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Best computer hardware diagnostic testing tools

Posted on 2014-12-09
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Last Modified: 2014-12-15
I just opened up a computer repair shop and have hired two additional techs and would like to purchase some testing tools and would like to know which ones are the best out there. I have all the software ones that I use for when computers do boot, but am looking more so for when a computer does not boot at all. For the past six years when I get a computer that is having a hardware issue I have just swamped out components until I found the bad one. This is time consuming and you can swap out every component except the motherboard and CPU. I would like a piece of equipment that will test all the hardware when a computer will not boot and tell me which piece of equipment is bad (if something like that exists). I would also like to know what everyone recommends for software and hardware tools for running diagnostics as I would be willing to change what I use now if something better is out there. So basically I would like as much input that you have to help my techs make the most accurate and timely diagnostics. Thanks!
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Question by:LANengineer
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by:dbrunton
dbrunton earned 200 total points
ID: 40489177
>>  I would like a piece of equipment that will test all the hardware when a computer will not boot and tell me which piece of equipment is bad (if something like that exists).

So would I.  It doesn't exist.

>>  I would also like to know what everyone recommends for software and hardware tools for running diagnostics as I would be willing to change what I use now if something better is out there

UBCD http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/

For the past six years when I get a computer that is having a hardware issue I have just swamped out components until I found the bad one.
and this is still the Number Uno method.  You can sometimes improve on this by isolating the components ie disconnecting hardware that isn't needed such as addin cards, graphics cards, hard disks, floppy disks, network cards, CDROM drives etc and getting the system to a bare bootable stage and then adding components back one by one.  But this is a judgement call depending on your experience and prediagnosis of what could be causing the problem.
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by:rindi
ID: 40489240
I completely agree with the UBCD mentioned above. It is the best tools available to diagnose problems with RAM and HD's for example.

One thing that can often help in isolating a hardware problem with the mainboard / VGA card or PSU is a visual inspection. Look for cracking, bulging or leaking electrolytic capacitors. I've found that most of the time they are the cause for hardware ceasing to work. Luckily newer mainboards no longer use electrolytic caps, but the powersupplies still use them. Another visual inspection that helps is if you remove the CPU and look at the boards contacts. I've seen those bent or broken, and then it is also likely that the system won't boot. If you see such bent contacts, you can deduct that the user was probably trying something out before coming to you, as those pins don't bend or break by themselves...

What often also helps is to replace the CMOS battery (or at least measure it's voltage), as that can cause funny issues if it is too low.
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by:Fred Marshall
Fred Marshall earned 100 total points
ID: 40489347
Much is to be said for the judgement of the technician.  A lot of time can be saved or wasted with a blind approach.
For example:
"the computer won't boot" is woefully inadequate as a description of the problem.  It can be broken down further with important benefits:
1 - there is no power whatsoever.
2 - there is power but no video.
3 - there is power and there is POST video
4 - there is a message regarding the operating system missing
5- the operating system starts to boot but doesn't finish / hangs
6 - the boot process works but takes 45 minutes to complete .. leading to "it won't boot".
7 - the system won't boot to a live CD like UBCD

Note that UBCD won't help with 1,2,3,6,7.  
And, each of these indicates a different kind of problem.

1) Bad power supply is likely
2) Bad MB caps or video (or monitor/cable....?)
3) Bad HD or HD cable
X) Bad memory fits in here somewhere....
4) HD issue
5) OS issue including HD issue
6) Failing HD that is likely to not be revealed by many of the HD tests.  Requires a speed test.
7) Bad MB caps (if not a CD/DVD drive issue).
etc.

If I might suggest, you should have a diagnostic flowchart for less experienced technicians AND then focus questions like this on *one* of the points in the flow.  

I rather disagree that pulling or swapping components is too tedious.  There aren't that many to deal with.
I believe the general rule (IF there's power) is to pull all the memory and disconnect all the drives and move up from there starting with memory.  Of course, with some judgement you might skip some.
And, replacing the power supply is a common fix if there's no power.
If there are bad caps on the MB then quit before you start.

