A 'Magic Wand' for Hardware Detection and Analysis

Ed Tittel

System builders who maintain and upgrade existing PCs should find PC Wizard 2005 a superbly useful and informative utility. The program not only delivers readable displays of all the system settings it finds, but also provides the ability to compare performance results with equivalent (or near-equivalent) comparison machines. And it does all this quickly and easily.

PC Wizard 2005 is updated monthly with new technologies and standards. That means the utility can identify most PC system components. It also means the program supports the vast majority of CPUs, including AMD as far back as Am386DX; Intel as far back as i386DX; and most Cyrix and VIA chips, as well as Transmeta processors and IDT Winchips and motherboards. All in all, PC Wizard 2005 does a terrific job of interrogating most PC systems to tease out and report on their contents. This makes it wonderfully handy for system builders and maintainers to have around.

PC Wizard 2005 also lets systems builders run simple benchmarks against a broad range of pre-recorded results. For this area, the program offers short, reasonably quick metrics for CPU performance, L1 and L2 cache performance, RAM performance, hard and optical drive performance, and video performance. That's but a few of its many abilities.

In this TechBuilder Recipe I'll take you through the download and installation process for PC Wizard 2005. Then I'll explain which parts of the program are most informative for system builders, including its benchmarking capabilities. Finally, I'll walk you through real-world situations for which the utility can identify potential areas for system improvements.

One caveat: PC Wizard sometimes errs in its reporting of temperature and voltage readings. Since most PCs and motherboards ship with diagnostic tools that handily do that job—I've included them as illustrations below—I urge you to consult their readings as reality checks before you take PC Wizard's temperature and voltage readings for gospel.


Here's all you'll need on hand for this Recipe:

  • Any Windows PC.

  • An Internet connection. PC Wizard 2005 is just over 2 MB in size, so a fast connection is best for download.

  • A copy of PC Wizard 2005.

While you can pick any Windows-based system for this Recipe, I chose a system I had recently finished building. My goal was to test the utility against some fairly new PC components. Specifically, the system I used was built around a Gigabyte K8NF-9 motherboard with an nVidia NForce4 Ultra chipset and an Athlon 64x2 3800+ CPU. Seven Steps to Installing PC Wizard 2005

  • To download a copy of PC Wizard, go to the CPUID site. Click on the PC Wizard link listed in the Software area at the upper left on the page. Then click the link under Latest version.

  • A standard file download window should appear, as shown here:

    Click the Save button, then stash the file in a directory where you'd like it to reside. For example, I have a Download folder on my hard disk where I stash all downloads, and I put experimental stuff in a sub-folder named Testing until I decide whether to trash it or move it into the Installed sub-folder.

  • Execute the file to run the program installer. You'll probably begin by telling Windows XP to run the pcw2005_v165.exe file, even though it's not signed with a valid digital signature. To continue the process, click the Run button. Next, select the language for the install.

  • The PC Wizard Setup Wizard starts up, as depicted here:

  • Cycle through a sequence of screens that includes a license agreement, general program description, and a choice of target installation directory. Keep clicking Next as you complete each screen to advance to the next one. Accept the Web Update Application facility that's selected by default in the next screen; this permits the PC Wizard 2005 utility to update itself when necessary, as shown here:

  • You should now see a screen that designates PC Wizard 2005 as the default Start Menu folder for the program. Click Next until you get to a screen that asks if the installer should create a desktop and Quick Launch icon. (The former is checked by default, the latter is not. I routinely turn all such selections off myself.) This culminates in a Ready to Install screen that lets you review all of your selections. Cycle back through them to correct anything you might not like, as shown here:

  • Click Install to proceed with the actual installation. A progress bar tracks installation while the files are copied and set up. Finally, a finish notification screen lets you launch the program.

