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Good, Affordable PC Diagnostic Software?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the thermometers-for-your-hardware dept.

Software 512

RebornData asks: "I do freelance computer support for small businesses, and after running into a string of hairy hardware problems, decided to buy some generic PC diagnostic software. My searches turned up numerous vendors but very few independent or reputable reviews and comparisons, so I embarked on an evaluation of my own. What I found was an industry filled with con artists, bitter feuds, and outdated products. I'm now out $400 and am wondering whether my hope of finding useful diagnostic software was a naive dream. Has anyone found something that works for you?"

"The premise of PC diagnostics software is simple: provide an easy way to test for PC hardware problems, independent of software configuration. Some hardware vendors (like Dell) provide diagnostics with their systems, but they are usually model-specific and not even all major vendors provide them. Of course there are free utilities like the well-known memtest86, but I was wanted something more comprehensive.

So I started my research, and found a variety of packages, including PC Doctor, PC Check, Microscope, PC Certify, Tufftest Pro, among many others, ranging in price from $500 to $35. Some come with associated hardware, such as loopback connectors for parallel, serial, network or USB ports, or ISA / PCI cards that will show low-level POST codes for machines that appear completely dead.

Some of the vendors provided demos, but most were severely crippled. The cheaper software tended to be outdated and incomplete, lacking support for newer hardware features. Almost all practiced high-pressure sales tactics over the phone, and I discovered that one company was actually a spinoff of another by a disgruntled former employee, resulting in a bitter, lawsuit-ridden feud.

Microscope, by Micro 2000, seemed to have the most online feedback, mostly positive, but they didn't provide a demo. After contacting their sales, they suggested that if I bought a full copy for my evaluation, I could return it in 30 days if it didn't meet my needs. Well, it turned out to be buggy and missing important features found in other, cheaper products. When I called to return the product, the salesman disclaimed all knowledge of the promise they made, and they've refused to take it back. Some further digging found that I'm not the first person to be taken in by these tactics.

I still would like to find worthwhile PC diagnostics software, but the (a) lack of independent reviews, (b) shady industry sales tactics and (c) poor performance of a 'well regarded' package leave me wondering... am I a sucker for buying into the whole concept in the first place? Can anyone point me towards a reputable vendor, or an alternative set of independent tools that will do the same job?"

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Allow me to be the first to say... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304579)

...who fucking cares?

Sandra (5, Informative)

mekkab (133181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304586)

SiSoft's Sandra [sisoftware.net] is good for some basic hardware info on the machine.
It was nice finding out that the RAM I bought from Coast-to-Coast memory that I got a "deal" on was actually a step down in terms of speed (which they were selling for the "sale" price...so it all worked out).

They have diagnosit tests, but I've only used the free version. But its a nice first-line strategy for sizing up machines.

Re:Sandra (2, Redundant)

cs02rm0 (654673) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304712)

I can't stand sisoft sandra, for a variety of reasons. It reminds me of norton software with that bloaty feel.

I prefer AIDA32.

Re:Sandra (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304766)

"I can't stand sisoft sandra, for a variety of reasons. It reminds me of norton software with that bloaty feel."

Who asked you?

Re:Sandra (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304802)

Uhhhh, the OP did.

But, I'd have to agree with the comment about Sandra. Bloated, Slow, not very much fun to work with in terms of speed, though it is actually a pretty good product. At least the free version is.

feh (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304587)

cat /proc/

This always works for me.

All you will ever need (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304589)

if OS == *windows* then
lprint "Your computer is infected!"
end

cmd.exe version (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304708)

IF "%OS%"=="Linux" (
ECHO "You are a communist faggot!"
)

Low Cost (5, Informative)

derphilipp (745164) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304596)

A low-cost alternative is a bootable copy of Knoppix [knopper.net] , escpecially usefull if equipped with a virus scanner - like
http://www.linuxforum.com/linux_wallpapers_full/ 93.php>Knopicillin - sorry no ISO Image found - it was once in the C'T magazine [heise.de] ...

Re:Low Cost (5, Interesting)

etnoy (664495) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304658)

I totally agree. And the Gentoo [gentoo.org] LiveCDs all contain the excellent mentest86 program (type memtest on the boot command line) And also, the ISO is a lot smaller than the knoppix one (if you choose the bare-scraped one you'll just need 60 megs of downloading)

Re:Low Cost (2, Interesting)

betelgeuse-4 (745816) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304774)

I know that Knoppix has excellent hardware detection (for a Linux distro at least), but how good is it diagnosing problems with hardware?

to start you off (-1, Redundant)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304601)

memtest86 [memtest86.com]

CPU Burn [ev1.net]

Re:to start you off (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304631)

"Of course there are free utilities like the well-known memtest86, but I was wanted something more comprehensive"

Read the post.

