Keeping an accurate hardware inventory is important; but how do you do it effectively without spending hours logging equipment by hand or spending a wad of cash on commercial auditing software? One solution I recently came across is a utility created by Tamas Miklos called AIDA32. You can use this handy tool to collect hardware and software information from a single computer or from every machine on your network. AIDA32 is free for personal use; businesses are asked to register the product online, but registration is still free.

AIDA32 works on all Windows 32-bit operating systems, but it requires at least a 386 CPU, 16 MB of RAM, and 4 MB of free hard disk space. AIDA32 comes in three flavors: Enterprise Edition, Personal Edition, and Network Edition. All are free but offer different features. For example, the Enterprise and Network editions provide full software information, while the Personal edition does not. Once you’ve decided on the AIDA32 version that’s right for your organization, Installing AIDA32
AIDA32 is available as an EXE file (2,408 KB) that installs AIDA32 via a setup wizard or a ZIP file (2,130 KB) that you’ll need to unzip with
WinZip, PKZIP, or a similar application. An AIDA32 icon will be placed on the Start menu under Programs | AIDA32—Enterprise System Information. When you use the ZIP file, AIDA32 files are merely extracted to the directory of your choice. You’ll run AIDA32 by running the AIDA32.exe file.

Examining a single PC
AIDA32 is extremely easy to use. The main AIDA32 window is divided into two panes: a tree view of hardware categories on the left and a detailed listing of each category’s individual components on the right. When you start AIDA32, it immediately performs an audit of your local machine, which will probably take only a few seconds, depending on your system’s speed. Figure A shows summary information from one of my Windows XP Pro machines.

Figure A
The tree view in the left pane of AIDA32’s main window makes it easy to find the information you’re looking for.

Creating reports
While you can easily review your system’s hardware configuration via the main AIDA32 window, you can also prepare a variety of reports using several built-in tools. When you click Report from the main window’s toolbar, AIDA32 lets you choose between Report Wizard, Report Wizard Pro/Lite, Quick Report, and NetReport Wizard. The Report Wizard allows you to choose from several preconfigured reports such as system summary, hardware-related pages, software-related pages, and so forth. You can also choose a Custom selection option, which allows you to select the individual AIDA32 categories to include in the report.

The Report Wizard Pro/Lite is a less wizardlike incarnation of the Report Wizard but works the same. The Quick Report option lets you generate reports directly from the main window’s tree view. Simply select the category you want to create the report from, go to Report | Quick Report, and then choose your format.

The NetReport Wizard lets you generate reports on remote computers that are running AIDA32 and have been configured to accept incoming AIDA32 connections. I’ll discuss more about this process in the following section.

Whatever type of report you generate can be saved in a variety of files formats, including plain text, HTML, MHTML, XML, CSV, MIF, INI, and ADO. You can also e-mail the report directly from the AIDA32 interface. One of the handiest formats is CSV because it allows you to quickly import your report data into a spreadsheet or database. You can then use this data as part of an organization-wide hardware and software audit.

While I’m on the subject of creating reports, I’d like to take a moment and discuss report security. As you can imagine, whenever you collect such a large amount of information about a PC, there’s a risk of collecting information that’s sensitive in nature. If you’d rather not display any potentially sensitive information within the hardware inventory, there’s an option you can use to disable certain sections of the report generator.

To do so, select the Preferences command from AIDA32’s File menu. You’ll then see the Preferences dialog box. Expand the Reports section in the console tree and then select the Security object. When you do, you’ll see several report elements listed as either Personal or Confidential. Above this list are two check boxes that you can deselect to remove personal or confidential information from the reports, as shown in Figure B. Once you’ve set these two options, I encourage you to browse the rest of AIDA32’s extensive list of preferences.

Figure B
AIDA32 gives you the option of omitting personal or confidential information from reports.

