System Information is a utility that collects and displays detailed configuration information about your computer. This includes information about the main components, hardware resources, and system software. Just being able to see all this information in one place at one time can be extremely handy when troubleshooting problems related to your system configuration.
But it can be even more helpful as a troubleshooting tool when you use it to create what I like to call configuration data sets that you can then use to compare past and present configurations. Basically, what you'll do is create a configuration data set when your system is functioning normally. Then, if your Windows system begins to behave oddly, you can compare the current configuration data set with the one that you created earlier and see what has changed.
In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use System Information to create and use configuration data sets as a troubleshooting tool by comparing past and present configurations.
What it showsAs I mentioned, each time you launch System Information it examines your system and then displays detailed configuration information about your computer, as shown in Figure A. To display all that data, System Information employs an expandable tree structure to break down system configuration information into four categories:
- System Summary — a general profile of your computer and the operating system, including CPU type, amount of RAM, and information about the page file
- Hardware Resources — detailed information about hardware resources, including DMA, IRQ, and the I/O channel
- Components — details about each of the main components in your system, such as storage devices, display devices, and network adapters
- Software Environment — information about the system software configuration, including such things as signed drivers, installed and running programs, network connections, as well as running tasks
System Information displays detailed configuration information about your computer.
If you know what you are looking for but are not sure of its location, you can use the Find What feature at the bottom of the System Information screen. If you don't see it, just press [Ctrl]-F or pull down the Edit menu and select the Hide Find command to remove the check mark.When you use the Find What feature, as shown in Figure B, you can search through the configuration data in three different ways: You can search the entire tree, you can select the Search Selected Category Only check box, or you can select the Search Category Names Only check box.
The Find What feature in System Information provides you with three different ways to search through the configuration data.
Creating a configuration data set
Once you have System Information up and running, creating a configuration data set is easy, and there are two ways you can do it. The one you choose will depend on how you plan to use the data set during your troubleshooting expedition.
To save a configuration data set as a System Information File (.NFO file), just press [Ctrl]-S or pull down the File menu and select the Save command. To save a configuration data set as a straight text file, pull down the File menu and select the Export command. Either way you save it, be sure that you append the date to the end of the file name. For example, you might use the file name SysInfo 10-30-11.nfo.
Troubleshooting with configuration data set
If you are very familiar with the how and where configuration data is displayed in System Information, you can launch two instances of System Information and then load the System Information file we created earlier into one instance. Just pull down the File menu, select the Open command, and locate the configuration data set that you created earlier.You can then position the windows side by side, as shown in Figure C, and then scan for differences between the current configuration and your old configuration in the file. You can tell the two windows apart because the configuration data set shows your saved file name at the top of the tree.
You can launch two instances of System Information and then scan for differences.
If you are not familiar with the how and where configuration data is displayed in System Information, you can create another text file and then use a file comparison tool to compare the two text files and automatically scan for and find differences. One of the nicest tools for file comparison that I've found is called WinMerge, which is a free application that you can download from the WinMerge site.When you use WinMerge to compare the two files, as shown in Figure D, you'll notice that in addition to showing the two files side by side and highlighting any differences in color, you'll find the Location Pane, which maps the entire length of the compared files and highlights any differences between the two files using colored blocks. This makes it easy to see where the differences are located.
You can use WinMerge to compare the two files created by the System Information Export command.
What's your take?
Do you use System Information as a troubleshooting tool? Will you now use it to compare past and present configurations as a troubleshooting tool?
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.