YHBT YHL FOAD HAND (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304679)

see subject

Re:to start you off (4, Interesting)

mkettler (6309) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304657)

Memtest is a great tool, however it is specificaly mentioned in the article itself.

If you read the article, RebornData is looking for something more comprehensive than memtest offers. (ie: more than just a memory test. I assume to include disk, bios, video, cpu information, and a variety of other system tests and checks.)

I myself question the need for much more than a disk-surface-scan tool and a copy of memtest, but it's what RebornData is looking for.

Since you mentioned Dell (4, Informative)

watzinaneihm (627119) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304602)

If you like dell diagnostics, then you should probably buy PCdoctor. Atleast some of the diagnostics in the earlier versions of Dell servers were sublicensed from PCdoctor. Just go into the installation folder and liik at the DLL names, or read a config file.

Excellent Software (5, Informative)

r0wan (60177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304603)

The Troubleshooter by SmartCertify direct. It comes as a bootable floppy, with a couple of dongles and a CD-ROM to test ports while in diagnostic mode. This has worked excellently for us...we were able to diagnose some odd, random computer issues as being caused by bad video RAM

Why, people, why? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304606)

Why would Slashdot readers *need* PC diagnostic software? Look at your intended audience before posting this crap FFS! The next story will be about PC On Call and how helpful their entry-level dorks are...

They are all basically useless... (5, Insightful)

pw700z (679598) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304608)

Nothing beats experience and a supply of 'known good' replacement parts. I have been out of the repair and troubleshooting business for years, but I always remember being frustrated at useless memory and system testing software that could not find anything wrong with memory chips, etcs, that were obviously bad. Even most hardware units (like ram testers) were almost useless. If the POST testing didn't find anything wrong, it seemed almost nothing else would either, most of the time. If you think the part is bad, swap it out with an equivalent and see if the problem goes away.

mod parent up (2)

mekkab (133181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304653)

True, in a world where a faulty SCSI terminator can cause intermittent behavior (Thanks a lot, SUN!) There's nothing like spare parts to swap in and out.

Right on! (2, Informative)

Reverant (581129) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304611)

You can get so much information from a knoppix CD, it's just not worth looking anywhere else.

Please to excuse me (1, Funny)

Srividya (746733) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304639)

But Knoppix does not check parallel or serial loopback, and cannot suffice for the story, no?

Re:Please to excuse me (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304747)

Attention asshole,

I'll never buy any services from you.

Sincerely,

America

Re:Right on! (1)

xutopia (469129) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304671)

Care to tell us what we get on a Knoppix CD for this specific scenario? I get all confused with all the Ks all over the place.

Knoppix and memtest x86 (-1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304613)

is all I ever need to test hardware.

This is a stupid ask /. and does not diserve the front page.

Re:Knoppix and memtest x86 (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304672)

This is a stupid ask /. and does not diserve the front page.

Why don't you ask slashdot for some good spellchecking software and advice on how to move out of your parents basement you two bit trolling penguin fucker.

Re: He's right (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304782)

Those are the only two things a _real_ tech needs. And it's not worth the front page.

Just for the record (2, Interesting)

bmac (51623) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304811)

I've had a few questions I'd love to pose to the /. community but I knew were unworthy.

Where would you suggest such questions be posed?

Peace & Blessings,
bmac
www.mihr.com

Not many PC maintenance people use any diagnostics (5, Insightful)

HeX86 (536126) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304618)

And that's why... Most technicians do it by instinct and years of experience. If this peticular thing is happening, you know it could be one of x, y, or z.

That's always worked better for me than anything else. Although it would be nice to have something tell me what's wrong :)

Re:Not many PC maintenance people use any diagnost (1)

Teddy Caddy (749802) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304722)

I agree. If a program could do all that, you would not have a job. You are the diagnostics. You are the one who provides fixes. I find posting to discussion forums helpful for problems that I cannot figure out alone.

Sandra (3, Interesting)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304620)

Sandra is a good info/benchmark util.

For windows machines, I found a little app called RegSupreme which actually does a good job of cleaning/fixing keys in the registry.

Best "tool" for tech support is a good working knowledge of the PC. If you're looking for a piece of software to do support for you, then I'm sure the rest of the self proclaimed "IT Guru's" here at slashdot will warm a spot for you in the unemployment line.

I use make buildworld (3, Informative)

gtrubetskoy (734033) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304622)

This is slightly OT, but I've found one of the best ways to test (as opposed diagnose) hardware is to install FreeBSD then run "make buildworld" on it... If it completes with no problems, it's a pretty good indication that the hardware is in good condition.

Re:I use make buildworld (1)

Tagren (715283) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304762)

Why not download a *.source.tar.gz at compile it under your current OS. Kinda long way for the same thing :) ?
---

Re:I use make buildworld (1)

4b696e67 (670803) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304773)

That could take a while on older hardware. I sure the poster doesn't want the diagnosis to take hours. (Just got done with updating FreeBSD on my 3 year old thinkpad. That took 4 hours.) But, you are correct. A buildworld does stress the hardware fairly well.

