10 Free Windows Troubleshooting Tools

Category: Windows

A computer operating system is a complex beast. If things go wrong with Windows, it can be difficult to track down the source of the glitch. But you can put away the screwdriver, sledgehammer (and chainsaw!) because there are plenty of free troubleshooters you can use to fix most problems. Read on for my recommended list of free Windows problem solvers...

Fixing Windows Problems and Annoyances

What's keeping you from opening or deleting a file or folder? Why do certain programs start automatically when you don't want them to? Why can't you install or uninstall a program? Why doesn't my sound or printer work? Why does an app just sit there, apparently doing nothing, while the activity light of your hard drive flashes busily? These are just a few of the annoyances that can drive you crazy.

Windows has some built-in tools, such as Task Manager, to assist in troubleshooting. There are also built-in troubleshooters you can use. On a Windows 7/8/10 or 11 system, just click the Windows button on the lower left, type "troubleshooting" and press Enter to access all the troubleshooting tools in one place. If Windows shows “No recommended troubleshooters” click the “Additional troubleshooters” link. You’ll find specific troubleshooters to find and fix problems with internet connections, playing audio, printing, Bluetooth connections, keyboard settings, network issues, battery life, speech-to-text, video playback, and a few others.

Windows Troubleshooting

But many advanced users turn to other free Windows troubleshooting tools that provide much more information about potential causes of problems and options for solving them.

Sysinternals Process Explorer has been described as "Task Manager on steroids." It displays a tree-view of running processes, organized by which process spawned which other(s). You can sort the display in other ways, too. Process Explorer shows a lot more details about processes than Task Manager and lets you do more than just kill a single process. Processes, or whole trees of them, can be killed, frozen, or resumed. You can also find the process controlling a given window by pointing at it, or search for any running process, handle, or DLL.

Microsoft's Resource Monitor is built into Windows 7, 8, 10 and 11 . It charts the way resources are used in your system, helping you pinpoint exactly what is gobbling up CPU cycles, RAM, or disk space. Click Start, then Run, then enter resmon.exe to start Resource Monitor. You may be prompted for an administrator password.

Autoruns is another Sysinternals tool. It displays all of the programs that are loaded when Windows starts up, from apps in your Startup folder to scheduled tasks, services, device drivers, Sidebar gadgets, and codecs. Autoruns can show you startup items that you may not need to have running all the time, consuming system resources.

Unlocker is a handy solution to the "file in use by another program" annoyance. Just right-click on the stubborn file, choose Unlocker, and you can see what program has a lock on the file. Then you can end the offending process, make a copy or the file, or just release the lock that the process has on the file. Unlocker is free, but the author requests a small optional donation. Scroll down and look for the “Download Now” link.

Speccy and Belarc Advisor are two additional tools you may find useful. These program will give you detailed information on all your computer's hardware components and installed software. You can read more about them in my article Should You X-Ray Your Computer?.

TestDisk – If your hard drive appears to be mangled, don't give up hope before trying TestDisk. This powerful portable utility can recover lost hard drive partitions, and fix problems with drives that won't boot up. TestDisk will analyze your disk, partitions, boot sector, and can help you recover deleted files, and even rebuild scrambled file systems.

Reset Button? – For badly borked systems, you may be tempted to just hit a big red Reset Button and start from scratch. It's possible to restore your computer to that shiny just-out-of-the-box condition, but I recommend caution. See my article Time For The Windows RESET Button? for details on that process.

Some of these free Windows troubleshooting tools are created by and for programmers and other tech-savvy users. But if you take a little time to learn about them and proceed carefully, you can learn a lot about your system and solve some nagging problems. I do recommend that you make a system restore point before making any changes, so you can use System Restore to undo any accidental damage.

Do you have a favorite Windows troubleshooter? Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "10 Free Windows Troubleshooting Tools"

Posted by:

Mike B
01 Mar 2024

When I go to the "Unlocker" link, it seems to be only available via a donation - the other download links are all broken.

Posted by:

Ryan James
01 Mar 2024

When I tried your link for unlocker, I first had a "suspicious" alert by Bitdefender. I clicked continue anyway and then received an error page.
I Googled unlocker and found this "Unlocker is a free file management software that helps you unlock and delete files that your Windows device refuses to remove. It's also useful in killing different error messages ..."
Mike B may want to try again.

Posted by:

Ryan James
01 Mar 2024

I am amending my above comment. I tried downloading Unlocker through FileHippo and received another security warning. I then tried Major Geeks and was able to download the free version. When you go to install it, you must include the Delta Bar for either options.
I am not doing that.

Posted by:

01 Mar 2024

"...end the offending process, make a copy or the file, or just release..."

Probably should be "...end the offending process, make a copy of the file, or just release..."

Posted by:

02 Mar 2024

I recently reported that MS is giving Win8.1pro like me free Defender since last July. The Update on 23rd February crashed my screen resolution.

Cannot get MS to reply - can anyone give me a repair please excluding Graphic Card replacement?

The rumours that Win7 onwards ARE receiving Defender and then being sabotaged just to get us to chage to Win11 appear well founded.

Posted by:

Bogarts Falcon
04 Mar 2024

There is a link on Major Geeks to download the portable version of Unlocker. That version does not have the Delta Bar.

Posted by:

06 Mar 2024

Side note regarding Win 7 and 8 and BaliRob comment:

I now use Win 10 and keep promising/threatening to switch to Linux to escape the MS tar pit. (Can I have an Amen?) My question is how can anyone still be using Win 7 or 8, which now don't have security updates? We were warned of the pitfalls of not upgrading to 10 and 11. I would still be using Win 7 if not coerced into switching. Is the danger of not upgrading just a MS ruse to get people to buy a new computer because the X.X next Win iteration is so insanely complicated that new hardware is required?

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