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Maintaining Desktop Health : Monitoring Reliability and Performance (part 2)

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3/29/2013 4:52:34 PM

4. Using Performance Monitor

Performance Monitor in Windows Vista has been enhanced to provide better visualizations, easier navigation, and more granular control than was available in previous versions. When you select the Performance Monitor node in the Reliability and Performance Monitor, the System Monitor ActiveX control sysmon.ocx is loaded into the host MMC process. System Monitor depends on the Performance Data Helper library pdh.dll to interact with the various counter sources such as real-time performance counters; stored binary files; and other, older, counter log formats. The control also provides a scriptable interface to display the performance counters.

The Performance Logs and Alerts (PLA) service is an on-demand service that starts when needed for logging performance data. This service is now implemented in pla.dll and runs in a shared host process (svchost.exe) with the short name PLA. The PLA service configuration information is located in the following registry key:


Since PLA now runs in a svchost process, exceptions that occur in the other services that share the svchost process can also affect the PLA service.

The following sections discuss the new features of Performance Monitor.


When remotely monitoring earlier systems using Reliability And Performance Monitor on a Windows Vista computer, only the features that Performance Monitor supports on the earlier version of Windows will be supported for the monitoring session.

New Features in Performance Monitor

New features in Performance Monitor include time-based algorithms, scale to fit, drag and drop, new time range controls, tool tips, and zoom functionality. The following sections describe these new Windows Vista Performance Monitor features.

New Classes for Individual Data Sources

Performance Monitor has been divided into three modules, all implemented within ActiveX control sysmon.ocx classes:

  • Frame class Handles interactions such as COM-based interfacing and property dialog boxes

  • Data Source class Handles input/output of data source (log file, real-time data)

  • View class Interfaces with the charting class for visualization

This feature was implemented to modularize the Performance Monitor code and to make it more extensible and scalable, but it does not introduce any additional functionality.

Time-Based Algorithms

Time-based sample collection allows you to collect performance-counter data based on a given time range. Previously, if a logging session failed to collect data for some period of time, the assumption was that all of the data was continuously collected and showed no missing data points. This resulted in the display of inaccurate data. The new time-based algorithms display gaps in graphs when a log file has missing samples. This feature does not introduce any new chart type.

Scale to Fit

Previously, because the values of some performance counters might have exceeded the current graph scale, not all of the data was visible and changing the graph or counter scales required several steps. The scale-to-fit feature allows the scaling of performance data to the current graph view on a counter-by-counter basis without changing the overall graph scale or performing numerous steps to change a particular counter’s scale. The scale-to-fit feature is applicable to line and bar types of charts for both real-time and logged data sources.

When a user selects counters and applies the scale-to-fit feature to them, Performance Monitor automatically scales the selected counters to the current graph view based on the range of values for the counters. The view is updated to draw the graph with the new scale factor so that the values fall within the graph’s current vertical minimum and maximum ranges. The scale-to-fit feature does not change the graph’s vertical minimum or maximum ranges. You can determine the current scale factor for each counter from the Scale column in the counter list pane.

To use the scale-to-fit feature, select the counters you want to modify, right-click the counters at the bottom of Performance Monitor, and select Scale Selected Counters. When you use the scale-to-fit feature, you can select multiple counters by using Ctrl+left-click to individually select multiple counters or by using Shift+left-click to highlight a contiguous range of counters. Performance Monitor uses an algorithm to determine the best scale factor for each selected counter based upon its current range of values and the graph scale. It then recalculates the data sample values and displays them in the graph using the new scale factor.


Because the vertical minimum and maximum ranges are configurable and scaling uses a factor of 10, it is possible that the selected counter data still cannot be displayed within the configured vertical graph range, depending upon the selected counter’s values.

Drag and Drop

This feature allows a user to drag any Performance Monitor–related file into the display area to open the file. The Performance Monitor display will change to reflect the actions relevant to the opened file type. Supported file types include:

  • Templates (html, xml)

  • Logs (blg)

  • Comma-separated or tab-separated value files (csv, tsv)

You can also drag multiple binary log files (*.blg) into the Performance Monitor window. However, you cannot drag multiple html, xml, csv, or tsv files; attempting to do so will generate an error.

