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What’s Under the Hood of Your PC?

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Whether you’re a PC hot-rodder who spends a lot of time upgrading system components or a user who flinches when you see a screwdriver, it’s useful to know what’s inside your PC. When it’s time to decide if a particular computer is powerful enough for a particular job or can be upgraded to handle a new task, you need as much information as possible before you upgrade its new hard disk, upgrade its memory, swap out its video card, upgrade it with a faster processor, move it to a different job, or sell it.. In this article, PC upgrade expert Mark Edward Soper shows you how to use free system analysis programs to find out what’s “under the hood” of your PC.

Whether you’re a PC hot-rodder who spends a lot of time upgrading system components or a user who flinches when you see a screwdriver, it’s useful to know what’s inside your PC. Ideally, you’d like to know as much about your computer as possible before you upgrade its new hard disk, upgrade its memory, swap out its video card, upgrade it with a faster processor, move it to a different job, or sell it.

Learning more about your PC is also important if you have question about Windows. How many drive letters can Windows “see?” Is your Windows installation missing important updates? How does your hardware rate on the Windows Experience Index scale? There are just a few of the questions you might want to answer.

While Windows itself includes some reporting software, there are many free third-party utilities that can also be used to take a deeper look at your computer. In this article, we’ll pit Windows utilities such as the System properties sheet, Device Manager and MSInfo32 up against popular third-party reporting programs such as SiSoftware Sandra Lite, Belarc Advisor, and the Crucial.com system memory analysis tool. Is there a single tool that can tell you everything worth knowing about your computer? If not, which combinations are best for specific requirements? Let the games begin!

System Analysis the Microsoft Way

Windows 7 includes several system analysis features: System properties sheet, MSInfo32.exe, and Device Manager are three of the most common. Here’s a refresher on how to start each of them.

System Properties Sheet

The System properties sheet (Figure 1) displays general computer information, such as processor model number and clock speed, memory size, and Windows edition. In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, it also displays the Windows Experience Index (WEI) base score and provides other information (Figure 1).

Figure 1 A portion of the System properties sheet for a computer running a 64-bit edition of Windows 7.

To open the System properties sheet:

  1. Click Start.
  2. Right-click the Computer (My Computer) icon.
  3. Select Properties.

You can also open the System properties sheet from Control Panel.

Device Manager

Device Manager (Figure 2) provides a detailed view of your computer’s hardware, drivers, and resource usage. The procedure for displaying Device Manager differs by Windows version.

Windows XP

  1. Open the System properties sheet.
  2. Click the Hardware tab.
  3. Click Device Manager.

Windows Vista, Windows 7

  1. Open the System properties sheet.
  2. Click Device Manager.

Figure 2 A portion of the Device Manager from a system running Windows 7.

MSInfo32

MSInfo32 provides the deepest look into your computer’s hardware, operating system, and software of any utility included in Windows. Here’s how to start it in Windows XP:

  1. Click Start.
  2. Click Run.
  3. Type MSInfo32 and press Enter.

Windows Vista and Windows 7 fans can use this procedure:

  1. Click Start.
  2. Click the desktop search box.
  3. Type MSInfo32 and press Enter.

Figure 3 A portion of the System Summary display in MSInfo32 from a system running Windows 7.

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