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Good PC ownership is a lot like good car ownership. You do more than just use it, you learn something about how it works. You don't need to be a PC technician or a mechanic, but you should be able to identify certain signs of trouble so you can get your rig in for maintenance. Unfortunately, checking out your PC for failing hardware isn't quite as hands-on and easy to do as checking your car for worn tires or dirty oil. Fortunately, you have access to the minds of MakeUseOf.com and a wide web of free tools to test for failing hardware. Or, more appropriately, to check on the health of your hardware.
If you've ever opened up your computer, you know there is a lot of hardware in there, a lot of potential points of failure. That's how pessimists and engineers talk. However, there are certain points which are more prime for failure than others. Those pieces of hardware that either generate heat or have moving parts tend to be the ones that fail most often.
Now that you're thinking along those lines, you're probably thinking of fans, hard disk drives, and CPU's or GPU's. You'd be correct that those are probably the most common points of failure in a system. RAM also tends to fail too, since it is constantly being written and re-written to, or flashed as they say in the electronics world. Solid-state memory can only handle so many flashes before it begins to fail, and this also applies to solid-state hard drives.
Windows 7 & 8
Windows 7 and 8 have some great utilities already built into them. In fact, there is so much in Windows that most of us don't even know about, that we go and buy software that already does what Windows does. Even so-called power users can get caught in this trap. It's almost like having a Swiss Army knife with so many blades, that we just go out and buy a normal pocket knife.
Resource & Performance Monitor
Both of these operating systems have a built-in diagnostic tool you might not have ever known about. To access the Resource and Performance Monitor, simply hold down your Windows key and press the letter R. A new window will open and you can type in the command perfmon /report, then click on OK.
A new window will open and will begin collecting data. This process takes a minute.
Then you'll get a report with more information than you or I will probably ever know what to do with. The main report that you want to look at though is the Diagnostic Results - Warnings and the Resource Overview. The Diagnostic Results Warning only comes up if there are some warnings.
What's nice about this is that there are links to more information about the situation and how to remedy it.
The Resource Overview is going to give you the red-yellow-green light overview of the major parts of your system. This gives you an instant overview of the health of these major components. Apparently my computer could use some more RAM, as I have a red light on my Memory. Or I could close a few applications I don't need running right now.
There are several other reports available from the Performance Monitor, but most of those are advanced information. If you want to take the time to read up on them and understand them better, then good for you! You will become more intimate and proficient with your Windows system than you ever thought possible. Go for it!
Test Your RAM - Windows Memory Diagnostic
Another Windows feature is the ability to test your RAM, or memory, and see how that's all working. What you're looking for is the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool. You can find that on your Start Menu > Administrative Tools > Windows Memory Diagnostic.
Once you click on that, you'll be given the option to either restart the computer and test the memory now, or to test the memory on the next system restart. Unless you're in a rush right now to find out, go ahead and choose the restart option.
Now, when you restart your computer you are going to see a text-based screen telling you that the memory test is being performed. There are things about the test that you can change, but it will run a Standard Test by default. That will be good enough for our purposes. Once the test is done, if there are errors, Windows Memory Diagnostic will try to figure out what memory module is causing the problem and tell you. That's a good time to replace that bit of RAM.
Error messages will also be recorded in the system log in that you can access via the Event Viewer – another cool piece of Windows software you might not have known about. We have an article that delves into that a lot more by Saikat – it's an oldie but a goodie and still applies - How To Solve Any Windows Problem with Event ID.
What Else Can I Do To Check My Hardware?
Seriously? That's not enough for you? Oh alright, I guess we do have a reputation of providing you with information about awesome freeware to uphold. Here's a trio to get you started.
Great software, just be a little bit careful on the installation or you're going to end up with the Ask.com toolbar installed and have your homepage changed to Ask.com. Minor annoyances really, when you look at the value of the software package. It will tell you everything you'd ever want to know about your hardware, system configuration, resources, and help you set benchmarks for testing your hardware.
That way, you can have a historical view of how your hardware is performing and identify any decline over time.
I'm a Piriform fanboy. Since I first started using CCleaner and Defraggler back before 2009, I've liked the way they design their software and user interfaces. Unobtrusive, instinctive, and they just plain work. Speccy, like PC Wizard, will tell you all about your hardware and then some. The Summary page gives you a great overview of where things are at, at a glance.
SiSoftware is another long time player in the bench marking software world. I recall getting a trial version of this on a CD that came with a PC magazine back when I was in college. Yes that was last century. I was excited!! I have no idea what system I ran it on or what it told me, but I knew that it was industry standard software. There wasn't a whole lot of freeware or even trials back in those days.
Sandra is still an industry standard and you can get a Lite version of her for free. If you're looking for more details on this version, it's worth the time to read Matt's article, Benchmark & Explore Your PC With SiSoft Sandra 2011 Lite. All of the benchmarks are still in the newest version, whether it be your GPU, CPU, RAM, or HDD, Sandra will tell you where you are at.
The Take Away
What you should get from this article is that with just a little work and planning, you really should be able to avoid hardware failure surprises. Much like checking your tire pressure weekly, and changing the oil every 5000 km, computer maintenance by you should be habit and require the simplest of tools. You've already got them at your disposal, so why not make them part of your routine? You might save yourself a few bucks and you'll definitely save yourself a LOT of heartaches.
Did you find this article useful? Learn a little something that you didn't know? How about any other good tools for monitoring your hardware health? We're always open and sharing – after all, we all in this together. Hit us up in the comments.
Image credit: Workers on HDD via Shutterstock