I can't count how many times I've been asked to reformat and reinstall the operating system on a client's PC only to find out they don't have driver disks, system recovery CDs, or documentation. "No problem," I say, "I'll just zip out to the Internet and download the latest drivers before I start the reinstall." I'll then ask, "Do you know what brand and model sound card the computer has?" "No," they answer. "How about the video card?" "No." "What about the modem or network card?" "No."
While it's possible to get the brand and model of many hardware devices from within Windows, the information can be difficult and time consuming to locate. Windows must also be configured properly for you to get accurate information. You might also be able to determine the brand of a particular peripheral by opening the case and examining the device firsthand. This, however, depends on whether the manufacturer printed anything on the device's chips or circuit boards and whether it included model and not just brand information.
It's times like this when Peter A. Gebhard's PC analysis software Dr. Hardware 2003 comes in handy. Dr. Hardware 2003 is a quick, easy way to get detailed information about hardware, and Windows and benchmark details on any Windows computer. It installs in minutes and, depending on your system, can give you a system overview in seconds.
DOS version available
For those times when Windows isn't working or you're working on a new PC, Gebhard offers Dr. Hardware Sysinfo. This PC analysis tool runs in a DOS environment and is small enough to fit on a bootable floppy disk. It runs many of the same tests as Dr. Hardware 2003 and even some additional ones that can only be performed in a DOS environment.
Obtaining and installing Dr. Hardware 2003
Dr. Hardware 2003 runs on Windows 9x, Me, NT4, 2000, XP, and 2003. You can download a 10-day evaluation copy directly from Gebhard's Web site. After the 10-day evaluation period, you must register the software via one of several online registration services. When you register your copy of Dr. Hardware 2003, you need to choose the version that's right for your operating system and decide whether you want the standard or professional version. The Dr. Hardware 2003 Professional offers some additional features over the standard version, such as an auto-report option that allows you to quickly create reports on multiple systems without user interaction. Dr. Hardware 2003 Standard for Windows 9x/Me/XP Home Edition will set you back $19. Dr. Hardware 2003 Professional for Windows 9x/Me/XP Home Edition and Dr. Hardware 2003 Professional for Windows NT4/2000/XP Professional each costs $29. Dr. Hardware 2003 Premium, which is the same as Dr. Hardware 2003 professional but runs on Windows 9x, Me, NT4, 2000, XP, and 2003, costs $49.
Installing Dr. Hardware 2003 was simple and only took a few minutes. I downloaded and double-clicked the 2.25-MB executable installation file. The installation wizard asked me to accept the EULA and choose a path for the program files. After choosing the path, I was shown a text file warning about the possibility that Dr. Hardware 2003 might lock-up my computer while performing certain diagnostic tests. It also offered potential solutions to these problems. Once I closed the text file, the installation finished and icons were placed on my Start | Programs menu. I was then ready to analyze my 1-GHz-Athlon, Windows XP test machine.
Analyzing a PC with Dr. Hardware 2003
When you run Dr. Hardware 2003 for the first time you are again warned that the program can cause lockups or unexpected reboots, as shown in Figure A. You are also given a possible solution.
|Because Dr. Hardware 2003's tests often interact closely with your PC's hardware, BIOS, and CMOS, lockups are possible. However, Dr. Hardware's help files offer potential solutions, and I experienced no lockups on my test machine.|
Once you clear the lockup warning message you'll be presented with Dr. Hardware 2003's System Overview screen, shown in Figure B.
|Dr. Hardware 2003's main screen makes it easy to locate specific hardware and software tests.|
I decided the System overview was a good place to start, so clicked the Run System Overview Test! button on the System Overview screen. The test took less than 10 seconds and when it finished, I was presented with lots of useful information about my test machine (shown in Figure C) including CPU, chipset, amount of RAM, main BIOS, hard drives, video card, monitor, and installed printers.
|Dr. Hardware 2003's System Overview test provides useful information about your PC.|
After running the System Overview test, I proceeded to Dr. Hardware 2003's Hardware screen, shown in Figure D. Here I was able to get more detailed information about my test machine's CPU, motherboard, BIOS, and chipset.
Proceeding to Dr. Hardware 2003's Devices screen, shown in Figure E, I was able to get detailed information about my test machine's drive, video adapter, monitor, modem, printers, hard drives, and more.
|Dr. Hardware 2003's Devices screen can be helpful in finding the brand and model of various devices.|
One of the more useful tests within the Devices screen is found on the Video tab's Hardware details submenu as shown in Figure F. Here I was able to run a low-level analysis of my test machine's primary video adapter via a VESA test that interacts directly with the hardware. This comes in handy when trying to find the brand and model of an unfamiliar video card.
|Dr. Hardware 2003 allows you to run a low-level test on your PC's primary video adapter.|
On Dr. Hardware 2003's Windows screen, shown in Figure G, I was able to get detailed information on my test machine's Windows XP installation, such as user, Windows version, serial number, and more.
|Dr. Hardware 2003's Windows screen gives you lots of useful information about a machine's Windows installation.|
Dr. Hardware 2003's Resources screen, shown in Figure H, was my next destination. From there, I was able to obtain information on my test machine's memory usage, running processes, hardware resources, and more.
|Dr. Hardware 2003's Resources screen provides you detailed information similar to that found on Windows Task Manager.|
Lastly, I made my way to Dr. Hardware 2003's Benchmarks screen. Here I performed several benchmark tests on my test machine—the results of the CPU/memory test are shown in Figure I. I really liked the way Dr. Hardware 2003 presented the results—showing my PC against several system standards.
|Dr. Hardware 2003 offers an array of benchmarks you can run on your PC, including CPU/memory tests, video tests, hard disk tests, and more.|
Definitely worth a try
Overall I really like Dr. Hardware 2003. While I wouldn't recommend this product for the average user—definitely information overload—as a tool for the Windows expert or support tech, Gebhard's creation is definitely worth a try. If you're looking for other system management utilities, check out this TechRepublic reprint of a Gartner Research Note.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.