The Case of the Unexpected PsList Error

Not long after I deployed Windows Vista on my main desktop system I noticed that a process became unresponsive and appeared to be consuming excessive amounts of CPU. I had a command prompt handy, so I ran PsList to dump detailed information about the process as one of my troubleshooting steps. Instead of reporting apage […]

Not long after I deployed Windows Vista on my main desktop system I noticed that a process became unresponsive and appeared to be consuming excessive amounts of CPU. I had a command prompt handy, so I ran PsList to dump detailed information about the process as one of my troubleshooting steps. Instead of reporting apage full of statistics like I expected, however, PsList printed its banner, an error message, and exited:

PsList obtains information from the system performance counters, which an application accesses using standard Registry functions directed at the virtual HKEY_PERFORMANCE_DATA key, so the message indicated that PsList was unable to query the virtual performance keys. When you point PsList at a remote system and don’t have administrative rights on that system, or the system isn’t running the Remote Registry service, then PsList reports the same error, but I had never seen the message when using PsList to look at a local system. Something was different about Windows Vista and I set out to learn what.

Putting my original troubleshooting mission on hold, I launched Process Monitor and repeated the PsList command with Process Monitor looking on. I didn’t have a firm expectation that it would reveal the cause of the problem, but experience has taught me that Process Monitor (and its predecessors Filemon and Regmon) often solves seemingly unexplainable problems like this. I scanned the trace looking for anomalous error codes, because when they’re present they almost always point to the source of a problem, and found an access denied error:

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Microsoft, Windows Vista, PsList, Error, Troubleshooting, Knowledgebase, Article