Advanced tool package administers complete physical to PC
- By Jason z_rne
- Dec 14, 1998
Pros and cons:
+ Nice collection of PC diagnostic tools
+ Comprehensive testing for most
Needs better documentation
Master the esoteric art of PC troubleshooting, and awe the users who benefit from your
skill. The secret is perseverance and patience.
When PC technicians stand beside a dead or frozen machine, they run through a checklist
that differs slightly from machine to machine. But it always involves painstaking checks
of cables, settings and other variables.
The GCN Lab recently tested a set of tools that speed up this process. The package,
Trinitech Inc.s Omni Kit, consists of the Omni Analyzer card, PC Check and
ExperTrace software, plus parallel and serial port loopback testers, all bundled in a
convenient leather case.
Omni Analyzer is an ISA card that plugs into any open ISA slot on the sick PCs
motherboard. Even if the PC wont boot, Omni Analyzer can capture POST messages and
run a series of diagnostic tests. It gives a rundown of the parameters, including chip
speed, amount of detected memory and interrupt request addresses.
I tried the card in some of the GCN Labs older, more troublesome machines and
found that, after identifying a components manufacturer, I could access the industry
database stored in the cards firmware to obtain technical support numbers and Web
sites. This is a great help for technicians who work in the field and dont have
vendor contact information on hand.
The cards digital readout displays power supply status. A number of LEDs indicate
the health of the motherboard as well as disk and interrupt-request activity.
Because there are still quite a few older PCs with ISA cards around, IRQ conflict
diagnostics present a problem for many support personnel. Operating systems such as
Microsoft Windows 9x dont do real-time reporting of IRQ usage. Omni Analyzers
IRQ LEDs show when and where such conflicts are occurring. Other LEDs monitor
direct-memory-access channel use.
The boards diagnostics are firmware-based and can be updated as new technology
Omni Analyzer is platform-independent, working with Intel Corp. CPUs from the original
8088 up through the Pentium Pro. It also can handle CPUs, including those with MMX
extensions, from Cyrix Corp. of Richardson, Texas; Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of
Sunnyvale, Calif.; and IBM Corp. The diagnostics engage before the OS loads, so Omni
Analyzer can do its job regardless of whether the sick system has MS-DOS, OS/2, Windows
NT, Unix or another OS installed.
The ExperTrace software is simply a bootable floppy disk version of Omni
Analyzers firmware diagnostics for notebook computers and other systems that cannot
accept the ISA diagnostics card.
The PC Check software does more advanced diagnostics like those of vendor utilities for
burn-in testing of processors, motherboards, storage components, memory, video, input
devices, printers and SCSI drives.
The hard-drive and CD-ROM tests yield performance numbers to indicate what kind of
performance to expect. The kits loopback connectors help in diagnosing input/output
problems. The parallel connector even has LEDs to indicate which pins are active.
Any one of these tools would be valuable to a PC technician; together they add up to a
pretty complete tool kit, even for enterprise use. It will cut the time a technician has
to spend on each sick machine and get the users back to work faster.
One downside: Some of the Omni Kits documentation is quite old. Company employees
told me new documentation would be coming soon, so check whether its available
before you order.