Just Swap parts (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304624)

I say screw the software. You spend more time running the diagnostics that actually fixing the problem. Not that hard to carry some spare AGP cards, memory sticks, and power supplies. Quicker to start swapping in new stuff and seeing if you can get past post. I do run memtest on memory from time to time, but that's about the only software I use.

Memtest86 (-1, Redundant)

jcoy42 (412359) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304627)

memtest86 [memtest86.com] is free (GPL, no restrictions for use). So that handles memory. Works great, but can be time consuming.

Okay, so that's just one thing, but I'm sure you'll get buried with suggestions for other piecemeal items.

Re:Memtest86 (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304647)

"Of course there are free utilities like the well-known memtest86, but I was wanted something more comprehensive"

Read the post.

Memtest86 (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304636)

THE memory tester for PC computers:
Memtest86 [memtest86.com]

free memory testing CD (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304637)


I have had great success with Memtest86.com for memory testing. Testing memory with a bootable CD is one of the first things I do with a quirky system.

http://www.memtest86.com

Another vote for SiSoft Sandra (3, Informative)

Zog The Undeniable (632031) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304642)

Rather irritatingly, the free version has lots of menu icons that don't work, a bit like blanked-off switches in base model automobiles. However, it's a good tool for basic performance measurements and reassures you that your RAM/CPU etc are working at their rated speed.

A tip: run it as Administrator or you'll get limited information out of the BIOS. And if you're using *nix, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Re:Another vote for SiSoft Sandra (3, Insightful)

Tassach (137772) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304778)

Any diagnostic / troubleshooting software that requires that the computer boot into the operating system first is largely useless. It does nothing to help you fix a problem which is preventing the OS from booting.

Generic tools like memtestX86 are a good start, but there is a limit to what you can do with generic tools. Ultimately, you need hardware-specific tests. Hardware manufactures need to do a better job of providing diagnostic tools for the things they sell. Yeah, you can test the gross functionality of any sound card by playing music, but to do a complete test you need something designed for that specific card.

I've found these useful. (1)

djatari2600 (666824) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304643)

Norton Utilities is still the best choice if you want to teach the user to manage his or her own diagnostics after time. I've found SiSoft's Sandra to be useful when identifying problems.

Linux (2, Interesting)

BuildMonkey (585376) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304644)

Once I bought a PC (yes, I bought it.) and it kept crashing after running NT for 30-60 minutes. I couldn't convince the vendor that there was a problem until I tried to boot linux and it would kernel trap during boot complaining about bad memory.

After demonstrating the (reproducible) problem the vendor replaced the second SIMM and all was well.

yahoo articel today (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304645)

there was an article over at yahoo (most popular)
about free programs an editor at yahoo recommends.
i think there was a free "pc testing software"
mentioned too.

MemTest86 (-1, Redundant)

QuiK_ChaoS (190208) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304648)

While it's not an "all-in-one" diag software, MemTest86 [memtest86.com] seems to find problems with memory very easily.

When ever there is a problem with a PC I might be working on, if the problem seems sporatic, or I can't find the simple solution, I turn to MemTest86. It's free, it has one job, and it does it well.

Re:MemTest86 (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304684)

"Of course there are free utilities like the well-known memtest86, but I was wanted something more comprehensive"

Read the post..

I am looking at my sagging bookshelves that are (5, Insightful)

i)ave (716746) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304651)

stressing under the weight of years worth of hardware & software Bibles. If there is such a miracle as a good diagnostic program that can keep up with the daily onslaught of new hardware, protocols and standards, then I have wasted a lot of my time but wish you the best of luck on your quest.

Built in (1)

LittleLebowskiUrbanA (619114) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304659)

Event Viewer in Administrative Tools in Control Panel.

memtest86 (5, Informative)

DrMindWarp (663427) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304660)

The most common problems I encounter with PCs are memory related.

The best tools for checking memory are memtest86 [memtest86.com] and the follow-up memtest86+ [memtest.org] .

Both of these are free to download and use. I usually leave them running for roughly 24hrs for a reasonable level of confidence. You should also burn-in the other major components too but memory is the best place to start.

Re:memtest86 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304711)

> The best tools for checking memory are memtest86 and the follow-up memtest86+.

Can't you read the article before you post? He knows about memtest86, even gives the link himself.

#1-TuffTEST Pro, cheap, bootable (5, Informative)

og_sh0x (520297) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304662)

#1 TuffTEST pro is a cheap, bootable, hardware-only diagnostic. It supports all current x86 processors. It does not work on top of DOS or Windows or anything, so it's convenient for eliminating the hardware as a problem. Works great, I use it all the time. As a side note, if you use it on Dell machines, Dell seems to have an internal loopback on the serial and parallel ports. It will report the ports are OK even if they're not. http://www.tufftest.com/ [tufftest.com]

ultimatebootcd (5, Informative)

ggeezz (100957) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304674)

I use the ulitmatebootcd [ultimatebootcd.com] . It consolidates several good boot floppy images onto one cd, including many free hardware diagnosis programs.

