Whether you’re using Windows 7, Windows 8, or an older version of Windows, Windows contains a variety of system utilities that are well-hidden. Some are buried deep in the Start menu, while others can only be accessed via a command.
Most of these tools can be easily launched if you know their names — just open your Start menu or Start screen, search for the name of the program, and press Enter. On Windows 8, you may have to select the Settings category on the search screen first.
Windows Memory Diagnostic
Windows includes a Memory Diagnostic tool that can restart your computer and test your memory for defects, like the popular MemTest86 application. If you want to check your computer’s memory for errors, you don’t need a third-party tool — just open the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool.
The Resource Monitor application offers a detailed look at your computer’s resource usage. You can view computer-wide CPU, disk, network, and memory graphics, or drill down and view per-process statistics for each type of resource.
This means that you can see which processes are using your disk or network heavily, view which processes are communicating with which Internet addresses, and more. The Resource Monitor provides much more detailed resource statistics than the Task Manager does.
You can launch the Resource Monitor by opening the Task Manager, clicking the Performance tab, and selecting Resource Monitor. It can also be accessed by searching for Resource Monitor at the Start menu or Start screen.
The Performance Monitor application allows you to collect performance reports and view them. It can be used to log performance data over time, including determining how system changes affect performance, or to monitor the performance of a remote computer in real-time.
Computer Management and Administrative Tools
The Performance Monitor is actually one of many Microsoft Management Console (MMC) tools. Many of these can be found in the Administrative Tools folder, but they can be opened in a single window by opening the Computer Management application. Among other things, this window contains the following tools:
- Task Scheduler: A tool that allows you to view and customize the scheduled tasks on your computer, in addition to creating your own custom scheduled tasks.
- Event Viewer: A log viewer that allows you to view and filter system events — everything from software installation to application crashes and blue screens of death.
- Shared Folders: An interface that displays the folders shared over the network on your computer, useful for viewing what folders are being shared at a glance.
- Device Manager: The classic Windows Device Manager that allows you to view the devices connected to your computer, disable them, and configure their drivers.
- Disk Management: A built-in partition manager you can use without downloading any third-party tools.
- Services: An interface that allows you to view and control the background services running in Windows.
The Administrative Tools folder also contains other useful utilities, such as the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security application that allows you to create advanced firewall rules.
Advanced User Accounts Tool
Windows contains a hidden User Accounts utility that provides some options not present in the standard interface. To open it, press WinKey+R to open the Run dialog, type either netplwiz or control userpasswords2, and press Enter.
This window also contains a shortcut to launch the Local Users and Groups tool, which offers more user management tasks, but can’t be used on Home or standard versions of Windows.
Windows’ Disk Cleanup utility isn’t quite as hidden as some of the other utilities here, but not enough people know about it. It will scan your computer for files that can be deleted, from temporary files and memory dumps to old system restore points and leftover files from Windows upgrades. It does the same job a PC cleaning utility does, but it’s free and doesn’t try to extract any money from you. Advanced users may prefer CCleaner, but Disk Cleanup does a decent job.
Access it by searching for Disk Cleanup at your Start screen or Start menu.
Group Policy Editor
The Group Policy Editor is only available on Professional or Ultimate editions of Windows, not the standard or Home editions. It provides a wide variety of settings that are designed for use by system administrators to customize and lock down PCs on their networks, but the local group policy editor also contains some settings that average users might be interested in. For example, on Windows 8, the group policy editor can be used to disable the lock screen and skip directly to the log-in screen.
To open it, type gpedit.msc at the Start menu or Start screen and press Enter.
Sure, everyone knows about the registry editor — but it’s still hidden, with Microsoft not even providing a Start menu shortcut to it. It must be launched by typing regedit into the Start menu or Start screen and pressing Enter.
Many tweaks that can be made in the Group Policy Editor have equivalent tweaks that can be made in the registry editor. For example, on Windows 8, users with the standard edition of Windows 8 can’t disable the lock screen via the Group Policy Editor — but they can disable the lock screen with a registry hack.
The System Configuration window is another classic tool that many people know about. Prior to Windows 8, which features a startup-program manager built into its Task Manager, this tool was the only included way of controlling startup programs on Windows. It also allows you to customize your boot loader, which is particularly useful if you have multiple versions of Windows installed.
Launch it by typing msconfig into the Start menu or Start screen and pressing Enter.
The System Information utility allows you to view information about the current computer — everything from the model number of its CD-ROM drive to its attached peripherals, configured environment variables, and startup programs. It doesn’t provide the slickest interface, nor does it provide all the information a third-party system information tool like Speccy does, but it will display a lot of system information without forcing you to install another program.
Open it by searching for System Information at your Start menu or Start screen.
Once you know these utilities exist, you can do more with the tools built into Windows. These tools are available on any Windows computer, so you can always use them without downloading and installing software.
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