  • This concludes the download and installation process for PC Wizard 2005. The entire process should take you just five to 10 minutes. Seven Steps to Working through PC Wizard 2005

    By default, PC Wizard 2005 launches as soon as the installation is completed. The window for the program--identified as PC Wizard 2005 in the title bar—uses stacked tabs in the left-hand pane. Once clicked, each of these bars produces a wealth of information and details in the right-hand panel. By default, the program starts up with the Hardware tab selected on the left, the System Summary icon selected beneath it, and the System Summary view on the right, as shown here:

    Note: After your first use of the program, it automatically returns to where you left off.

  • To explore new information in the right-hand pane (which is divided into top and bottom sections), click any icon underneath the Hardware tab in the left-hand pane. To produce the Mainboard view at the right, click the icon to the right of the System Summary icon. Then click on Mainboard inside that window to read all the motherboard information the program has collected.

    For example, the figure below shows the model number of the motherboard in the Information pane below (GA-K8NF-9), which reveals (to the discerning) that it has a 64-bit Athlon processor socket and an nVidia NForce4 chipset installed. It also provides information about the chassis (or case), shows the sensor chip in use (ITE IT8712F), and the PCI slots available:

    To view additional motherboard information, including internal and external connectors and EEPROM data, scroll down further in the lower right-hand pane. While this data is helpful for documenting what's in a system, it's primarily of forensic interest only.

  • To see something a little more interesting, click on the Physical Memory entry in the Mainboard screen at the top right. For instance, in the Information pane, you'll receive information about the memory controller's configuration (i.e. what the CPU thinks about how memory works).

  • Scroll downward just a bit to see memory controller and chipset information, as shown on the left-hand side of the screen-shot below. Scroll farther downward to see the memory controller and chipset information, as shown on the left-hand side. Scroll down even farther to see what the SPD (serial presence detect) data stored in the memory modules says about their capabilities, as shown on the right hand side below:

    Comparing this information with sample results built into the program itself can sometimes lead to opportunities for great performance enhancements. It certainly did for me. After I ran PC Wizard 2005 on my own system, I found that my memory bus speed was only half what it should be: 100 MHz instead of 200 MHz. This also enabled a quick and easy BIOS tweak, which boosted my PC's performance by about 20 percent overall.

  • To produce a wealth of detail about the CPU in use on the machine you're testing, click the CPU icon at the upper right beneath the Hardware tab. This will produce the Processor view in the upper-right pane. Next, click the Processor entry. The shot below gives you an example of the output. You'll see the beginnings of a long list of items elicited from the Athlon 64x2 3800+, which was installed in my target machine:

  • To learn about the various clock settings in your BIOS, click the Frequency entry. This is another potentially great source of tweaking or correction information.

  • Click the rightmost icon in the bottom row, just beneath the Hardware tab in the left-hand pane. This produces a Voltage, Temperature, and Fans display. Here's where PC Wizard can be misleading in its reporting of temperature and voltage readings.

    To show how this data may sometimes be questionable, I captured a screen shot (shown below) from another machine. Note that the processor temperature reads at 25 degrees Celsius, the hard disk at 46 C, and the power-supply unit (PSU) temperature at 70 C. While the processor and hard disk temperatures are probably correct, the PSU reading is wrong. I called the PSU vendor, Antec, and they confirmed my suspicions. The actual temperature should read 44 C, not 70.

    Again, most PCs and motherboards come with diagnostic tools that do this job better than PC Wizard can. So it's best to go with their temperature and voltage readings rather than PC Wizard's.

  • Click on the Configuration, System Files, and Resources Tabs, and you'll uncover what they hold by clicking through their subsidiary icons. Configuration deals with OS matters, Internet Explorer, the Control Panel, the Registry, MS apps, and so forth. System Files includes DOS VDM (autoexec.nt and .dos, NTconfig.ini, and DosStart.bat), 16-bit Windows on Windows (win.ini), and 32-bit Windows (boot.ini) plus various and sundry logs. Finally, Resources documents IRQs, DMA, I/O ports and memory resources.