Forget expensive software (5, Informative)

CodeRx (31888) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304681)

It is not possible to diagnose hardware by running software on it. At best you can determine if there is a hardware failure, but no software will be able to nail it down to a specific component all of the time.

Consider a motherboard failure for instance - a failing motherboard can in effect emulate any other hardware failure - ide controller bad? Your software may blame the hard drive. Bus problems can cause memory checks to fail.

I recommend you carry a simple bootable cdrom that loads the entire system (disk i/o, memory i/o and cpu load) and checks for errors. When a system fails these checks all it tells you is the problem is definately hardware and not a buggy driver or other software issue.

See BartPE [nu2.nu] for a good free solution.

The state of PCs (5, Insightful)

Threni (635302) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304683)

PC hardware is shit. Made as cheaply as possible, knocked out by the million. Nothing gets repaired - nothing is repairable. If it's broken, buy a new one.

PC software is shit. Software is still in the dark ages. No qualifications to show who has the first clue about quality, security, extensibility etc.

If you get any problem you can't fix in 30 mins, best to make sure you've backed up everything important (naturally you never need to ask anyone whether this is the case, because everybody always backs up their important data on a daily basis, right?), then just format or ghost the fucking disk. End of problem, and no tedious troubleshooting what happens when you try and get a LameSoft2000 graphics card working with a ShysterTronics printer.

Re:The state of PCs (5, Insightful)

sleeperservice (62645) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304790)

The parent may be modded as "Funny", but speaking as a veteran of the support wars, it's actually about as "Insightful" as you can get.

F.I.R.E. (5, Informative)

mahdi13 (660205) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304686)

Forensic and Incident Responce Environment [dmzs.com]
FIRE is a portable bootable cdrom based distribution with the goal of providing an immediate environment to perform forensic analysis, incident response, data recovery, virus scanning and vulnerability assessment.


Also provides necessary tools for live forensics/analysis on win32, sparc solaris and x86 linux hosts just by mounting the cdrom and using trusted static binaries available in /statbins.

Re:F.I.R.E. (2, Informative)

mahdi13 (660205) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304725)

Of course it's been idle for a while, so Knoppix [knoppix.net] is a great substitute considering a lot of the same tools are on there

Knoppix, Gentoo (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304688)

Knoppix, Gentoo install disk. Gentoo comes with a nice memory tester, and generally if there is a hardware fault Linux won't work well. It's not as nice as Windows about working with broken hardware.

Go to the OEM's (1)

futuresheep (531366) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304692)

Many of the OEMs' have diagnostic software specific to their PC's available for download. Example from Dell: Software [dell.com] .

The error codes generated by these disks will save you a ton of time on the phone, since they'll tell the tech on the other line what needs to be replaced. I'd also recommend getting hardware certs from any of the OEM's you'll may deal with.

a vacuum cleaner! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304702)

invest in a vacuum cleaner.
solves 95% of all "hardware
problem" cases.

damn i've seen dust that would rival
the lunar/martian surface around
CPU fans and grafic cards.

oh, and if your customers/employees
get sick alot, maybe also check out
the ventilation system (DUST!).

i'm sure the SARS virus is still
looming in the ventilation system
of some high class singaporen,
hongkong hotel ...

diag software (4, Insightful)

Steevee (75886) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304703)

...the best software i've ever encountered was inside my skull....

Re:diag software (1)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304817)

My Skull? Never heard of that P2P program.

Barking up the wrong tree... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304704)

I have yet to find diagnostic software that is more reliable than my own expereince/instincts. I haven't really done an exhaustive search, but the handful that I have used tend not to work well (and take...too...long...).

Most OEM's are fairly accomodating if you describe problems in a decent amount of detail (and the machine is under warranty).

If these are white boxes, you're probably better off keeping a pile of spare parts around. A quick swap can get a machine up and running quickly.

Good Luck!

Hardware Specific (2, Informative)

Col. Panic (90528) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304707)

I will resort to diagnostics only when other troubleshooting is unrevealing, but the diagnostics for whichever hardware you have are usually provided by the manufacturer. For example, each hard drive manufacturer will have its own diagnositcs and if you expect warranty returns, you will have to run their program and tell them what fails.

Best Diagnostics Tool Ever is... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304713)

fdisk and replacement.

Aida32 (4, Interesting)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304716)

Aida32 [aida32.hu] is a great windows-based system information application. It's wonderfully complete --- I've used it countless times to find drivers for those 'unknown devices' (modems, sound cards, network cards) that windows can't recognize, and that I didn't want to take out of the machine. However, it doesn't really do diagnostics, such as checking memory or serial ports.

