nifty little program that scans your system for its internal hardware configuration. It’s indispensable if you ever want to upgrade your PC parts Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most? Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most? If you need a faster computer but aren't sure which component would be most beneficial to upgrade, then here are the guidelines you should follow. Read More and want to avoid incompatibility issues.

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But it’s also good for when you forget which components you have installed, especially if you built your own PC Is It Still Cheaper to Build Your Own PC? Is It Still Cheaper to Build Your Own PC? How much does it cost to build your own PC these days? Compared to pre-built models, are the savings worth the effort? We investigate. Read More , as well as for verifying the components when buying a used PC from someone you may not trust.

2. Performance Monitor

As in older versions of the operating system, Windows 10 has a Performance Monitor, except now it exists as an app. Once launched, look at the sidebar. Under Monitoring Tools, you should see Performance Monitor.

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By default, the Monitor only shows “% Processor Time” which displays how much of your CPU is used at any given time, but you can add more Counters such as disk usage, energy used, paging file size, search index size, and more.

3. Reliability Monitor

The Reliability Monitor is a hidden tool that’s been around since Windows Vista, yet so many people have never even heard of it. It’s in the Control Panel under System & Security > Security & Maintenance > Maintenance > View reliability history.

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Here you’ll see a history of your system and a timeline of events and errors that occurred during a given time period. The blue line is an estimate from 1 to 10 of how stable your system is over time.

If something is crashing a lot, this is a good place to look because you can select the error and Check for a solution.

Network Diagnostics

Whether you’re using Wi-Fi or Ethernet Wi-Fi vs Ethernet: Which Should You Use and Why? Wi-Fi vs Ethernet: Which Should You Use and Why? The world is going wireless. Does that mean it's all over for Ethernet? Read More , there’s a good chance you’re going to run into network problems. It’s one of the most common problems to have these days. That’s why you need these tools.

4. WiFi Analyzer

WiFi Analyzer is a free tool that does exactly what its name says: it analyzes your Wi-Fi network’s setup to see whether your wireless channel is interfering with other nearby Wi-Fi networks 4 Reasons Why Your Wi-Fi Is So Slow (And How to Fix Them) 4 Reasons Why Your Wi-Fi Is So Slow (And How to Fix Them) When you rely on Wi-Fi, speed issues can hurt -- and Wi-Fi speed issues aren't always easy to diagnose. Here are some things you ought to check. Read More .

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Once analyzed, it will recommend a channel setting for you. It’s not perfect, especially in crowded apartments and dense cities, but in some cases it can boost your Wi-Fi speed by up to 5x How to Boost Your Wi-Fi Speed Up to 5x With One Quick Fix How to Boost Your Wi-Fi Speed Up to 5x With One Quick Fix If you're having trouble with your Wi-Fi speed, there's one quick fix that only takes a minute but could significantly boost performance. You should try it ASAP! Read More . It’s worth trying.

5. Angry IP Scanner

Angry IP Scanner is a nice tool to have. In a nutshell, it scans your network to see which IP addresses and ports are being used by which devices.

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You can use it at home to see how many devices are connected to your network (to check if anyone is mooching off of your Internet) or to find the IP address of a specific device (such as your smartphone).

Data Drive Diagnostics

6. CrystalDiskInfo

Ever wondered if your hard disk drive or solid state drive was in good condition? It’s not easy to find out, especially with newer SSDs that can die before you even realize something’s wrong 5 Warning Signs That Your SSD Is About to Break Down & Fail 5 Warning Signs That Your SSD Is About to Break Down & Fail Worried that your SSD will malfunction and break down and take all of your data with it? These are the warning signs to look out for. Read More .

Well, that’s where CrystalDiskInfo comes into play.

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This simple program gives you a complete overview of the state of your data drives, including HDDs, SSDs, and USB drives. Details include temperature, spin-up time, uptime, error rates, and more. It also calculates an overall Health Status.

