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Diagnose computer hardware issues with the Ultimate Boot CD

Every computer repair technician has a hand full of software they use on a regular basis to diagnose computer hardware issues. They are usually bootable disks and they have their own operating system included (FreeDOS or Linux). But carrying around all of these disks can be kind of a nightmare. But luckily there is a solution to this problem called the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD).

The Ultimate Boot CD main menu
The Ultimate Boot CD main menu

UBCD is a bootable CD that contains the most complete set of computer hardware diagnostic tools I have ever seen. There are diagnostic tools for testing BIOS to memory and everything in between. It includes programs like Memtest86+ and Windows Memory Diagnostics for testing memory and Data Lifeguard (Western Digital) and SeaTools (Seagate) for testing hard drives. In fact, it has an extensive collection of hard drive utilities.

All of the software contained inside of the UBCD is non-commercial (freeware) and is free to download. It comes as an ISO image that you can burn to a CD or you can create a bootable memory stick from it. You can even add more programs to it if you like. The UBCD is like the Swiss Army knife for computer hardware diagnostics.

I have to warn you that some of the programs inside of the UBCD can render your hard drive unreadable or completely erase the data from it. The following is a list of the program categories inside of the UBCD. For a complete list of utilities included in the UBCD, please visit their website (see link below).

  • BIOS (Basic Input Output System)
  • CPU (Central Processing Unit)
  • HDD (Hard Disk Drive)
    • Boot Management
    • Data Recovery
    • Device Info and Management
    • Diagnosis
    • Disk Cloning
    • Disk Editing
    • Disk Wiping
    • Installation
    • Partition Management
  • Memory
  • Others
  • Peripherals
  • System

Now for all of the Geeks out there, here's the technical information on the UBCD. The UBCD is formatted using the FAT (File Allocation Table) file system and uses one of two Linux boot loaders, SYSLINUX (default) or GRUB4DOS. From there you can start either a Linux based or DOS based utility. UBCD is also customizable, so you can add any floppy or ISO image or FreeDOS based application to it (see link below).

The UBCD is a privately funded project and donations are encouraged. So, if you find the UBCD as useful as I do, please make a donation (see link below).

For more information on the UBCD, just follow the links below.

Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD)
How to customize the Ultimate Boot CD
Make a donation to support the UBCD project

How to fix a computer that cannot wake up from sleep or standby mode

Doing computer repair, I fix a wide range of problems. One problem that I am seeing more and more often are systems that go into sleep / standby mode and cannot come out of it. The cause varies from computer to computer, but the fix is usually a change in the software and/or hardware settings. Here's a couple of ways to fix a computer that goes to sleep / standby and won't wake up.

Your computer uses a standard for power management called Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI). There are six (6) different 'sleep' states that your computer can use. The following is a portion of the Wikipedia article on ACPI.

The ACPI specification defines the following four Global "Gx" states and six Sleep "Sx" states for an ACPI-compliant computer-system:

  • G0 (S0): Working. "Awaymode" is a subset of S0, where monitor is off but background tasks are running.
  • G1, Sleeping subdivides into the four states S1 through S4:
    • S1: All processor caches are flushed, and the CPU(s) stops executing instructions. Power to the CPU(s) and RAM is maintained; devices that do not indicate they must remain on may be powered down.
    • S2: CPU powered off. Dirty cache is flushed to RAM.
    • S3: Commonly referred to as Standby, Sleep, or Suspend to RAM (STR). RAM remains powered
    • S4: Hibernation or Suspend to Disk. All content of main memory is saved to non-volatile memory such as a hard drive, and is powered down.
  • G2 (S5), Soft Off: G2/S5 is almost the same as G3 Mechanical Off, except that the PSU still supplies power, at a minimum, to the power button to allow return to S0. A full reboot is required. No previous content is retained. Other components may remain powered so the computer can "wake" on input from the keyboard, clock, modem, LAN, or USB device.
  • G3, Mechanical Off: The computer's power has been totally removed via a mechanical switch (as on the rear of a PSU). The power cord can be removed and the system is safe for disassembly (typically, only the real-time clock continues to run - using its own small battery).

Changing the power management options in the operating system

General power options in Windows 8
General power options in Windows 8

Sometimes just changing the software settings in the operating system power options will fix the issue. Access to the power options in Windows can be done thru the Control Panel. Depending on your version and view by settings, you may or may not see a power option link. In that case, look for power options under the hardware category.

Editing advanced power settings in Windows 8
Editing advanced power settings in Windows 8

Once there, create a new plan or modify an existing plan, changing the advanced settings as needed.

Advanced power option settings in Windows 8
Advanced power option settings in Windows 8

You can also disable S4 hibernation and make it unavailable really quick and easy using an administrator command prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows Vista and Windows 7
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8
How to disable Windows hibernation

Changing power management options in the BIOS

Power management settings in a typical computer BIOS
Power management settings in a typical computer BIOS

If changing the operating systems power options does not fix the problem, you can try changing the APCI setting to the computers Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). To access the BIOS, you will need to do so at the time the computer boots up. When the computer starts up, it usually displays a 'splash' screen with the manufacture's name and logo. It is on this screen you usually see something like 'Press F2 or Del or F10 for setup' (it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer). The 'splash' screen may only appear for a second or two and may take a few reboots to get into the BIOS. Once there, you need to look for Power Management Options. There you will find the different ACPI standby states.

