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Testing for bad hardware

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Background: In every computer problem that exhibits as a stoppage (either stopping while the computer is in the middle of something or on startup) the first thing to do is figure out if the problem is hardware related or if it is software related.

PURPOSE: This guide is intended to shine a light on the first steps experts take to diagnose if a problem is hardware or software. This can be used by people of all skill levels and if any explanations are needed please ask. Though this looks like a long guide if you follow the sections and actually test your hardware you will get a more complete diagnosis and your computer will be better equipped for when disaster strikes.

OVERVIEW: This guide is by no means complete and not definitive but it is a good start. It is divided into two sections, bootable operating systems and miscellaneous utilities, both are explained below.

BOOTABLE OPERATING SYSTEMS
 

BOOTABLE OPERATING SYSTEM = Operating system that does not need to be installed and typically doesn't change anything on the hard drive unless you ask it to.

Type of Bootable Operating Systems: There are two types of bootable Operating Systems. There is the premade and the build your own.

Premade Operating Systems are stand alone and usually built on a Linux or freeware core.

Build you Own Operating systems have a builder program (usually BartPE or WinPE) and require an Operating System installer CD (like the Windows XP install disk).

Knoppix

Knoppix is a premade OS that runs a Linux kernel.  The main advantage it has over the others listed in this guide is that it isn't built off a hardware dependant core. Linux can run on just about anything so Knoppix can too. If you load this up and can access your data, and manipulate it, most likely your problem is Windows related (This is true with about a 90% accuracy).

Knoppix location = http://www.knoppix.net/

BartPE

BartPE is a Build Your Own OS. It uses its builder program and a Windows CD. It supports Windows XP SP1 and SP2, Windows Server 2003 SP1, and SP2. It does not currently support a build on Windows Vista or Windows 2000.

Typically if BartPE starts up fine and you can manipulate your hardware fine, you most likely have a corrupt Operating System or a bad driver.

More uses of a BartPE install include for using Norton Ghost to ghost a machine (make an image) or to host a server that can post out a Ghost server and built other computer. You can also unlock your local admin accounts or change the passwords so you can get back in.

BartPE location = http://nu2.nu/pebuilder/

Ultimate Boot CD

There are two Ultimate Boot CD projects.

UBCD is a Premade OS built on a DOS like core.
UBCD4Win is a Build Your Own OS, built off a BartPE enhanced builder program.

What is the difference between the original UBCD and UBCD4Win?

The CD's are by different people.

·         Ultimate Boot CD 4 Windows boots once and you can access all programs, no further reboot required.
·         UBCD boot you need to reboot each time to access different program.

·         UBCD4Windows gives you full read/write access to NTFS/FAT/FATS32 drives.
·         UBCD gives read/write to FAT/FATS32 and ONLY read access to NTFS (this means you can't alter any data).

·         UBCD4Windows has limited support for USB devices. For example, external hdd's providing they are plugged in at boot.
·         UBCD has no USB support.

The list can go on and on, so I'll limit it to this. In no way am I trying to discount how valuable the original UBCD is, it has many purposes and several abilities that UBCD4Win doesn't. Also if any of this information is inaccurate, PLEASE email me and I will fix the mistake.

The UBCD is still a valuable tool for any admin or home user, the UBCD4Windows is an enhancement not a replacement.

Here are some real world examples of the differences.

1. You have a virus on a WinXP PC with a NTFS drive.  The UBCD will not be able to remove it, as you are limited to running one program at a time, it has NTFS read capabilities but can't run the virus scanner at the same time, and even if it could you only have READ capabilities this means you can't write or delete data from the drive. Now the UBCD4Windows has full read/write access.  This means it can remove viruses from a NTFS drive, so the UBCD4Windows can do what the UBCD can't.

2. Data recovery.  Your HDD won't boot but the data is OK.  The UBCD will give you read access but you can only write the data to either FAT or FATS32 drive you can't write data to a USB HDD. UBCD4Win gives you full read/write access to your drives.  This means that if you have two NTFS hard drives you could copy your data from one hard drive to another to rescue your data.  If you have a USB external hard drive you will be able to plug it in and copy the data that way.  You can even connect to your home network and copy the files off that system to another connected to the network. With original UBCD you wouldn't be able to do this.

The UBCD4Windows and Ultimate Boot CD are two entirely different projects the only similarity is the name because Ben was/is active with the Original UBCD.

Ultimate Boot CD Location = http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/
Ultimate Boot CD 4 Windows location = http://www.ubcd4win.com/index.htm

As with all of those, you boot out of your current OS and into the CD that was created for them. This will take any software variables out of the equation and leave only hardware to be tested.

NOTE: DO NOT USE THE UBCD OR BARTPE IF YOU COMPUTER USES WINDOWS VISTA. Both have a potential to damage the boot loader. Stick to Knoppix in the case of a Vista install.

RANDOM TESTING UTILITIES
 
This section is the least complete but does include a single hardware testing tool.

SPEEDFAN

Speed fan is a temperature sensor program. It can help show your Hard Drive temps, or north/south bridges or your CPU, it can sometimes even see your video card (though not all video cards are automatically displayed so don't count on that). If you see any flame symbols here that is a bad sign and something is overheating. Green check marks are good.

Speed fan location = http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php
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Everything up to this point can be done with the case closed. This website badcaps.net is a full guide so I won't plagiarize and just put it all here.

www.badcaps.net - This helps you check if your motherboard or expansion cards (sound/video/etc) have capacitors that fried. Bad caps = bad motherboard = unhappy computer user.
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Conclusion: These are some good places to start and should tell right away if you have a hardware or software problem. Basically if all of these tests show no problems, whoopee you don't have a hardware problem (or again 90% of the time you don't have one) and you have the fun time of diagnosing software errors. Also remember this is by no means complete, and any suggestions would be appreciated.

Good luck in your troubleshooting.

NOTE: The purpose is to have you DO these things, as they help diagnose your problem. It is a waste of time for you to see this and wait for other people to come by and suggest tasks already suggested by this guide. The ONLY reason it is here is to help you so please work with it to see where your problem is.

APPENDIX 1: If your problem involves a loop of windows restarts you can try to do a repair install of windows which resolves that problem 80% of the time. Usually the reason for the reboot loop is out of the X number of DLLs (drivers and such) it is loading, it can load some but it gets to one it can't and it restarts to try again, only to get the same result. Repair installs should only be attempted if you have a CONFIRMED GOOD install CD/DVD and a working DVD/CD Drive. If you CD/DVD drive is acting up this could screw up the repair and make it worse.

APPENDIX 2: If your problem is related to your DVD/CD Drive, please try a Lens Cleaner first. Get a kit that has a CD with 3 or 4 brushes attached, and a cleaning solution. A typical decent kit goes for 15-20 bucks, if it is around 10 bucks it is low quality and might not work or clean as well.
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