Free for personal use, businesses must register. Well worth it.

Diagnostic software not worth the trouble (1)

realmolo (574068) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304730)

Hardware of ALL kinds is so cheap these days, that your time is more expensive.

If you think something is broken, replace it. You should have a stock of "standard" parts, like hard drives and RAM.

If replacing a few parts doesn't work, replace the whole damn PC. You don't want your customers stuck with a PC that has already had severe hardware problems.

Refund? We don't need no stinking refund! (1)

zulux (112259) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304731)



If the jerks won't take back their shoddy merchandise, document the steps to took and the letters you wrote - then get your credit-card company to 'chargeback' the purchase price.

More info from the AG of California here

aida32 (2, Informative)

jhoude (610589) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304733)

aida32 is a very good tool to get information about your hardware and software... (similar to sandra)
And it is free.
http://www.aida32.hu/aida32.php [aida32.hu]

Can't beat working hardware (1)

scythian (46974) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304735)

Certainly you can pinpoint with some accuracy what's wrong. Pull it, smash it, and replace it. Nothing beats good hardware, or quality hardware ... or just replacing stuff. Everything is so cheap nowadays, that you could buy the network card for $5, the video card for $20 ...
Parrallel loopback cable? Scrap it, move to USB.
And, please, don't buy eMachines --- my monitor caught fire, the NIC stopped working, and the video card stopped working. Monitor on their dime, others on my $5.

Good luck, and not to credit windows for much, but I've found that, in XP, the system will detect or analyze hardware problems reasonably correctly.

-Rob

Most Linux distroes have good diagnostics (2, Interesting)

rqqrtnb (753156) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304738)

Most all the modern distros have comprehensive tools for checking the filesystems and analysis of the machine's hardware (including cool stuff like tweaking the hard drives/etc).

Random case studies WRT normal Linux operations vs. normal MS-Windows operations in the case of 'marginal' hardware situations:

Case 1: Gateways' shiped with the 'dreaded' Quantum SCSI disk drives:

We bought a couple of Gateway workstations that Gateway shipped with Quantum 9gig W/F SCSI disk drives (avoid these like the plague). With one machine, we tossed the pre-installed MS-Windows (95?) and installed RedHat Linux (5.2 or maybe 6.1). The other machine got MS-Windows NT 4.0 installed. After about 1 month, the machine with Linux installed reported disk I/O errors (and crashes). The machine would recover (fsck after hard reset in a couple of cases) -- the disk had not totally farmed, just started to lose it. We got a replacement disk (IBM) from Gateway and did a disk-to-disk transfer (dump | restore, partition by partition) and used a boot floppy to re-boot and install lilo. This was some years ago. The 'NT box reported no problems until after about 6-7 months of use. Then crashed and refused to reboot. Disk was close to complete death. We suspect that the disk in the 'NT box was probably starting to go at the same time as the disk in the Linux box, but MS-Windows NT failed to notice *minor* disk I/O errors.

Case 2: Token MS-Windows box goes off line and gets converted to a take-home Linux machine:

We had a Gateway G6-200 (PPro 200mhz) machine that was the lab's 'token' MS-Windows box (NT 4.0). For various reasons (including lack of serious use), we took it off line. Later we needed a take-home box, so we *tried* to install Linux on it. The install kept crashing. No apparent reason way. Finally, we swapped out the RAM SIMMs, and presto, Linux installed properly. I guess the RAM had developed some bad bits, and MS-Windows NT failed to notice...

*Maybe* 'NT is notorious about not noticing hardware failures. Maybe Linux is really very sensitive to "minor" hardware problems (slowly developing failures).

Answer: Sucker (0, Flamebait)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304739)

If diagnostics software actually worked... you wouldn't have a business, and PC manufacturers wouldn't operate call centers.

Learn to troubleshoot the hardware that you are fixing rather than learning to divine meaningful answers from some stupid piece of software.

BTW the magic diagnostic software is probaly just dumping tables from WMI (Windows Management Interface) anyway. you can do the same with a SQL client and driver available from Microsoft.

SpinRite and Memtest (5, Informative)

resonance (106398) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304741)

The only effective hardware tests I've used in the ten years I've been supporting all kinds of hardware and software have been SpinRite [spinrite.com] and Memtest86 [memtest86.com] . Between these two, I can check for the most insidious and hard-to-detect hardware problems; i.e. flakey hard drives and RAM. A cheap $20 POST card is highly useful for dead machines. You don't need all the extra features the Microscope card gives you unless you are designing motherboards or doing some other such serious work. No software will replace your own experience and ability to know where a problem is forming based on the specific failure of the machine. All the rest of the so-called diagnostic software is more or less useless from a practical perspective, aside from testing serial ports with loopback plugs and printing cute certification reports for anal customers. This is detective work. You have to suss out the exact problem based on clues left by the failure of the system. Learn how the hardware works, and it's easier than you think.