Time Range Control

Each performance counter data sample has a timestamp that identifies when the data was collected. In previous versions of Performance Monitor, users needed to view and change the properties of a loaded log file to adjust the log’s visible timeframe (on the x-axis). With Windows Vista, when the graph is a line chart, time labels are now automatically displayed along the horizontal time axis in the main Performance Monitor view.

The timestamp for the first and last sample are always displayed. Because of limited x-axis space, time labels cannot be displayed for all data points. The displayable time labels are determined based upon the sample interval time and the currently visible time range. The actual number of time labels displayed varies as the size of the System Monitor graph window is resized or if the chart area scale is changed.

Tool Tips

Tool tips are now displayed when you hover the mouse over a data element in the Performance Monitor graph. The tool tips will show performance-counter data for the element nearest to the mouse pointer. This will be either the previous data point or the next data-point, whichever is closest to the mouse pointer. Tools tips appear only for visible chart data elements.


The new zoom feature in Performance Monitor provides you with the ability to easily view logged data in more detail (you cannot zoom into real-time performance data). Users can select a time range that they want to view in more detail and then use the new Zoom To shortcut menu item to clear the current log view and replace it with the zoomed time range. Fewer samples are displayed in the zoomed time range but you can obtain more detail from the samples that are displayed.

You can use the following methods to select a range of time to zoom in on:

  • Using the left mouse button, click the graph to select the first time point, drag the mouse to the second time point, and then release the mouse button. The selected time range will be shadowed in the graph view. Click the right mouse button to open the shortcut menu and select Zoom To.

  • Use the time range slider control (visible under the graph) to select the desired time range. You can use each end of the slider control to change the time window you want to display. The selected time range will be shadowed in the graph view. Click the right mouse button to access the shortcut menu and then select Zoom To.

To zoom out, reset the time range using the slider control and then select Zoom To again to zoom to the currently selected time range. You can also use the left and right arrows on the slider control to scroll the time range in the graph.

New Legend Control

The new Performance Monitor Legend Control provides two features that allow easier, more granular control of the displayed performance counters:

  • Multiple counter selection

  • Show/Hide counters

Previously, performance counter operations, such as changing the scale factor, could only be performed on a single counter, and the only way to hide a performance counter was to delete it from the System Monitor view.

Now you can simultaneously select multiple counters for manipulation. The possible operations on multiple selected counters are Show Selected Counters, Hide Selected Counters, or Scale Selected Counters. You can select multiple counters in the legend, report, or chart window using standard keyboard or mouse functions (CTRL+left-click or Shift+left-click). The selected counter items will be highlighted for ease of identification.

You can also temporarily hide performance counters from a graph or report view using the menu options. This provides a convenient method for quickly hiding a counter to make a graph more readable. To hide or show counters, users can either select or clear the Show check box next to the desired counters, or they can select the counter (or counters) and use the shortcut menu to show or hide the selected counters. Note that the Show and Hide options do not apply to the report view. Previously, the only way to remove a performance counter from the current view was to delete it from the System Monitor legend.

Add Counters Dialog

The Performance Monitor Add Counters dialog has been redesigned based on user feedback to improve usability. The design of the previous Add Counters dialog made it difficult for users to confirm the performance counters that were being added. The new interface, shown in Figure 2, has a hierarchical design that allows you to instantly see the counters that are being added to a log.

Figure 2. The new Add Counters dialog.

The Add Counters window contains a list of available objects on the left side just below the computer name field. You can view and select the counters for the selected object by clicking the down arrow to the right of the object name. The instances associated with the selected object are displayed in the Instances Of Selected Object list. You can add any combination of objects, counters, and instances by clicking the Add button with the desired elements highlighted. The added elements are immediately displayed in the Added Counters list. The Objects, Counters, and Instances windows support multi-select so that you can select multiple items by using standard keyboard or mouse functions (Ctrl+left-click or Shift+left-click) and then adding to the log with one click of the Add button.

A search function is also available when the All Instances option is present for a performance object. The search feature provides you with the ability to search the available instances for the selected object. The search results will be grouped into the <All searched instances> instance item; you can add them to the log by clicking Add with the <All searched instances> item selected.

Transportable Configuration Files

In Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003, the configuration of each performance log or alert can be saved to an HTML file, edited to change the computer name, and used as a template to create a log for another computer. In Windows Vista, the default configuration file format is changed to XML.