Troubleshoot your computer and more for free with Sysinternals Suite from Microsoft

Have you ever wanted to see what programs start up when your computer boots? Or maybe defrag your pagefile? Or how about finding out what files, registry keys, etc. are currently open? You can do all this and more for free with Sysinternals Suite by Mark Russinovicha and from Microsoft.

The Autoruns program from the Sysinternals Suite
The Autoruns program from the Sysinternals Suite

Sysinternals Suite is a collection of extremely useful utilities for Windows. I have been using them since Windows 95. From everyday user to computer repair technician, there is something here for you. There is currently over sixty utilities included in the Sysinternals Suite.

The Process Explorer program from the Sysinternals Suite
The Process Explorer program from the Sysinternals Suite

For the everyday user there is Autoruns, Desktops and PageDefrag. With Autoruns, you can see what programs are configured to automatically start when your system boots. Desktops allow you to create up to four virtual desktops and switch in between them. And with PageDefrag, you can defragment your pagefile and registry.

The TCPView program from the Sysinternals Suite
The TCPView program from the Sysinternals Suite

For the computer repair technician there is Process Explorer, Process Monitor and TCPView. With Process Explorer, you can see what files and folders a program has open. Process Monitor is a real-time monitoring tool that provides detail information (PID's, path, etc.) for files, registry and processes. And TCPView gives you a detail listing of all network endpoints, local and remote, with addresses and port numbers.

For more information on Sysinternals Suite and all of the free utilities included, just follow the links below.

Sysinternals Suite
Sysinternals Utilities Index

A computer that randomly and frequently freezes up

When it comes to computer repair, you have to be a detective of sorts. And once in a while I come across a really good mystery. I recently got a HP M7360N in the shop that would randomly freeze-up in Windows XP when you moved the mouse. It would run perfectly fine in Safe Mode. Maybe a bad driver?

A check of the event logs yields absolutely nothing, not a single error. I check Device Manager and find the hard drive controller listed under the Unknown category, even though it is correctly identified as an Intel controller. I uninstall it inside Device Manager and then scan for hardware changes. The hard drive controller reinstalls back into the Unknown category.

The system is still freezing up randomly when the mouse is moved. I try a PS2 and USB mouse and got the same results with both. I disable all non-essential drivers and reboot with no change. I download the original and latest drivers for the system, trying all with no luck. Maybe a corrupt installation?

I create an image of the hard drive and then wipe it clean. Using the supplied recovery disks, I proceed to re-install the operating system and recovery partition. The system froze-up three times during reinstallation. But this time the hard drive controller is under the correct category, IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers. It's starting to look like a hardware issue.

I run a few DOS based utilities to test the memory, hard drive, etc. with no luck. I even try the HP recovery diagnostics. Every test I run tells me that there is nothing wrong with the hardware. Using the keyboard only in Windows, I am able to install another utility to test all of the motherboard components. I allow it to run for six hours and the system passes every test.

The BOIS is the next place I look and find it's a few versions older than what is currently available for download. I download and install the latest BIOS version and it still keeps freezing up randomly when the mouse is moved. I start searching the internet for clues.

After a few different search queries, I come across an article at Badcaps.net discussing symptoms of capacitor failure on motherboards, one being 'system randomly and frequently freezes'. I check the motherboard thoroughly and find no capacitors that look bad. I start checking the expansion (add-in) cards and all at once, the mystery was solved.

There on the graphics card was a bank of capacitors that the tops were swollen.

Top view of the graphics card showing the difference between a good and bad capacitors
Top view of the graphics card showing the difference between a good and bad capacitors.

Side view of the graphics card showing the difference between a good and bad capacitor
Side view of the graphics card showing the difference between a good and bad capacitor.

The movement of the mouse on screen was causing the graphics card to freeze-up. I re-assembled the system with a new graphics card and the issue was gone. Another computer repair mystery solved.

How to manually eject your computer CD / DVD drive tray

In this article, I show how to use the Eject Pin Hole to manually eject the tray on your computers CD / DVD drive. There will be times when you need to open the tray on your computers CD / DVD drive when the system is powered off.

  • You need to boot your computer using the CD / DVD drive
  • You need to retrieve a disk without starting up the computer

Caution: Turn off power to the system before manually ejecting a disk.

All CD / DVD drives have a Eject Pin Hole. The only thing we need is a paper clip to use it (I am using a #1 size for this article).

All we need is a paper clip

All we have to do is bend it at the first curve 180 degrees (straitening it out). Then take the second curve and bend it 90 degrees. Now we need to locate the Eject Pin Hole.

Desktop CD / DVD drive Eject Pin Hole location

Desktop CD / DVD drives:
Gently insert the modified paper clip into the Eject Pin Hole until you feel it make contact with the gear underneath the tray. Firmly pressing inward, you will notice the tray to start to move out. Press inward until you have enough room to get your finger under the tray and then pull it out the rest of the way. If you can only get a small portion of the tray out, you can use the other end of the paper clip to gently pry open the tray enough to get your finger under it. Once done, gently push back the tray to the closed position. It will close firmly when the system is powered up.

Laptop - Notebook CD / DVD drive Eject Pin Hole location

Laptop - Notebook CD / DVD drives:
The trays on laptops/notebooks are spring loaded, so all that is needed is to release the locking mechanism. You do not have to insert the paper clip as far as with a desktop CD / DVD drive, as you are not connecting to the gearing under the tray. Gently insert the paper clip into the Eject Pin Hole. Once you feel it make contact, gently push in and the tray will eject immediately. Once done, gently push the tray back inward until it locks back into place.

Enjoy,
Scott

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

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