Testing and Monitoring PC Hardware

Tuning and optimizing hardware and software is often related to the analysis and setting of a number of parameters. The problem of estimating the effectiveness of certain parameters and their values often arises. Also, it is necessary to evaluate the efficiency of the procedures selected when setting up the computer's hardware and software.

Because the total number of parameters that should be taken into account is quite large, it's especially hard to analyze the influence that these parameters have as a whole, since they often depend one on another. Notice also that sometimes these parameters are mutually exclusive.

Incorrect decisions made in the process of installing, optimizing, and especially upgrading hardware and software not only prevent you from getting the full advantage from your computer's functionality, but are also often accompanied by additional and unnecessary financial losses.

In such cases, objective criteria that simplify the decision-making process are of the utmost importance. There are special software tools that estimate the effect of certain specific parameters and settings.

Usually, various tests are exploited for this purpose, which allow you to analyze the efficiency and overall performance of the basic subsystems under different combinations of settings. The results obtained in the course of testing allow you to figure out the optimum values.

Using this benchmarking software allows you to solve the problem of feedback, which brings a bit of objectivity into the process of setting the parameters and analyzing the results. This amount depends on the software used and the completeness of the testing.

Special programs that are oriented towards analyzing one of the subsystems of the computer are often used as tests. An example is estimating of the performance of the hard drive by the widely known HDDSpeed program, or of the processor with MIPS.

There is similar software that can be used for testing RAM and cache memory. This software also allows you to change their working parameters — for example, time delays set in BIOS Setup — and to estimate the operating speed of the given subsystem and its effect on the overall performance.

Benchmarking software often helps you to ascertain the abilities of the memory modules and optimize their work, thus using them as effectively as possible. Often, fairly complex resource-consuming games are also used as tests that help to analyze the system stability.

Despite the prevalence of these programs, the most popular methods of testing are those that allow you to perform a complex analysis of the computer subsystems. Modern motherboards often have built-in monitoring and management capabilities.

An example of such a capability is Power Management, which is accessed through the Power Management Setup menu in BIOS Setup Award Software. This menu allows you to setup the energy-saving mode option and provides visual control over electric and heat parameters for the processor and operation of the cooling fans and the power supply unit.

Using this program allows you to determine the workload on the processor, RAM, hard drive(s), the size of swap files, etc. in real time without exiting any application or the system. As a result, it's not very difficult to find the hardware and software functions that are monopolizing the resources of the computer subsystems.

Besides, having determined the requirements of the application programs in such areas as the RAM and virtual memory, it's easy to choose the best strategy for tuning and upgrading the computer. You now have the opportunity to increase the general performance of the computer while spending a minimal amount of money.

For example, using the analysis of the results of testing and monitoring, you may now select the optimal size for a RAM modules to be installed in your computer. In addition, you can define the size and constant status of the swap file, which the virtual memory uses.

Incidentally, in order to increase the operating speed of accessing this file, you should place it at the beginning of the hard drive (or at least in the first quarter), which is easily done after installing the system on a relatively large empty hard drive. This is generally accompanied by a significant gain in performance.

From the size of the virtual memory, which is designated by the system for work with application and system programs, you may also estimate and choose the optimal size for the computer RAM.

You can acquaint yourself with the System Monitor program by reading the technical documentation, the OS user guide, and on-line Help system. Besides the system monitoring capabilities built into BIOS and Windows 9x, you can also use special programs developed and distributed by a number of manufacturers.

An example of one of these is the LANDesk Client Manager from Intel. This program is one of the most recognized monitoring programs. You can find out more about the capabilities of the LANDesk Client Manager on Intel's website.

The problem of system diagnostics is closely related to various aspects of monitoring as an instrument used to measure the efficiency of the system hardware and software. Indeed, sometimes as a result of analysis, and sometimes even without doing any monitoring, a decision is made to upgrade the computer.

Taking into account the complexity of modern computer components and the fact that plug-and-play technology is still far from perfect, you must sometimes solve compatibility problem on your own. You should note that the conflict between devices does not always lead to the system crash.

Often, you only notice it, when you need to access one of the conflicting devices. However, the presence of conflicts increases the time it takes to test the hardware while booting the system, and may decrease the operating speed of the computer. This is why, in order to reach maximum computer performance and take full advantage of its functional capabilities, you should resolve the hardware conflicts.

Most often, conflicts arise due to the fact that a number of devices try to use the same system resources, for instance, the addresses of input/output devices, the direct memory access channel (DMA), interrupt request lines (IRQ), etc.

In order to fix such conflicts, you should attempt to change the value of the parameter that caused the conflict. It sometimes happens that the device is working incorrectly due to the hardware failure. It might be that the incorrect driver, or not all necessary drivers, are installed.

In such a case, after appropriate diagnostics, you should add the necessary drivers. In many cases, you can find on the Internet FAQs and programs that can be of help. Sometimes it may be useful to get a report on system resources. The program can output the report both to the printer or to a PRN file.

The majority of hardware and software settings are stored in the system registry. Usually, most administrative and diagnostic tools change these settings in the registry. However, you can also edit these parameters directly in the system registry itself. This is done using the registry editor (REGEDIT.EXE) — special registry-editing tool.

registry is vitally important system component, and it will require you significant skills and efforts to restore it. It's highly possible that to restore the damaged registry you'll have to reinstall the operating system.

Further more, you may need to format the hard drive, which will guarantee a more radical and effective cleaning up of the storage device information space from the consequences of careless experimentation.

Because of the potential danger of correcting the hardware and software parameters by editing the system registry, this method can only be recommended to experienced users or professionals. This is also why it is recommended that you use safer methods of diagnosing and monitoring, such as those described earlier.

Working with these methods generally is not dangerous to the functioning of the system and the hardware and software of the computer, and therefore can be recommended to those users who are trying to set and optimize the hardware and software of the computer themselves.