Note that it has a sister program called CrystalDiskMark, which you can use to benchmark your data drives (i.e. see how fast they can read and write data).

7. WinDirStat

WinDirStat is a must-have application as far as I’m concerned. I’ve used it regularly for many years now and it has never disappointed me. It stands for Windows Directory Statistics and it does exactly what it says.

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In short, it scans your data drives and tells you how much space is used up by various folders and files, all displayed in a neat tree-based hierarchy and a detailed graph view.

Not only is WinDirStat perfect for visualizing where your data is stored Need A Disk Cleanup? Visualize What Takes Up Space On Your Windows PC Need A Disk Cleanup? Visualize What Takes Up Space On Your Windows PC Oh the pressure when you run out of disk space. What to delete? The fastest way to locate junk files is to use a tool that helps you visualize your system's file structure. Read More , it’s also fantastic for cleaning up lost and stray data files 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer Clutter can be a big downer on productivity. Over time, files get lost, programs go unused, and suddenly, your once spacious hard drive is packed with useless things and you have to clean it up.... Read More .

Memory Diagnostics

RAM problems are another common issue for computers at home. (Learn more about RAM here A Quick & Dirty Guide to RAM: What You Need to Know A Quick & Dirty Guide to RAM: What You Need to Know RAM is a crucial component of every computer, but it can be confusing to understand if you aren't a tech guru. In this post, we break it down in easy-to-grasp terms. Read More .) These days, it’s way too easy to run out of physical RAM, which can lead to system slowdowns and even crashes. Fortunately, diagnoses are usually straightforward.

8. Resource Monitor

Windows has a feature called the Resource Monitor, which was implemented back in Vista. Traditionally, you’d have to launch it through the Task Manager 10 Windows Task Manager Tricks You Didn't Know 10 Windows Task Manager Tricks You Didn't Know If the only time you open the Task Manager is when an application is frozen and needs to be killed, you're overlooking some of its more powerful features. Read More , but it’s now a separate app in Windows 10 that you can launch through the Start Menu.

windows-diagnostic-resource-monitor

The Resource Monitor is an advanced way to view real-time data about your system and is usually used in conjunction with the Performance Monitor. However, I mainly use it for viewing process details and memory usage.

Indeed, it’s one of the easiest ways to troubleshoot RAM problems How to Troubleshoot Low RAM or Memory Leaks in Windows How to Troubleshoot Low RAM or Memory Leaks in Windows Do you have 4 or more GB of RAM and does your computer still feel sluggish? You may suffer from a memory leak or shortage. We show you how to troubleshoot all your Windows (10)... Read More . We recommend checking our overview of the Resource Monitor Taking A Closer Look At Windows Resource Monitor Taking A Closer Look At Windows Resource Monitor Read More for a crash course on how to use it properly.

9. Windows Memory Diagnostic

Did you know Windows actually has a built-in tool that can physically test your RAM modules 5 Vital System Tools Every Windows User Should Know About 5 Vital System Tools Every Windows User Should Know About Not sure why your computer keeps crashing? If you've been afraid to poke around your system and figure out how to maintain it, don't fear: it's simpler than you think. There are plenty of articles... Read More to check if they’re free of errors? It’s an app called the Windows Memory Diagnostic.

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Using it will restart your computer. On boot up, the tool will run several tests on your RAM, and if it encounters any errors or failures, it will do its best to let you know which module is the culprit. You should replace that module ASAP.

Screen Diagnostics

10. JScreenFix

Look carefully at your screen. Do you see any spots that aren’t caused by flecks of dust? If so, you may have a stuck pixel 5 Ways To Fix A Stuck Pixel On Your Screen 5 Ways To Fix A Stuck Pixel On Your Screen Read More , which is a pixel that’s stuck on a certain color. These can be super annoying.

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JScreenFix is a web tool that can help. All it does is flash the area of the screen with the stuck pixel with hundreds of different colors every second. This should unstick the pixel after about ten minutes.