End of File Command

Performance Monitor previously used CreateProcess to execute an End of File command to launch the specified process when a log ended. To improve security and allow for flexibility of the execution context (credentials), this feature is replaced by the ability to start an existing Task Scheduler job when a log file completes.

Compare Feature

Performance Monitor now includes a Compare feature that you can use to overlay multiple log files for relative comparison. An adjustable level of transparency is added to the logs being compared so that you can see through the logs that have been overlaid. This feature is useful if, for example, a user wants to compare server-resource utilization between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM over a weeklong period.

Using Performance Monitor

Overall performance-monitoring concepts have changed very little since Windows NT 4.0. Windows Vista Performance Monitor is now part of the Reliability and Performance Monitor, but gathering performance data is in many ways unchanged from previous versions. Real-time performance monitoring and performance monitor log generation have changed slightly for Windows Vista, with most of the changes occurring in the user interface.

Real-Time Performance Monitoring

As they did with previous versions of Performance Monitor, users may perform real-time monitoring of the performance characteristics of their systems in a one-second data sample interval. The real-time monitoring interface, which you access by clicking the Performance Monitor node under Monitoring Tools in the Reliability and Performance Monitor interface, is often referred to as System Monitor because it uses the ActiveX control sysmon.ocx. You can add and view real-time performance counters for the local computer or for a remote computer. Performance Monitor’s real-time monitoring feature uses the new features discussed previously but otherwise has not changed. You can add performance counters to a real-time line chart view using one of two methods:

  • Click the Add Counter icon (+) on the toolbar.

  • Right-click the chart anywhere and then select Add Counters from the shortcut menu.

You can open a saved Performance Monitor file for viewing by dragging the file into the Performance Monitor window or, as in previous versions, by clicking the View Log Data cylinder on the toolbar or pressing Ctrl+L. Another enhancement is the addition of the Save Image As shortcut menu item that allows you to save the current view as a GIF image file for later reference.

Performance Monitor Logging

In Windows XP, you created Performance Monitor logs or alerts by using the Report Type node under Performance Logs And Alerts in the Performance interface. You could configure each log to contain a single data collection entity (counter log, trace log, or alert). Performance Monitor in Windows Vista now uses the concept of Data Collector Sets. In Windows Vista, a data collection entity is referred to as a data collector and must now be a member of a Data Collector Set (DCS). A DCS can contain any number of data collectors, allowing for greater control over performance monitoring and data organization tasks.


Log files created from Data Collector Sets in Windows Vista are not backward-compatible with earlier versions of Windows. However, you can view logs created in earlier versions of Windows in Performance Monitor in Windows Vista.

Data Collector Sets have been implemented to provide support for performance reports that require data from multiple log files of different types. These data collectors include counter, trace, alerts, and system configuration logs. You can add an arbitrary number of data collectors to a single DCS. Before Windows Vista, each data collection entity contained its own scheduling properties to be used by the Performance Logs and Alerts service. In Windows Vista, all members of a DCS use the scheduling properties—and other common properties—that have been specified for the parent DCS. The DCS is implemented as a single Task Scheduler object, and you can specify a single task to execute after all of the included data collectors have completed.

There are three types of Data Collector Sets:

  • User-defined Most, if not all, user-configured Data Collector Sets fall into this category.

  • System XML Data Collector Set templates that have been saved to Windows\PLA\System are displayed here. You cannot create these; they are included with Windows Vista.

  • Event trace sessions These are Data Collector Sets configured for Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) tracing.

The DCS concept provides the following features:

  • A DCS is the unit of scheduling for all of the data collectors in the DCS.

  • Log file properties are divided between the DCS and individual data collectors. Log file folder and subfolder properties are maintained by the DCS so that they are consistent across all data collectors in the set. File name properties and other file options are maintained for individual data collectors.

  • The DCS manages keyword and description metadata. You can locate the individual data collectors by using the Windows Vista Search engine to search by keyword.

  • Security is implemented at the DCS level. A single Run As account is used for all data collectors in the set.

  • A new type of data collector is introduced, called a System Configuration Data collector. The System Configuration Data collector gathers specified data from the registry.

  • Each DCS has a description field. The DCS description will be a recognized Performance Logs and Alerts attribute.

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