[ The PC Guide | Troubleshooting
and Repair Guide | Diagnostic, Troubleshooting and Repair Tools
While not as commonly used as diagnostic software, there are available several pieces
of hardware that can be very helpful in troubleshooting some specific hardware problems.
These units are not nearly as popular because they are usually more expensive and are used
for specific types of problems, making them less universally applicable than the general
software utilities that are widely encountered.
If you are a serious home builder or troubleshooter, you may want to consider one or
more of the following:
- Loop-Back Plugs: These are small plugs that go onto the serial and parallel ports
on your computer and connect the receive to transmit lines to simulate a connection (they
connect the port to itself). Using these with a program like Norton Diagnostics allows for
full testing of the operation of these ports, whereas without them only the internal
portions of the port can be tested.
Note: The type of plugs used by a
particular diagnostic utility may be different than the type used by another program made
by another company. Check it out before you buy.
- Multimeter/Ohmmeter: An ohmmeter is a device that measures electrical resistance;
a multimeter can measure resistance, voltage and current. These devices are used by
electricians, electronics designers and repairpeople. They have come down greatly in price
and simple ones can be had inexpensively (while top-end ones of course are still quite a
bit of money). A simple ohmmeter is useful primarily for checking for short circuits or
open circuits (broken connections, damaged cables, etc.) Multimeters can be used for more
extensive electronics testing.
- BIOS POST Cards: It is well-known that the BIOS will, if it finds a problem
during its power-on self-test (POST), produce audio "beep codes" and/or video
messages that indicate what the trouble is that it found. What many do not realize is that
the BIOS of most PCs is designed to send a stream of test codes to a special memory
location as it performs its tests, usually 80h. By using a special card designed to
capture and display these codes, you can pinpoint exactly where in the power-on self-test
a system is hanging up. This can be extremely helpful in debugging very stubborn systems.
Scott Wainner has more about one of these cards on
- Test Bed: Some experienced PC repair people keep around an older system that they
can use as a test bed for components. It can be very useful to be able to test an unknown
device with other components that are known to work, to cut down on the guesswork.
There is also more advanced test hardware available, including devices such as logic
probes, oscilloscopes, and many types of specialized component testers. These items are
generally very expensive and require specific training to be used properly; they are not
for the home PC user or even for most hobbyists. Professional test hardware costs
thousands of dollars, which is one reason why doing it yourself is often not an option for
many kinds of repairs.
PC Tool Kit
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