Examining Your PC's System Configuration
In the last hour, you learned how to visually identify most if not all the major components inside your PC. During this hour, you will delve a bit deeper and learn how to examine the system configuration of your PC.
Learning about your PC's system configuration is important because when you upgrade a component, you usually want to make sure that the configuration settings are the same. Also, when you add a new componentsuch as a CD-ROM drive, a removable media drive, or a second hard disk driveyou often need to make configuration changes, and you want to be sure that you are not creating a conflict with an existing device.
Don't worry if some of the information mentioned in this hour seems a bit "techie," arcane, or unnecessary. Even if you don't need all the information for upgrading purposes, you might need it someday for troubleshooting.
During this hour, you will learn:
How to check your PC's system configuration
How to examine the configuration of some of the devices installed in your PC
What interrupts are and how they are used by your PC and its devices
Obtaining a Systems Configuration Program
Most computers sold in the last few years come with some type of diagnostics and configuration checking program that is capable of providing you with the configuration information you want to examine in this chapter. If, however, your computer did not ship with a configuration/diagnostics program, you can download one of several from the Internet.
Configuration, in the context used here, means how your PC is set up in terms of what communications ports it is using, what areas of memory are being used and how they are being used, what interrupts various devices are using, and so on. Basically, configuration means what devices are installed in your PC and how they are set up to work with each other.
Figure 3.1 Advanced Personal Systems is the creator of the diagnostic program SysChk.
SysChk is an advanced analysis utility that enables you to examine the systems configuration of a PC. SysChk displays detailed information about the following components and systems:
CPU and systems BIOS
Input and Output (I/O) communications ports
System interrupts and how they are used
An interrupt is short for Interrupt ReQuest (IRQ). Most PCs built in the last 10 years or so have a total of 16 interrupts numbered 0 through 15. The original IBM PC had only eight. Interrupts are signals that various devices use to gain the attention of your CPU when they need processing time.
IDE/SCSI devices and configurations
IDE and SCSI are interfaces for connecting disk drives and other devices of various types to your PC. IDE stands for Integrated Drive Electronics and is an interface that enables up to two devices to be attached to each port. Originally, IDE enabled data to pass to its connected devices at the rate of only 2Mbits/sec, but newer Enhanced IDE Ultra ATA/100 interfaces and devices can transfer data at the rate of 100Mbits/sec.
SCSI (pronounced "scuzzy") stands for Small Computer System Interface and enables you to connect up to seven devices to the interface. Since the original SCSI standard was released, it has been updated several times and now includes SCSI-2 and SCSI-3, and can achieve data transfer speeds up to 80MB/sec.
Memory usage and configuration
Network information (if one is present)
CMOS stands for Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor, which is a type of memory that can hold its contents using a very low electrical current. CMOS memory is used to store the configuration information of your computer; its electrical current is supplied by battery backup when your computer is turned off.
Windows information (if a version is detected)
BIOS is the acronym for Basic Input Output System and is a set of instructions built in to your computer to control how information and data flow in and out of your computer.
Task: Downloading and Installing SysChk
Before you can use SysChk, you must obtain a copy of the program. Follow these steps:
Log on to the Internet and start your Web browser.
Jump to the Advanced Personal Systems Web site at http://www.syschk.com.
Select the link to download the latest version of SysChk. The program begins downloading to your PC (see Figure 3.2).
If you are running Windows 95/98/2000/Me/XP, you do not have to download a program such as SysChk. All of these versions of Windows come with utilities that analyze your PC's system configuration and produce a printout very similar to what you can get from SysChk. Later in this hour, I will show you how to obtain this information using the various versions of Windows.
If you do not have Internet access, you can still download the program. Most public libraries, colleges, and universities have Internet access PCs set up and available to the general public. You can use this publicly available Internet access to download the program. Bring your own floppy disks to transport the program back home with you.
The file you download, syschk45.zip, is in a compressed format and must be decompressed using a program that can decompress files in the ZIP file format.
If you do not already have a copy of WinZip or PkZip/PkUnzip for Windows, you can download a copy from either http://www.pkware.com (Pkzip for Windows) or http://www.winzip.com (WinZip). If you have to download a ZIP file decompression program, follow the instructions on installing the program.
Figure 3.2 Downloading the SysChk program.
Any time you encounter a file with the extension .zip, it means that the file is a compressed archive. The archive is compressed so that it takes up less storage space and downloads faster. To use the files stored in the archive, you need a program to decompress the archive. Pkzip for Windows (which also has a DOS-based version) and WinZip are Windows-based decompression programs.
Copy syschk45.zip into a temporary directory and then decompress the file. For the most effective use of SysChk, format a 3 1/2-inch floppy disk using the following command so that the disk will be bootable:
format a: /s
Then copy the files decompressed from syschk45.zip to the floppy disk.
Using SysChk on a bootable disk is necessary if you are running Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, or another operating system that prevents direct access to your PC's hardware. Regardless of which operating system you use, you get a truer readingespecially on memory usageif you run SysChk from a bootable floppy disk as opposed to using a DOS/Command Prompt window in one of the many flavors of Windows.