Biatchux (1)

gato_mato (572107) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304745)

Try Fire - http://sourceforge.net/projects/biatchux

DisplayMate (2, Informative)

jtilak (596402) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304746)

for tweaking your display. An absolute must have.

So what should the author look for? (1)

netglen (253539) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304748)

So what about testing of the Com, Parallel, USB, Firewire, PS/2 and network ports? Is there some package out there where you can attach a loopback device to each port to test them? It's disgusting seeing so much snakeoil being sold today.

Flawed Concept. (5, Insightful)

Sentosus (751729) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304749)

I have tried to find this, but the problem with getting flawed hardware to run software to detect it is flawed is just that in concept.

First of all, if it is an issue with hardware, the machine may not boot at all. If it is a ram issue, the diagnostic software may generate errors.

Second, even if it highlights an error in a configuration, it could be generated with the analysis software.

Third is that failed hardware often will not register as failed unless it is operating. Such as, a failed modem will not become noticable until it is used and then it may lock the computer up which could stop the software diagnosing the issue.

Your best bet is to use a cause and effect analysis. Then trial and error. The machine won't boot, find every possible cause of it not booting and eliminate each one as a possible cause. Continue on this until the issue is completely solved. Make a checklist for yourself so you don't forget anything.

It is how I do freelance repairs and it has proven bulletproof compared to the Voodoo Computer Repair Experts that try random things in the hope that it fixes the issue. (Install drivers, reinstall OS, Check CPU)

pc diags (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304751)

yeah, nothing beats experience. But techies at BestBuy use Pc Certify. I still trust my instincts, but to double check myself I still burn it in w/ Sandra or MemTestx86. Knoppix works good too, but some new hardware is not recignized properly and it hates my Gigabyte 8sq800 sis655fx board, but so do many other distros.

Memtest86 (1, Redundant)

Kenja (541830) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304754)

Its free and will tell you if your memory sucks.

Hard Drive Diagnostics (3, Informative)

Botchka (589180) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304756)

I've heard and read great things about Spinrite from Steve Gibson, for hard drive diagnostics and I have friends that swear by it. The only drawback to his current version is that it won't do a thing for NTFS partitions. That being said, he is working on Spinrite 6.0 that WILL read NTFS partitions. This new edition is due out any time now. If you buy Spinrite 5 you get a free upgrade to 6 when it becomes available. As far as a general software based, pc diagnostic tool, I've yet to see any that actually work with any degree of certainty. SiSoft Sandra, as others have mentioned, is pretty good at letting you know what hardware is in the box. That along with some available "known good parts" is what I do to diagnose issues. I have also found the book Upgrading and Repairing PC's to be particularly valuable and a must have in my collection.

Microscope rules! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304763)

If you have problems Microscope there's something seriously wrong. Like maybe you're not using it right, no insult intended. When I have a hairy problem that I can't figure out, Microscope comes out and solves the problem. Personally, I've gotten to rely on it quite a bit. Granted there's a few things that could stand improvement, but everything works like a champ, oh, and if you're getting errors in the software....like testing video memory and the software blows up....that because the video memory is bad. And if it's vid mem built onto the board...guess what....board needs to be replaced.

I've been an MS users since v9 and it's now up to v12 at one version a year that should tell you that I'm a 4 year old customer with nothing but good things to say about MS. BUT, some of their instruction videos leave alot to be desired. And to use MS properly you need to know a bit more about hardware than just "you plug this in here and it works". You own it now, might as well figure out how to use it, you'll be glad you did

MEMTEST86!? WHAT'S THAT (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304764)

DURHHHHHHHHHH

Ultimate Boot CD (1)

ronmon (95471) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304767)

I'm not going to link this because I don't want the poor guy to get slashdotted. But those that are truly interested can search Google or Freshmeat and find it.

It's completely free and contains almost 50 bootable utilities ranging from hardware diagnostics to offline NT password/registry editor to linux recovery distros.

Some products (4, Informative)

wfberg (24378) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304770)

As others mentions, memtest86 and knoppix are invaluable tools.

Other tools you might be interested in;
Aida32 [aida32.hu] basically lists all of your devices, drivers, wmi software entries, pci devices, etc. for windows - needs an install, though.

OnTrack [ontrack.com] sell Easy Recovery Professional; the "file repair" options are pretty crappy, but for serious, near-forensic recovery on fscked up filesystems, ERP is a fine tool. Some of OnTrack's software (i.e. SMART tests, usually) may be licensed by the manufacturer of your harddrive, so check those pages out.

SiSoft Sandra is recommended a lot, but I don't find it offers a lot of diagnostics, though it is prone to crashing.

