Computers are easier to use and more dependable with each new generation of hardware and operating system update, but that doesn't mean they're problem-free. Here's a look at the five most popular tools for troubleshooting your computer problems.
Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite diagnostic tool. Below, we've rounded up the top five answers, and now we're back to highlight the most popular computer diagnostic tools among Lifehacker readers.
SIW (Windows, Free)
If things haven't gotten bad enough that you're forced to take refuge with a Live CD, SIW is a Windows-based diagnostic tool that can help you get to the bottom of things. SIW is incredibly detailed in its analysis, next to nothing is left uncatalogued from the timings of your memory modules to the DLL files loaded to what applications you have set to autorun at startup. Even if you're not currently experiencing any computer issues, SIW gives you a really interesting peek inside your computer.
Hiren's BootCD (Live CD, Free)
Hiren's BootCD is an impressive toolkit rolled into one packed DOS-based Live CD. Sporting over a hundred separate diagnostic and repair tools, Hiren's BootCD can help you do everything from diagnose a memory problem to clone a disk to speed test your video card. If you can't find out what is wrong with your computer after running through all the tools on Hiren's BootCD the diagnostic answer you may end up at is "Time to buy a new computer." A note about Hiren's BootCD: many of the diagnostic tools gathered on the disc are abandonware or older versions of still produced commercial software. The legal status of Hiren's BootCD is murky so Hiren doesn't directly host the disc image himself. You'll need to search Google to find locations like here and here where the disc is hosted. If you're not comfortable with murky areas of Hiren's method for assembling the boot disc, you'll find plenty of other excellent boot discs in this Hive Five that contain only freeware and open-source software.
Google/Search Engines (Web-based, Free)
Your first reaction to the phrase "computer diagnostic tool" might not be "Google!", but every computer diagnosis begins with the user wondering what the error code or chain of events leading up to the error means. We've solved countless problems around the Lifehacker office by simply plugging in an error code or describing the problem in common terms and letting Google do the heavy lifting. Google tirelessly kicks back thousands of web pages, forum posts, and even old Usenet postings to help you drill down to your specific issue. Your favorite search engine isn't necessarily a diagnostic tool in the traditional sense, but it should be the first place you stop whenever you have a computer issue. Many of the solutions we've found over the years using Google were extremely specific and pointed us towards using a just-for-that-problem application or tweak we would have never found otherwise.
Ubuntu Live CD (Live CD, Free)
You'll find no shortage of Live CDs for Linux distributions, but Ubuntu has a particularly user-friendly Live CD and many people have experience with Ubuntu outside of diagnostic work, both make an Ubuntu Live CD extra appealing. You can use an Ubuntu Live CD to test your computer's memory, recover data, or scan your computer for viruses among other tasks. Live CDs are great for giving you a platform to work off of independently of your troubled system and an Ubuntu Live CD has the benefit of an enormous community of Ubuntu users and all the accompanying how-to guides and information.
Ultimate Boot CD for Windows (UBCD4Win) (Live CD, Free)
If you're a Windows user and you're not comfortable going back to your roots with a DOS-based boot disc and you definitely don't feel comfortable with a Linux one then UBCD4Win is just what you're looking for. UBCD4Win's strongest selling point is the stripped down version of Windows XP—Windows PE—which makes it dead simple for Windows users to jump in and start using the numerous diagnostic tools on UBCD4Win. When your version of Windows is flaking out on you, it's comforting to jump into a Live CD version of Windows to continue your diagnostic work without having to mess around with the nuances of using a Linux Live CD.
Now that you've had a chance to look over the top contenders for best diagnostic tool, it's time to cast your vote in the poll below:
Which Diagnostic Tool Is Best? (Poll Closed)
Total Votes: 7,635
Have a favorite diagnostic tip, trick, tool, or tech support site you want to give a shout out? Let's hear about it in the comments. Have an idea for the next Hive Five? Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with "Hive Five" in the subject line.