Have you ever been disappointed by the lack of configuration details that the System Information utility displays in Microsoft Windows? If so, you’ll find a lot to like in PC Wizard. This little utility from the folks at CPUID.com is one of the more comprehensive system information products I’ve encountered. PC Wizard can very accurately identify a large number of system components, and because it’s regularly updated, it supports the latest technologies and standards.

In addition to extremely detailed hardware information, PC Wizard provides you with specifics on configuration files, system files, and system resources. It even has a basic benchmarking feature. And the best part is that PC Wizard is free. I’ll introduce you to PC Wizard, examine its capabilities, and describe some situations in which the information revealed by PC Wizard comes in handy.

Downloading and installing PC Wizard
PC Wizard is compatible with Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000/XP. You can download it from the PC Wizard page on the CPUID Web site. At the time this article was written, the most current iteration of the product was PC Wizard 2004, version 1.40.

Once you download the executable installation file (PCW2004.exe), simply double-click it to launch the Setup wizard. Once the installation procedure is complete, you’ll have the option to immediately run the program.

Take a tour
As I mentioned, PC Wizard is one of the most comprehensive system information utilities I’ve ever seen. One look at the opening screen, shown in Figure A, should immediately confirm that assessment.

Figure A
PC Wizard’s opening screen gives you an idea of the amount of system information packed within this utility.

Before we examine the information that PC Wizard reveals, let’s take a look at some of the features in the program itself, beginning with the user interface. On the left, you’ll see a graphical menu called the Tools window. Working like the Tasks pane in Windows XP’s My Computer, the Tools window’s five category sections expand and contract when you click the category headings. The category headings are Hardware, Configuration, System Files, Resources, and Benchmark. The Hardware category is expanded by default when you launch the program.

Once expanded, each category reveals a set of icons you can use to drill down to specific information that falls under that particular category. To drill down, begin by selecting an icon, whose subcategory is defined in a pop-up when you hover your mouse pointer over the icon. The items in that subcategory are displayed in the list box in the top section of the right-hand pane, along with a brief description. When you select an item, specific details about that particular item appear on the Information and Drivers tabs—if applicable.

While PC Wizard’s user interface makes viewing system information a quick and easy operation, you may want to export information for comparison or for compiling reports. Fortunately, there are multiple options for doing so—just pull down the File menu, and you can select the Save As, Print, or Send A Message command.

When you select the Save As command, you’ll see the dialog box shown in Figure B. Not only can you specify the range and amount of information you want to save in your report, but you can also specify the format, choosing from plain text, HTML, or RTF. You can even have your report archived in either CAB or ZIP format.

Figure B
PC Wizard can create its reports in several formats.

When you select the Print or Send A Message command, you’ll see a similar dialog box but only with options in the Range and Parameters panels. Obviously, using the Print command will sent the report to the default printer. However, when you use the Send A Message command, you’ll see a message window from the default e-mail client with the subject heading of PC Wizard Report. The report will be sent as an attachment named Pcwizard.rep and saved in text format.

In addition to these standard reports, PC Wizard can generate and produce a DMI (Desktop Management Interface) dump as well as a hardware registers dump. You’ll find commands to create these reports on the Tools menu.

If you’re currently using the Motherboard Monitor utility (a tool that displays temperature and fan RPM information from a sensor chip on your motherboard), you’ll discover that PC Wizard can communicate with and display information collected by Motherboard Monitor.

There’s really not much else to PC Wizard’s user interface that’s worth pointing out. In fact, there are several features that aren’t completely implemented. For example, the Help system is basically nonexistent, and the PC Wizard Web Update feature doesn’t work. Nevertheless, the level and detail of the information you can uncover with PC Wizard definitely makes up for these shortcomings.

Gather information galore
Because I can’t cover every one of PC Wizard’s information stores in detail within this article, I’ll direct your attention to Table A for a complete list.

Table A
Category Items
Hardware Mainboard
IO Ports
Power Status
Voltage Temperature and Fans
Configuration Operating System
Control Panel
Process and Threads
DLL Library
OLE Description
Microsoft Applications
TrueType Fonts
Uninstall and Microsoft Installer
Boot/Startup Application
Associated File Extensions
ODBC Data Sources
System Files Config.nt
CMOS Values
Environment Variables
Resources Interrupt Request (IRQ)
Direct Memory Access (DMA)
I/O Ports
Memory Resources
Benchmarks Processor
L1 Cache
L2 Cache
Global Memory
Video/DirectX 3D
Hard Disk
Information you can view from PC Wizard

Now, let’s suppose you want to add more memory to a computer and need to find out how much memory is already installed, gather details on what types of memory chips are installed, and discover whether there is an empty socket on the motherboard to accommodate an additional chip. Under normal circumstances, you might have to investigate several utilities to obtain some of this information, and you might even have to open the box to gather the rest. With PC Wizard, however, you just access the Physical Memory item of the Hardware/Mainboard category, as shown in Figure C, and you instantly have access to all the details you need, and more.

Figure C
Tracking down detailed information on RAM chips is easy with PC Wizard.

On my example computer, PC Wizard reveals that the chip in the first socket is manufactured by Micron Technology, and that it’s 128 MB SDRAM. The part and serial numbers for this chip are also shown. The rest of the information indicates that this computer has a single bank with two sockets, and that the second socket contains an identical Micron 128 MB SDRAM. It also reveals that the maximum memory for this system is 1024 MB.

In another scenario, suppose that while troubleshooting a problem, you access the Processes tab in Task Manager and see a process you don’t recognize. Before you proceed, you want to learn more about the process. To do so, just access the Process And Threads section of the Configuration category, select the process item, and then select the Drivers tab. You’ll then be able to quickly gather all kinds of information about the process, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
The Process and Threads section allows you to quickly gather information on any running process.

Now, imagine that you’re supporting a legacy DOS application under Windows XP and need to investigate the Config.nt and Autoexec.nt files as part of a Windows Virtual DOS Machine (NTVDM) subsystem troubleshooting expedition. Rather than launching Notepad and then painstakingly locating and opening the files, you can quickly take a look at the contents of those files by selecting them in the System Files category, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E
Accessing obscure configuration files is streamlined.

If you want to investigate your hard disk’s performance, you can access the Benchmark category and run the Hard Disk Benchmark. You’ll then see a display of the data as well as a graphic, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F
PC Wizard’s hard disk benchmarking provides good information.

Sharing system information
As you can see, the amount and detail of information packed into PC Wizard is quite amazing. Of course, we all know that PC Wizard is not the only system information utility out there. So, if you know of or would recommend another such utility, post that information in the Discussion area below.