On windows, you might want to check out the Event Viewer, hidden in the Computer Management section of the (classic) Control Panel -- it will list all sorts of errors and notifications, kind of like /var/log/messages ;-)

OT, but I have a tough hardware problem... (2, Insightful)

Onan The Librarian (126666) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304772)

I've taken an ailing HP Omnibook 4150 laptop to my local computer repair place where I was told (in this order) :

1. I needed a new power supply.
2. I needed a new motherboard.
3. They didn't really know what was wrong with it.

It suffers from intermittent power failure, otherwise it runs fine. I wish I knew how to locate the trouble or if I'm just wasting my time thinking this machine can be fixed. I'm loathe to take it to another repairman, I'm already out some $$ that got me no closer to a real solution. I hope this is an appropriate question to ask, 'cause I like that machine and would rather not junk it. Any civil advice will be vastly appreciated (including suggested URLs for diagnostic tools such as those mentioned in the original article). TIA!

Btw, the repair house told me that their "diagnostics" consisted of letting the machine run for a day or two. I paid them their bench fee and swore I'd never take another machine there again.

Re:OT, but I have a tough hardware problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304785)

HP laptops have cooling issues, don't they?

free memory tester (0, Redundant)

intertwingled (574374) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304779)

free memory tester here [memtest86.com]

Try Belarc (1)

RawCode (464152) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304781)

Belarc [belarc.com] offers a free PC audit tool that I have found VERY useful in trying to discover exactly what h/w and s/w a user has installed. And it free.

AIDA & PC-Config & NSSI (3, Informative)

fudgefactor7 (581449) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304783)

A great, free, Windows program is AIDA32 [aida32.hu] . It gives lots of valuable info. It's not perfect, but it's constantly in development and improvement. Up until about a week ago there was a DOS/16-bit version available, but due to lack of demand it was discontinued (sadly). Another ok program is PC-Config [holin.com] , which is no longer being worked on, but it's pretty good. And NSSI [navsoft.cz] is really pretty nice as well.

Check those out.

My advice (4, Insightful)

dasunt (249686) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304788)

Knoppix - verify the part under another OS.

Tomsrtbt - I forget if Knoppix has badblocks or not. If it doesn't, Tomsrtbt does.

memtest86 - Memory tester.

Spare HDD - good for having a clean install of windows to check things on.

Spare low-density memory.

Spare older computer for testing daughtercards.

That's about it.

Of course, sooner or later you *will* get the machine from hell with an intermediate fault that ends up locking windows for no damn good reason every so often. Then life will suck. But that's why they call it work.

Always pay with a credit card (5, Insightful)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304791)

If you pay with a credit card and the vendor tries to screw you over you can contest the billing and return the unsatisfactory product, In fact I am in the process of cancelling an order i placed for Serif's Photoplus 7 because the site selling it never mentioned that it was old and shitty, but they were perfectly happy to tell me how bad it was when they called me asking if i wanted to pay $50-$90 to upgrade to version 8 or 9... obviously contesting the charge is a last resort but overall I feel much more confident buying software online because i know that i am not out the money untill i actually pay the credit card bill (for internet purchases there is no signature)

All those tools suck (4, Informative)

foo fighter (151863) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304792)

I was a PC repairman for many years. I say from experience that all those software diagnostics suck.

Microscope from Micro2000 is actually the best of the bunch, but that's not saying much. If your computer won't even post, non of these tools will do you any good. (They do have some good training materials for those wanting an A+ or N+ COMPTIA cert.)

The PCI cards that display diagnostic codes are better than the software in those cases. They still aren't very helpful though. Basically they will tell you there is a problem with the memory, or the parallel port, etc., but they won't tell you exactly what's wrong so they aren't of much use either.

Here's my advice:
1. Get the power supply tester from PC Power & Cooling. It's $20, and in my experience most of the time the reason a computer won't even post is because the cheapass power supply that came with the case died.
2. Carry a bunch of known good parts: an AGP and a PCI video card you know work, a PCI network card and PCI modem, some known good RAM (PC 100 and DDR), and a good hard drive. Ideally, these are all in a fully working computer you've brought to the site so you can swap between the working computer and the not-working computer and narrow down the problem. Resist the temptation to fix the system with your known good parts; make them buy new, name-brand components with a warranty.
3. Bring a USB keyboard and mouse. I've seen lots of 3+ year old computers have their PS/2 connections short out or stop working but their USB ports are just fine. They can solve input problems.
4. Have a Knoppix CD in your kit. The linux forensic toolkit can be of great use recovering files and finding problems.

It has been my experience (5, Informative)

IWantMoreSpamPlease (571972) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304796)

That the free stuff is just as good (if not better) than high-priced diag software.

Allow me to give you some background:

I have done IT work for 4.5 years. I work with Novell, RedHat, all (disgusting) flavours of Windows, BeOS, Sun, SGI, Apple (Mac) and QNX. I support everyone from Joe Grandma to major Universities and Medical Colleges.

