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Troubleshooting and repairing Windows 10


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Windows 10 has been in wide release for only a few months so far, and as with any version 1.0 release some early adopters are experiencing issues. Here's Ed Bott's guide to some time-tested troubleshooting tools and techniques.

By Ed Bott for The Ed Bott Report | September 16, 2015 -- 13:43 GMT (06:43 PDT)

How has your Windows 10 upgrade experience been so far?

With at least 75 million users (a number that has probably grown by another 10 million or so in the last two weeks), everything I hear from inside Microsoft is that the telemetry, the user data that indicates problems that need looking into, looks very good.

But with a population that large, even a small percentage of problems represents a very large number. Two of my ZDNet colleagues have already written about their frustrations with Windows 10, after a month or two of use.

As part of the research for my new book Windows 10 Inside Out (coming out this fall), I've spent a lot of time on official and unofficial support forums. I have also received a fair number of reader emails and have gone through some remote troubleshooting with a handful of readers.

Your Windows 10 troubleshooting and repair... SEE FULL GALLERY

My impression, based on 25 years of Windows troubleshooting experience, is that this release of Windows is above average in terms of reliability. But it's far from perfect, and Microsoft still has work to do to fix bugs and resolve some pesky issues. That's typical for any version 1.0 release (just ask Mac users who struggled through the Yosemite upgrade a year ago and are dreading the release of El Capitan at the end of this month.)

If you'd prefer not to deal with these teething issues, you can and probably should wait a few months. The early adopters who are contributing their problem reports automatically today will make it possible for you to have fewer problems of your own thanks to updates that will be delivered between now and then.

In this post, I want to share the tools and techniques I use for troubleshooting problems with Windows 10. I've used these tactics with desktop PCs, notebooks, hybrids, and tablets, and in most cases they've allowed me to find and fix the underlying problem.

(I've also put together a visual guide to Windows 10's built-in troubleshooting tools. See "Your Windows 10 troubleshooting and repair toolkit.")

Most of what's in this list is time-tested stuff, using tools that been evolving since the early days of Windows. There are some very cool new tools in Windows 10, though, which are worth finding.

Occasionally, the return on your troubleshooting investment simply isn't worth it. Rather than spend hours trying to track down some weird bug or software interaction, I use Windows 10's Reset option to perform the equivalent of a clean install. The process is quick and extremely robust, and the results allow you to get back to work much faster than the old-school "clean install from a Windows DVD" option.

If you're having problems, I recommend that you stay well clear of what I call "snake oil" solutions: registry cleaners and so-called performance optimizers that promise to work magic but usually cause more problems than they solve.

Common problems
I'm assuming you've managed to upgrade and activate Windows 10 properly. Having cleared those hurdles, here are the most common problems people are likely to experience.
  • Nonresponsive shell. Windows 10 has a completely different shell than prior versions. The Explorer.exe process is still at its core, but there are a few additional components as well that make the "modern experience" possible. If you click the Start button and nothing happens, or if the entire taskbar refuses to respond to interaction, open Task Manager (press Ctrl+Shift+Escape), find Windows Explorer in the task list, and click the Restart button.

  • Performance issues There's nothing more frustrating than weird, unexplained slowdowns and hangs. For those times, use Task Manager's Performance tab and Resource Monitor to figure out which process is causing problems. In the first few hours or days after upgrading, it's normal to see some background activity caused by indexing and backup.
  • Microsoft Edge Microsoft's new browser is a work in progress. It's still missing a few features (support for extensions, for example, is currently missing but is due before the end of the year), and there are some sites (I'm looking at you, Huffington Post) that can bring it to its knees. If Edge doesn't work well on the sites you use most often, replace it with a different default browser.
  • OneDrive issues The current version of the OneDrive sync utility is a stopgap. It's missing the "placeholder" features introduced in Windows 8.1, and it doesn't support OneDrive for Business. Microsoft is working on a new universal sync client that should be available as a preview in the next few weeks and will be ready for release before the end of the year.
  • Store issues In the first two months, I've heard multiple complaints from people unable to access apps in the Windows Store. Reportedly, some of those issues were on Microsoft's end and have been fixed by updates. Common issues include apps that refuse to update properly, even though they appear in the Downloads and Updates section of the Store. You might be able to fix some problems with the Wsreset command, which (as you might guess from the name) resets the Windows Store. For persistent problems, a full Windows reset might be necessary.
  • Issues with individual apps The same class of problems that can cause issues with the Store can also plague the new Universal Windows apps themselves. This sort of problem can manifest itself with apps that refuse to open or that crash with no explanation shortly after opening. I am hearing fewer reports of this type of issue lately, perhaps because of updates that fixed the underlying problem. For third-party apps, uninstalling and reinstalling the app sometimes works. For more global problems, a full Windows Reset might be necessary
Some global fixes are worth mentioning here as well.

Even for brand-new hardware, it's worth checking for BIOS and firmware updates. I just put a brand new Dell desktop into service, upgrading it from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. I was surprised to find that this new system was using version A03 of the BIOS, which was more than two years old. The most recent BIOS release, A11, was released on July 31 of this year and is specifically recommended for Windows 10.

Ideally, that's a check you want to make before upgrading.

Another troubleshooting step that's often worth the extra effort is to create a new user account expressly for troubleshooting purposes. If a Windows feature or an app is acting up under your existing account and it runs properly under the new account, you know that the problem is in that account profile, which means a full reset isn't necessary.

If basic troubleshooting doesn't work, I strongly recommend the Reset option, which does the equivalent of a clean install without the hassles associated with that option in earlier Windows versions. I've seen this option turn troublesome systems into well-behaved PCs, and the process of restoring apps and data is relatively quick, especially if your primary storage is in the cloud.

And there's always the option to roll back to your previous OS and wait for a few months. Troubleshooting is all well and good, but sometimes being productive means allowing someone else to be the pioneer.