Brrzap! Not all hardware failures start that way, but there’s a good chance they’ll end up sounding like that as a result of you chucking an unruly piece of hardware through the nearest exit of your dwelling. Before you hulk up next time, know that there are ways to get a little bit more information about the status of your components. Applications that assess the health of your system’s various parts serve a twofold purpose. You can deduce that equipment on your system might be going kaput or is otherwise screwed up in some fashion. Armed with that knowledge, you can then attempt to make an effective repair. If there is no way to repair your parts, you’ll at least get an advanced notice that disaster is about to strike and that a trip to the electronics store might be in your soon-to-immediate future.
In this week’s freeware roundup, I’m going to give you a list of applications that will help you assess your system’s CPU, hard drives, optical drives, network connections, and memory. Don’t delay in installing these applications–every second wasted puts you but one step closer to a catastrophic meltdown–or, at the very least, unexpected failure in a critical piece of your PC. And nobody wants to be left hanging one the one day you really, really, really need to access the Internet, for example.
What it does: As the name suggests, Core Temp is a quick and easy way to check out the temperature of your CPU as determined by the processor’s internal probes. If you’re a familiar face at Maximum PC, you’ve surely heard the gang wax about the wonders of the SpeedFan utility. Temperature-wise, the two programs conduct similar readings. The reason I lean to Core Temp, however, is that SpeedFan will sometimes offset the actual temperate of your CPU (depending on the processor) by a hearty 15 degrees. Core Temp gets the reading right the first time, every time–a perfect tool for novice users that don’t know about SpeedFan’s important little quirk.
What it does: Although you can use innumerable online tools to give you a decent gauge of your current bandwidth, NetStress is an offline tool that will help you isolate network peculiarities within your internal setup. To gain the most use out of the program, set up your network and run the throughput benchmarking features at a time when you feel your setup is at peak efficiency. Record the numbers. Later, if you start to detect slowdowns or other strange goings-on, re-run the benchmarking application and see how your numbers stack up. Just like Sherlock Holmes, you can begin to isolate the problem to an errant network cable, problematic PC, or router based on the results of your tests!
What it does: Curious to know if you’re getting maximum performance out of your optical drive? That’s where Nero DiscSpeed comes into the picture. Although this program is no longer being updated in favor of a new paid-for application (grr), it’s still a great way to analyze your drive’s read and write speeds. For example, it’s one of the best ways to figure out if your 52X burner is actually performing at 40X for some unknown reason–measurements like that aren’t really the kind of thing that an average user can estimate by how the reading or writing process “feels.” Get the real seek times, transfer rates, and other measurements with this helpful application.
What it does: This free application gives you a host of options for checking on the health of your hard drives. Pull up the drive’s S.M.A.R.T. diagnostic information if you’re just interested in a quick scan. If any statistic looks out-of-place or otherwise dangerous, the program will alert you via colored icons on the side of each piece of information. From there, you can conduct more thorough evaluations by using the application to run offline S.M.A.R.T. testing of any drive in your system, even those connected to your PC via USB or FireWire. If you’re concerned about your system’s airflow, the program will even display real-time temperature readings from your drives as icons on the lower-right hand side of Windows’ taskbar.
What it does: It’s an oldie, but a goodie. I have yet to find a more thorough or easier-to-use method for evaluating the health of your system’s memory. Even Maximum PC itself agrees with me on this one. In fact, it’s well worth your time to click that link and read about how you can use Memtest86 to your greatest advantage. If you’re experience blue screens that have seemingly come out of nowhere and they match the qualifications of a typical memory issue (either the PFN_LIST_CORRUPT or PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA error messages), run Memtest86 as soon as you can to help you pinpoint the problem.