I have several CDs worth of useful tools at my disposal, all of them free:

Ad-Aware: I consider this to be my single best resource in the fight against Windows NT (and up) flakery.

www.trendmicro.com does an on-line virus scan. Not perfect, but usually finds the major ones.

Demos of Anti-Trojan. Again, good enough for the closing of trojan ports left open.

AVG Anti-Virus software. Good, free AV software, if Norton isn't available.

Winzip: Obviously a good thing, many many drivers come zipped.

A CD full of the most common NIC drivers from the biggest vendors.

nVidia and ATI drivers.
Via drivers

All the latest browsers on another CD.

MemTestx86 (as you have found): Allow me one point further int he favor of it, major memory makers will accept their RAM bad, no questions asked (in my experience) if you tell them it was checked and found bad, via MemTextx86.

SiSoft Sandra, if for nothing else than the CPU-Burn wizard. If the CPU is bad, Sandra will find out.

Emergency Boot disks and cd-rom access disks (sadly, the Win98 boot disk is pretty handy)

A live Linux and live BeOS CD (very handy for recovering data of hosed systems)

And last, but not least, a good Google search. Another thing that has saved my skin time and again is to input exact error messages and see what Google turns up.

This whole cd-wallet has set me back perhaps $20, and does far more than "professional" diag tools can hope to accomplish.

Simple combination of Tools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304798)

For most uses, a very simple combination of tools works:
If a specific device does not work, you can usually identify the problem by replacing it with a known good one (Harddrive, CD writer, whatever).
If it is an intermittent problem, I usually check the RAM first (memtest).
If the problem still hasn't been identified, I remove all components the system doesn't require and run some appropriate stress tests on it (24 hour burn in, or some network test, whatever is appropriate to the problem).
If it works, I start adding in the other components one by one - and find the problem this way. If it doesn't work, the problem still has been narrowed down quite a bit: Then I rip the system apart, and mark the individual parts as suspect. So if I use them later on in non-critical systems and an error occurs, I toss them, no questions asked.
All these steps are fairly simple, and don't involve hunting for obscure problems, yet I guess I throw very few working parts away.

slightly off topic (1)

dcocos (128532) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304799)

If you bought the product that doesn't work with your credit card and you have tried to resolve the issue with your vendor call your credit card company and explain the situation to them they will most likely help you out

go build a computer (1)

dre23 (703594) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304804)

build a computer out of parts. hell - build the power supply. then you'll learn what is broken or not. you might need a multi-meter.

if you can install freebsd, openbsd, netbsd, fedora, gentoo, and debian on the machine, all within 24 hours - then you can count on the hardware working for awhile.

the only device(s) i've replaced on my primary machine in 10 years is the drive(s) (none of the older drives died, but i felt i had to replace them due to their smaller size). this one time i had an obvious hardware problem, so i put in a bunch of output into a google browser and found out that I probably had to clean all the dust out of my machine and cpu-fan. good thing i didn't have to replace anything.

that machine was made of high quality parts that i spent a few short weeks researching on what to buy and where to buy it. i used all scsi and a non-intel processor/motherboard (scsi and non-intel were more important 10 years ago than today probably).

No software can replace the need for hardware knowledge. You are going to need to know hardware cold to run continous IT/Operations, whether Apple, Intel, or AMD/Sun.

Diagnostic software doesn't work (1)

edxwelch (600979) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304806)

I had a problem with a faulty SIMM. I was getting flakey video errors when running Windows. I downloaded a diagnostic (DOS) program and it tested the memory for hours without finding a single problem. Yet when I changed the SIMM the
problems when away. I remember similar results with motherboard errors. The only diagnostic program that I have found that actually do anything useful are the disk checking programs (i.e. scandisk).

What I've found useful... (2, Informative)

mansa (94579) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304808)

I manage a second level support group at a fairly large company. We've found that On-Track's
Easy Recovery Professional [ontrack.com] is AWESOME. It fixes 200-some file extensions. All office suite files, zips, etc. We used it a lot on enormous PST files that would blow up at 2gb~. It fixes them in half the time of M$'s ScanPST tool.

Further, this product will do all sorts of HDD checks, and can does great file recovery. It's saved our asses a bunch of times. Just take a read.

It might seem kind-of expensive to someone on their own, but not to a mid-sized company. It's worth it's weight to me. They do have different licensing options and offer different/lighter versions of the product for less $$$.

The sucky thing about it's licensing scheme is that it's based on how many drives you run it on.

I've also heard that wininternals [winternals.com] has an great product [winternals.com] but if I remember correctly it was really expensive.

memtest86 (0, Redundant)

mslinux (570958) | more than 10 years ago | (#8304809)

Can't beat memtest86 for those hard to find memeory problems... it's free too.

http://memtest86.com/

Re:memtest86 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8304819)

Wow, really!?

How visionary of you to suggest it!
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