There is no hard and fast rule really.  Some computers are worth saving for other reasons than just cost-effective repair.  So, for example, you may choose to replace the bad caps on a MB.  Unless you do it yourself, the cost of doing so is equivalent to a moderately-priced new MB - so it's generally not cost effective and it can be time consuming if shipping is involved.  But it may be the right thing to do.
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by:Aaron
ID: 40489630
I think your best tool will be your techs. Make sure they are well trained and provide the resources they need. There is no easy fix for experience but there are a lot options to train individuals. fmarshall has a point that if you can't get away from the process just make the process more efficient. Your techs will improve with time as well... Something to consider would be to give them access to experts-exchange accounts for when they get stuck - they can ask a question and continue to work on the next job while waiting a reply. Now I wouldn't recomened this for everything but having access to all the articles and giving them easy access for something to do in the down time would be helpful. You don't want this to take away from their work but if you're just starting a business there are going to be times where you are slammed and times where nothing is happening.

Just a thought - at least where I used to live there is a huge demand right now for laptop screen replacement. It might be something you could market and though it takes a bit of time it's easy enough to train your staff in this. Companies will charge 300+ often for a screen that cost $50 and 20 mins to replace. I use to do this kinda work on the side for friends and family for free+cost of parts just because so many where ready to throw out their computers after seeing the replacement prices.

Things to think about: do you want one tech to focus more on hardware and another more on software/ antivirus/ file restores... Not sure what your overall focus as a business is but that is something to consider as well. Often people look at a computer repair store and don't know if what they need can be done their.
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Author Comment

by:LANengineer
ID: 40489985
I have been using the UBCD for years and that is a great tool, when the computer boots. I currently have two computers in the shop that power on and just go to a black screen. No beeps, no cursor, nothing. I have already tested memory and hard drive and they are both good. I plugged into a monitor and still did not get video, just a black screen. How do I know from this point what is bad??? I suspect the motherboard, but there has to be something out there that will test the motherboard and tell me this for sure. I want to make sure that what I am telling my customers is 100% accurate. So there is nothing out there that will test a computers hardware when it will not boot????
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by:dbrunton
dbrunton earned 200 total points
ID: 40490013
There are POST cards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/POST_card

Also see http://www.amazon.com/Motherboard-Analyser-Diagnostic-Card-Tester/dp/B005J1SUIO for an actual one.

But if you read the comments you need the motherboard's error codes to help in diagnosing the problem.

May be useful.  Or not.
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by:Fred Marshall
ID: 40490210
I might suggest that giving customers information that is "100% accurate" could be a lofty goal.  
"It doesn't boot" is information that would be 100% accurate but I don't think that's what you meant.
"It doesn't boot because of XYZ" has *but little more* value to the customer.

In view of the unlikely value of fixing a motherboard, why does it matter what component on the board is bad after the obvious things have been addressed?

Well, that's one perspective.

Do you intend to repair motherboards?

I might suggest a somewhat different conversation with the customer:

- The computer won't boot.
- We will try to fix it.
- We will decide how much to charge once it's fixed.  Time and material is the common formula.
- It will likely cost $X if ..... and $Y if .......  (e.g. it needs a new hard drive or not.  It needs a new OS license or not.  etc.)
- We will either charge nothing or some minimum charge if we don't fix it.
The point here is: Other than the cost drivers, what does the customer care what's technically wrong?  All they need is a computer that will work at a reasonable price.

This leaves *you* in the position of deciding how far to go because you get to decide when to quit before getting paid the minimum is too costly of your time.  And, it allows you to do jobs that are cost-effective for the customer and to reject jobs that aren't.  The customer can always beg for a fix for more money nonetheless - which rarely happens.

I visited a computer supermarket in China not too long ago.  There were all manner of little shops set up across the floors of a 3-story building with escalators.  Most of the shops were for retail but some of the shops were repair shops and there were guys working on motherboards.  I had to wonder what techniques they used?  The main thing I believe is that labor value needs to be low enough to make this sort of activity profitable.  So I don't think that motherboard repair is a likely business in most of the western world.  But, it may be in some countries.
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nobus earned 200 total points
ID: 40490671
best contact these guys, and check out what suits you from their products :  http://www.uxd.com/hardware-diagnostics.shtml
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Author Closing Comment

by:LANengineer
ID: 40501400
Thanks everyone for all your help and input!!
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