Way back in November 2009, in the heydays of XP, shortly after the release of Windows 7, I started reviewing useful utilities. Along the way I reviewed some very useful utilities such as Stickies, MP3Tag, CKRename, and UltraFileSearch. Just as a matter of review, Utilities are usually small programs that are intended to do a specific task or a small range of tasks, they are small software application. Today, after the release of the Apple iPad and in the current Tablet environment, we would call these Utilities “Apps”.
These Utilities (or Apps) are usually designed to help manage the computer hardware, Operating System (OS), or assist a particular software application. Just as a matter of history, sometimes a utility becomes so popular that the functionality of the utility is included in newer versions of the OS. The functionality of one long-time popular utility, Snagit, which allows a user to capture a piece of the display into a graphics file, is now included in Windows as the Snipping Tool. The functionality in Windows may not be as complete as the commercial version of Snagit, but it is a part of Windows, which means it is integrated into the OS, and therefore available at no additional cost.
Useful Utilities can be found in a variety of places such as computer stores (internet or brick & mortar), Google searches, and The Computer Buffet, edited by our own Monitor editor, Herb Goldstein. The Computer Buffet is a treasure trove of useful software, some of which can be considered Utilities, like Speccy, and some of which are full-blown application, like Open Office. Speccy was originally discussed in a Monitor article in the December 2012 issue. Speccy was developed by Piriform, the same company that brings us Ccleaner and Recuva, two other useful utilities that many SPCUG members have used. You can download Speccy at www.piriform.com/speccy. When you download it, be sure to uncheck the boxes for other things like the Google Toolbar, unless you want them to come along with the Speccy download.
Speccy is a Utility used to provide information about your computer hardware and Operating System. Speccy is very similar to Belarc, a Utility that is fairly well known and often used at the Refurbishing Facility. Belarc goes a little further and additionally provides information about the software and the software versions, installed on the computer. Just remember “I have not come to bury Belarc, I have come to praise Speccy”. There is probably more information provided by Belarc, but what I like about Speccy is the visual organization and presentation. The initial results are presented in a two window-pane format, much like Windows Explorer. Highlight an item in the left pane and you get detailed results in the right pane. The left pane includes the Summary and all the major computer subsystems; Operating System, CPU, RAM, Motherboard, Graphics, Hard drives, Optical drives, Audio, Peripherals, and Network. The Summary that is shown on the right pane after the program completes its initial analysis phase has the answers to many of the basic questions regarding this specific computer. Immediately you know the Operating System name and the Service Pack (if applicable), and whether it is a 32 or 64 bit OS, and the type of computer CPU. Other basics in the Summary are the amount of RAM, the size of the Hard drive, along with the drive connection type, and the Optical drive and its connection type. From the main menu you can Print any of the results or you can choose “Save as a Text file” and save the results for future review.
Details of the major subsystems, shown on the left, can be obtained by selecting the appropriate subsystem. Click on any of the major subsystems, and the details will be shown in the right pane. The details are very extensive, probably much more than the average computer user needs to know, but may be useful to someone trying to help solve a problem. Some of the detailed information provided by these subsystems is as follows:
- The Operating System subsystem shows the OS type (Windows 7, XP), 32 or 64 bit OS, the serial number, the Windows Update schedule, the Antivirus software installed and the age of its Virus Signature Database.
- The CPU subsystem indicates the number of Cores (today most modern CPUs are multi-core), the Bus speed, the Cache configuration, and the Average Temperature the CPU has been experiencing (if this is approaching 60 degrees C you may be in for some trouble, although the Critical Temperature depends on the specific CPU).
- The RAM subsystem shows the amount of RAM installed as well as the number of memory slots and the number of free memory slots (nice to know if you are thinking of increasing your memory).
- The Motherboard subsystem shows the motherboard manufacturer, the chipset (CPU and glue chips) vendor, and the BIOS brand and version number (things that you probably will never need to know).
- The Graphics subsystem provides information about your Monitor such as the Resolution, and the Graphics chipset (again probably never needed by the average user).
- The Hard Drives subsystem shows the Drive size, the File System type (FAT or NTFS), and the Partition information (nice to know if you think you will ever re-partition the drive).
- The Optical Drive subsystem indicates the Media type (CD or DVD), and whether or not you can write to the drive (Writer or Read-only).
- The Audio subsystem just shows the Sound Card and the Playback Device (usually speakers).
- The Peripherals subsystem indicates the type of keyboard and mouse, the Printers that are currently in use, and any external disk drives or USB memory devices attached.
- The Network subsystem provides all the IP addresses, DHCP status (enabled or not), the Computer Name and Workgroup (if it belongs to one), the Wi-Fi SSID (network name) and channel number (good to know if you are experiencing slow operation caused by interference on the network). Surprisingly, I didn’t find the MAC (or physical) address of the communications adapters.
As you can see, Speccy provides a lot of information and is definitely a very useful utility. Download it and pin it to the task bar so it will be available and easily accessible when you need it. By the way, a printed version of the results might be nice to have for reference if the computer is down for any reason.
By Phil Sorrentino, Member, Sarasota PCUG, Florida