Although computer hardware has become something of a commodity item, there are still situations that require troubleshooting. Fortunately, a number of free utilities can help you with the process. This article discusses five good choices.
Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.
1: 3DP Chip
Sometimes hardware problems can be attributed to bad or missing device drivers. 3DP Chip (Figure A) can help you locate drivers for your computer. Upon installation, the software scans your computer and identifies your CPU, motherboard, video card, sound card, network card, etc. Knowing the exact make and model of each device helps you acquire the proper device drivers. One of the best features of this application is that it can back up and restore your driver set.
CrystalDiskInfo (Figure B) helps you assess the state of your hard disk. It shows the drive's health status, temperature, total writes, firmware version, and much more. In case you're wondering, the software seems to work especially well with SSDs. CrystalDiskInfo also contains a charting function you can use to graph various disk statistics.
3: Unknown Device Identifier
Like CrystalDiskInfo, Unknown Device Identifier (Figure C) tries to help you locate missing device drivers. It displays much of the same information that appears in the Windows Device Manager. It can also back up your device drivers, but the Find Driver and Contact Vendor features are a bit lacking. The Find Driver function simply performs a Google search for the driver. The Contact Vendor function takes you to the vendor's Web site.
I've used Memtest86 (Figure D) on a number of occasions. I've found that it does an exceptionally good job, helping me find bad memory numerous times. The software is typically burned to a bootable CD or DVD so that the computer in question can be tested without the operating system running. The interface is straightforward and easy to use.
5: Nero InfoTool
Nero InfoTool (Figure E) is primarily intended to help those who are considering upgrading to the latest version of Nero, to make sure that their system is up to the job. However, the software does much more than evaluate optical drives. It performs a full hardware and device driver inventory, and the data collection process is thorough. The tool has a clean interface to display the collected data and diagnostic information. Unlike the other tools on this list, Nero InfoTool requires the .NET Framework and Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable to be installed.
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What diagnostic tools do you turn to when you're troubleshooting a hardware problem? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.