  • Five Steps to Working with PC Wizard Benchmarks

    The next area for useful PC Wizard action comes in the final tab, which deals with benchmarks. The PC Wizard 2005 benchmarks cover the CPU, L1 and L2 cache, a couple of memory checks (RAM and MEM), DirectX graphics, hard disks and optical drives, and a video check. The only ones of great interest for you will be the CPU and MEM entries, though I do encourage you to explore and play with the others, especially if you work with subsystems.

    Let's tackle the CPU and MEM items to show what PC Wizard 2005 can do by way of individual benchmarks.

  • Begin by clicking the benchmark tab in the left-hand pane. Click the CPU with the clock icon in the top left position. Doing so fires off the CPU benchmark. You'll have to wait for it to complete without moving the mouse or touching any keys. When the benchmarking is done, the software produces a display such as the one shown here:

  • Click the graphic tab in the lower right pane. This produces a bar chart that displays the number of millions of floating point instructions per second (or Mflops) that the CPU handled. By itself, this data is valuable for before-and-after comparisons as you tweak a system. But to save the data for comparisons, you'll have to go through this somewhat complicated sequence: Jump to the top right-hand pane. Right click and pick Select All. Right click again, and pick Copy. Finally, paste the data into a text editor, such as Notepad.

    The real value of the benchmark comes into play when you first click the graphic tab in the lower right-hand pane, and then click the right-hand button that says "Compare with…" But be sure to pick a CPU that's as much like the one you're using as possible. For example, I picked a single-core Athlon 64 3000+, which runs at the same 2.0 GHz as the dual-core 3800+. I wasn't surprised to find nearly identical results, as shown below. That's because benchmarks are not multi-threaded. So both single- and dual-core CPUs with the same bus widths and clock speeds should perform identically, as these did.

  • To start the MEM benchmark, click on the MEM icon in the left-hand tab. Again, you'll have to wait for the benchmark to be completed before you move the mouse or touch the keyboard. What shows up in response to this benchmark is a set of memory bandwidth measurements—expressed as megabytes per second for data transfers—ranging from just 1 KB to 2 GB in size, as depicted below. Timing these block data transfers provides metrics for the fastest through the slowest memory; very small ones require no paging, while very large ones can't work without it. This shows how memory behaves across most conceivable circumstances. The numbers in the information screen aren't terribly interesting, though:

  • Viewing a chart is much more informative than looking at a bunch of numbers. To see such a chart, click on the Graphic tab in the lower right pane. Then click again on the Compare With button on the far right. As I chose the same Athlon 64 3000+ for comparison with my 3800+ (and was gratified to see some performance improvement over the older chip), you should do likewise. Choose a CPU as much like the one on your own machine, to provide the most reasonable basis for comparison. The following screen shot lines up the comparison window with my benchmark results; it shows that the 3800+ spikes above the 3000+ on short transfers, and that its curve levels out at a higher level as well:

  • When you're done investigating PC Wizard 2005, close all open windows to exit the program.

  • If you decide to remove PC Wizard from your target machine, you can uninstall it through either the Add/Remove Programs applet in control panel, or the Uninstall option in PC Wizard's Start menu.

    All in all, these benchmarks are interesting functionalities provided by PC Wizard 2005, and they're worth using for quick configuration and sanity checks. For more serious benchmarking, however, a product like SiSoftware's Sandra might make more sense. If you're interested in learning more about working with Sandra, see my earlier TechBuilder Recipe, Analyze This: A Diagnostics Tool for Monitoring, Benchmarking PCs.

    Bottom line: System builders will appreciate the features of PC Wizard 2005. It's an easy way to make sure the systems you've built are making the absolute best use of their components and capabilities.

    ED TITTEL is a freelance writer who specializes in markup languages, PCs, and networking topics. He's contributed to more than 130 books, including titles on spyware and IT certification. His upcoming book is Build The Ultimate Home Theater PC (John Wiley, November 2005). He has no commercial interest in any of the products mentioned in this Recipe.

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