The Device Manager is probably the handiest tool you can use when you’re troubleshooting hardware problems in Windows 98/Me. The reason, of course, is that the Device Manager will automatically highlight the problem device and then provide you with access to that device’s configuration settings, which you can then use to analyze the problem in more detail.

In addition to the Device Manager, the System Information tool provides you with access to detailed information about hardware resources as well as an abundance of details on each piece of hardware installed on your system. However, as every technical support specialist knows, the more tools you have at your disposal when troubleshooting hardware problems, the easier it is to track down and solve the problem. With that in mind, you’ll be interested to learn that within Windows 98/Me operating systems, you’ll find an undocumented utility called the Microsoft Hardware Diagnostics tool, which, when used in concert with the Device Manager and the System Information tool, makes it even easier to troubleshoot hardware problems in Windows 98/Me operating systems.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that all three troubleshooting tools basically display the same information concerning your hardware configuration. It’s just that each one has a unique approach to displaying that information, and each provides you with a unique feature set. As such, when used simultaneously, they can provide you with different angles of the problem in question and, chances are, the combination will help you to discover the solution much quicker. Here’s what you need to know to make full use of the Hardware Diagnostics tool.

The secret to launching the utility
You’ll find the Hardware Diagnostics tool in the Windows folder in the executable file Hwinfo.exe. Now, you might think that launching this utility would be as simple as double-clicking the executable file, but when you do so, nothing happens.

The hidden secret to launching the Hardware Diagnostics tool’s executable file is that you must launch it from the Run dialog box using a special parameter, hwinfo /ui, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
The trick to launching the Hardware Diagnostics tool’s executable file is adding a special parameter to the command line.

Create a shortcut

Since the Hardware Diagnostics tool is so handy, you should create a shortcut to it on your desktop or the Start menu. To do so, right-click on the desktop and launch the Create Shortcut Wizard by selecting New | Shortcut. Then, type hwinfo /ui in the command line text box and follow through with the wizard.

Getting started with the Hardware Diagnostics tool
Once you launch the Hardware Diagnostics tool, as shown in Figure B, you’ll discover that its interface looks a lot like Notepad’s and that it appears to contain a huge text file. Essentially that’s what it is. However, there’s much more going on here than meets the eye. Let’s take a closer look.

Figure B
The Hardware Diagnostics tool’s interface resembles that of Notepad.

As you can see, the first category in the display lists the system summary information, which includes such things as the Windows version number, the product ID, and the name assigned to the computer. The second category displays a list of all the programs that are automatically launched from the registry’s Run key. The details in this second category alone can be valuable troubleshooting information in a number of situations.

The rest of the Hardware Diagnostics tool’s window display provides you with a very detailed list of every key in the registry that refers to the hardware installed in your system. While this might seem like an overwhelming amount of information that would be difficult to analyze, you’ll be pleased to find that tracking down specific information is easy due to a number of features built into the Hardware Diagnostics tool.

To begin with, you’ll notice that the Hardware Diagnostics tool color-codes various pieces of information that identify specific details, as shown in Figure C. For example, you’ll find registry keys displayed in green, filenames and attributes in magenta, configuration manager information in brown, warnings in blue, and error messages in red. Second, the Hardware Diagnostics tool provides you with a fully functional Find command that includes check boxes for matching whole words as well as matching case. Third, you can totally reconfigure the display, using different views and filters.

Figure C
The Hardware Diagnostics tool color-codes various pieces of information to make it easy to quickly identify specific details.

What is the configuration manager?

In this case, the configuration manager is the title assigned to a registry key whose contents define the current hardware configuration of the system. This key is also known as the hardware tree.

Reconfiguring the display
Since the Hardware Diagnostics tool’s initial display lists every registry key for every piece of hardware in your system, locating information on a specific piece of hardware can be a bit time-consuming. However, you can make finding specific information easier by reconfiguring the display, which you can do in several ways.

First, you can isolate specific pieces of information by using the display choices found on the View menu, shown in Figure D. For example, if you want to quickly track down a malfunctioning device, select the Devices With Problems view, which will reconfigure the display such that only those devices experiencing problems appear in the list.

Figure D
You can use the choices found on the View menu to isolate specific pieces of information.

The Resource Summary view displays a complete list of system resources, including IRQs, DMA channels, and IO ranges. The File Verify view compares the current size of every driver file against the original installation size, as well as providing such details as dates and version numbers for every hardware-related file currently in use on the system. The Current Devices view will reconfigure the display to show every piece of hardware.

When the default view, All Devices, is selected on the View menu, the Filter menu is enabled. When you pull down the Filter menu, you’ll see that the Hardware Diagnostics tool displays information using all of the general hardware categories, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E
The Filter menu allows you to filter out specific hardware devices.

You can then easily filter out any of these hardware devices simply by selecting an item on this menu to remove the checkmark. Using the Toggle All command at the bottom of the menu can simplify the use of these filters. For example, if you want to see MultiMedia Classes only, simply select that item once to remove the checkmark, and then select the Toggle All command. When you do, the state of each item on the menu will be reversed.

Still supporting Windows 95?
If you’re unlucky enough to still have a few Windows 95 systems lurking around your enterprise, you might be interested to know that the Windows 95 OSR2 CD contained an early version of the Hardware Diagnostics tool. You can find it buried on the CD in the \Other\Misc\Hwtrack folder as Hwdiag.exe. To run Windows 95’s Hardware Diagnostics tool, simply double-click the executable file and run the utility right off the CD. Alternatively, you can copy the Hwdiag.exe file to your hard drive for easier access.