BOOT CAMP 257 (24/12/02)


Hardware Healthcheck


As everyone from motor mechanics to dentists insists on telling you, prevention is better than cure, but it’s advice worth following when it comes to computers…


Windows has several built-in diagnostic utilities that are quite good at flagging up potential hardware problems and showing what your PC is up to but much of the information displayed will be meaningless to novice users.  Don’t let that put you off, though, and you should still have a quick look at what Windows can tell you as it will give you an idea of what makes your PC tick, but later on we’ll have a look at a freeware utility that will really help you get to know your computer.


Information about your PC’s hardware – disc drives, memory etc. – can be found by right-clicking the My Computer icon on the desktop. Choose Properties from the drop-down menu and select the Device Manager tab. This works on all versions of Windows 9x (95/98/SE and ME), Windows XP is slightly different, right-click My Computer then the Hardware and Device Manager tabs.


In both cases you’ll see a list of the hardware components inside and connected to your PC. If all’s well that’s all you will see but if there’s an exclamation mark in a yellow circle next to any of the items that usually means there’s a problem, though if the item concerned is behaving normally just remember the old adage, ‘if it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it’…


If you are experiencing problems with your PC’s hardware then occasionally the device itself is faulty but nine times out of ten it’s due to a faulty driver and the solution is to reinstall it. Drivers are included with Windows or supplied on a disc that came with your PC or the component concerned but it’s always a good idea to check with Microsoft or the errant component manufacturer’s web site, to see if there’s a more recent driver for your system.


To reinstall a driver double-click the offending item in Device Manager, select the Driver tab and then the Update Driver button and follow the instructions. You will normally be asked for the Windows CD or the device’s driver disc, or you can specify the location of the driver file on your hard disc (if you’ve downloaded a later version from the web). Windows XP is a little more sophisticated and will usually seek the driver automatically, on your PC or from the Internet.


For an even better insight into your PC well being it’s worth trying a third party diagnostic utility. There are plenty to choose from but one of the simplest and easiest to understand is Aida32. This is a freeware program – for personal use -- and it can be downloaded from: This program is suitable for all versions of Windows 9x and XP and the file is only around 2Mb so it should only take a few minutes to download, even on a dial-up connection.


Select the Enterprise version and download either the ‘zip’ file or the slightly larger .exe file. If you choose the former be aware that you will need a decompression utility like WinZip ( on your PC to extract the files. After launch Aida32 presents you with a twin-paned window giving a very complete picture of your PC, including all of the hardware components and software running on it.


When you run it for the first time you should work your way through each of the items in turn. Double click on the icons and scroll down the list that opens in the right hand pane. Aida32 can be very helpful and if it detects a problem it will tell you, and in some cases recommend a solution, it also has suggestions for improving performance or upgrades.


The Software section is particularly interesting. It shows all of the programs that are loaded automatically on your PC at boot up. Most of them are probably just wasting your PCs resources and it’s a good idea to thin them out. This can help to speed up boot up and shut down, generally improve the efficiency of your PC and it may even help to resolve long standing problems with error messages. We covered this in some detail in Boot Camp 227.


The Installed Programs list will probably surprise, it’s amazing how quickly we manage to clutter our PCs with useless software and again you might want to get rid of any old programs that you no longer use. Just remember to only use the program’s own uninstaller utility or Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel. Only delete one item at a time and reboot afterwards. There’s also a Licences section and this shows the licence key for Windows and other programs on your system.


Aida32 can generate a report file or ‘Audit’ which generates a detailed snapshot of your system. You should do this when everything is working normally, if a problem develops later on the information in the audit could prove very useful to an engineer.


Next week – Resolutions





A small program or data file that tells Windows how to communicate with a particular piece of hardware; disc drive, mouse, printer etc.



The processor, memory and storage assets in a PC, and how they are managed by the operating system (i.e. Windows)



No, not another version of Windows but industry shorthand for Windows 95 and 98 and the SE and ME variants




If you’ve ever deleted a file a file or folder by accident or later regretted it - -and who hasn’t – then all may not be lost, even if you’ve emptied the Recycle Bin. Restoration is a tiny freeware program that can recover deleted files with just a few mouse clicks, and it doesn’t even have to be installed on your PC, it can run from a floppy disc. As an added bonus it has a ‘shredder’ function that will make deleted files completely unrecoverable. The program is only 193kb and it can be downloaded from:

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