I started re-configuring a new laptop and started reinstalling everything. I tried to access phpMyAdmin locally and it complained that php_mbstring extension was missing even though I enabled it from the php.ini file.
The php.ini file suggests that on Windows the extension_dir folder is supposed to be ext/ BUT it doesn't work that way. You must use full path to the folder. Don't put a trailing slash. Make sure you change to linux slashes (/) and not Windows slashes \
extension_dir = "C:/Copy/Dropbox/Dev/php-7.1.12-Win32-VC14-x64/ext"
Restart the server from the command line which should have been started as Administrator.
httpd.exe -k restart