Top free troubleshooting tools for Windows
These seven handy tools help you diagnose and cure a wide range of Windows ills, and they're all free for the downloading
System Information for Windows
No other free tool I've encountered packs as much true utility into a single executable as this one. System Information for Windows, abbreviated as SIW, has replaced more than a dozen other programs I've used that dump one kind of system or application data or another. SIW lists application license keys, probes installed hardware, fetches device temperatures, catalogs installed multimedia codecs -- the list seems endless.
SIW is organized into four basic categories. Three of them are available through a tree view on the left side of the program window: Software, Hardware, and Network. Click on a branch of any of those items and you'll see the right-hand window pane fill with the corresponding data. The harvesting process may take a moment, especially for things like device lists, so don't freak out if you have to wait a bit before SIW pulls everything together. Half the fun of using the program is just spelunking through these three lists and seeing what's available.
The fourth category is a gaggle of miscellaneous tools in the program's Tools drop-down menu. This is stuff program author Gabriel Topala apparently couldn't fit in one of the previous three areas, but still wanted to include. Among them are such goodies as Eureka, a way to expose starred-out password fields in most any program; a tool for sending a wake-on-LAN packet to the MAC address of your choice; a BIOS dumping tool; a Base64/UUencoder-decoder; a CPU stress test; and plenty more. SIW even runs in the Windows Recovery Environment.
One caveat: SIW is mostly read-only. While it's good at listing or dumping out system information, it doesn't always allow you to change those settings. If you wanted to disable or enable ActiveX controls listed through SIW, for instance, you'd need to do that with a third-party utility such as Nirsoft's ActiveXHelper.
System Information for Windows can tell you almost everything you need to know about your Windows install and your computer.