Performing an enterprise-wide audit
The first decision you’ll need to make when auditing is whether you’ll install AIDA32 on every remote machine, or if you’ll have remote machines running AIDA32 from a network share. If you decide to install AIDA32 on each of your organization’s computers, you must configure them to accept incoming AIDA32 connections by going to File | Accept Incoming Connections from AIDA32’s main window toolbar. These machines are now called AIDA32 servers, and the machine you use to connect to them is called the AIDA32 client. This means that in a typical AIDA32 network application, you have many servers and a single client.

If you choose to run AIDA32 from a network share, you’ll want to configure your remote machines to launch AIDA32 from the command line using a logon script and the /HIDDENSERVER command line option. This option runs AIDA32 in server mode, meaning it can accept incoming connections without the user having to take any action. AIDA32 has an extensive set of command prompt options; these options and a command line syntax example are outlined in Listing A.

With AIDA32 running in server mode on your remote machines, you can use the NetReport feature I mentioned earlier to connect to your AIDA32 servers and generate reports on those machines. To do this, go to Report | NetReport Wizard and click Next. Select the type of report you want to compile (there’s even an option for the pages that are required for an audit) and click Next. You can then select the file format you want the report to use. If you’re going to use these results for an audit, choose CSV and click Next.

AIDA32 will prompt you to select the remote computers on which you want to create the reports. Computers that have had reports run on them previously should show up on this screen, and you can select which ones you want to audit. If you need to add a computer to this list, click New and enter the IP address of the computer or specify a range of IP addresses to scan for machines. Click OK to return to the remote computer selection screen. Click Next, and you’ll be asked to choose the report output method. You can have the report saved to a file or sent to an e-mail address.

Remember that the report creation process is actually taking place on the remote computer—the AIDA32 server. By default, reports are saved to the C:\Program Files\AIDA32—Enterprise System Information\Reports directory on the remote machine—not on the machine from which you’re initiating report creation. You can easily change the save location on this screen, or you can change it prior to running the NetReport Wizard under AIDA32’s Preferences window.

If you want to save the files to a common location on your network (which I recommend doing), you’ll need to make sure that the remote machines have access to the specified network resource. Likewise, if you choose to have the report sent to an e-mail address, this action will be performed from the remote machine. You’ll need to configure e-mail account information on the machine’s installation of AIDA32. To do so, go to File | Preferences from AIDA32’s main window toolbar. AIDA32 supports Microsoft Outlook, MAPI, and SMTP.

Once you’ve entered the file location or e-mail address you want, click Finish to create the reports. AIDA32 will open a new window that shows the status of the report creation process and any errors that occur. Once the reports have been created, you’re ready to move to the next step—compiling your audit report files.

Compiling audit report files
To compile the reports, go to the AIDA32 main window, click Audit | Add AIDA16 And AIDA32 Report Files. Select the CSV-based reports that you want to include, and all of the audit information will be compiled automatically. Because AIDA32 cannot scan multiple-level directory structures, all CSV files should be in the same directory. The audit will complete, and you can view the information that AIDA32 has compiled on all of your systems. There are four views of audited information: Audit List (Component), Audit List (Computer), Audit Statistics (Narrow), and Audit Statistics (Wide).

The Audit List (Component) is organized by component and contains a list of computers beneath each component. For example, under the CPU Clock category, you would see a listing of each computer and its CPU clock speed, as shown in Figure C. You’ll also notice in Figure C that beneath the four types of audit reports in the column on the left are report summaries for each individual computer that was audited.

Figure C
The Audit List (Component) option displays the components each individual system uses.

The Audit List (Computer) report, shown in Figure D, is less comprehensive. It allows you to horizontally scroll through a long list to see what components each system has.

Figure D
The Audit List (Computer) report is less comprehensive.

The Audit Statistics (Narrow) report, shown in Figure E, tells you how many computers tested have a component in common. For example, if you wanted to know how many systems had Pentium 4 processors, you would use this report. However, this report doesn’t list computers by name.

Figure E
You can view the number of computers that have components in common.

The final report available is Audit Statistics (Wide). This report is just like Audit Statistics (Narrow), except that it includes computer names. Figure F shows a sample of this report.

Figure F
The Audit Statistics (Wide) report lists statistics with computer names.