Does it always work? No. Sometimes a stuck pixel will be stuck forever due to a physical defect in the screen. But JScreenFix has a success rate over 60%, so give it a try if you have a stuck pixel of your own.

Malware Diagnostics

11. AdwCleaner

Not many people know about AdwCleaner, which is a shame because it’s fantastic and deserves more recognition. It’s just a simple malware scanner, but it’s fast, efficient, and free, which is all anyone can ask for.

windows-diagnostic-adwcleaner

It’s mainly designed to target malware that comes bundled with installer files, so it detects adware, toolbars, unwanted programs, browser hijackers, etc. Scan results are sorted as services, files, DLLs, scheduled tasks, registry entries, and more.

12. MalwareBytes

MalwareBytes has been king of the malware scanners for many years now. Most people have heard of it at least once, but if you haven’t, know that a lot of folks consider this a must-have application on every computer.

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Unfortunately, it lost a bit of its sheen when it split into Free and Premium versions. The Free version is still great, of course, and it’s enough for most home users, but it now costs $25 per year for the advanced features.

13. ClamWin

ClamWin may look primitive, but don’t let that fool you. It’s one of the best free virus scanners Make Sure You're Clean With These Free One-Time Scan Antivirus Tools [Windows] Make Sure You're Clean With These Free One-Time Scan Antivirus Tools [Windows] It sucks to be constantly bombarded by computer-related threats, whether they’re spyware, malware, viruses, keyloggers, or whatever else. A popular way to combat this problem is to install an antivirus solution that sits in the... Read More currently available. The scans can take a while but it detects pretty much everything so the trade-off is worth it.

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Why use ClamWin? Because it’s open source How to Find Open Source Software for Windows How to Find Open Source Software for Windows Are you concerned about privacy, data security, or malicious code hidden in your software? With proprietary software, you just never really know what the program is doing with your data. Open source is the answer! Read More , unlike the above-mentioned alternatives, and this is important if you want to verify that a program is doing what it claims to be doing — especially if that program is a security application. You can never be too careful.

How Healthy Is Your PC?

We hope you’ll find these tools useful. Will you need ALL of them? No, probably not. Just pick the ones that seem valuable to you and forget the rest, at least for now.

You can always bookmark this page and refer back to it if you ever stumble into an issue that you’ve never seen before. Just remember to reboot before troubleshooting Why Does Rebooting Your Computer Fix So Many Issues? Why Does Rebooting Your Computer Fix So Many Issues? "Have you tried rebooting?" It's technical advice that gets thrown around a lot, but there's a reason: it works. Not just for PCs, but a wide range of devices. We explain why. Read More .

Got any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below. If there are any other diagnostic tools that you think are worth mentioning, please share them with us! Thanks.

Image Credit: Stethoscope by La Gorda via Shutterstock

  1. Ben
    October 12, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Any comments about System Mechanic?

  2. eugene percy
    August 11, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    clamwin is a horrible anti malware program lmao

  3. Jason
    June 22, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    I was immediately turned off by CPU-Z. I ran it on a netbook and right off the bat it misreported the CPU speed (it claimed 2.1 GHz) and the type of memory (claimed ddr2-800 when it was actually 533) -- I know in this case it's minor, but if it can't get those two specs right, how can I trust any of the benchmarks?

    I've used SiSoft Sandra in the past with some success. The later versions have a lot of unnecessary bloat, but it's still good on giving you specs and comparisons to other machine benchmarks so you can do a shopping comparison.

    • Joel Lee
      June 24, 2016 at 1:57 am

      Oh really? That's strange. I've never had an issue with CPU-Z before, then again I've only had a handful of devices in my life so I'm not necessarily a big sample size. I'll try out SiSoft Sandra, thanks for the recommendation Jason.

  4. Shikhanshu Agarwal
    June 22, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Very useful list. Bookmarked.

    • Joel Lee
      June 24, 2016 at 1:56 am

      Thanks Shikhanshu! So glad you found it useful. :)

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