freePCtech (click here to return to the first page) Search the
    siteHelp on using this siteHome

    Articles / Reviews

Ultra-X Professional Diagnostic Kit

by Drew Dunn

Ultra-X's Professional Diagnostic Kit is a set of computer troubleshooting tools that enables a technician to diagnose and test systems with a combination of hardware and software utilities.  It is the second from the top of the line of diagnostic tool kits that Ultra-X offers and is aimed at professional technicians who have a limited budget for diagnostic and testing tools.

The kit includes two of Ultra-X's most popular components: QuickTech Pro software and the P.H.D. diagnostic card.  In addition, complete documentation and a set of loopback connectors for serial and parallel port testing accompany the tools, all packaged in a sturdy rubbery-textured zipper case.  A set of case-badge sized stickers with the Ultra-X logo and an Ultra-X pen are also included.  The package is topped off with some rather tasty for thought, as Ultra-X puts it.

The P.H.D. card is certainly the most intriguing part of the kit.  It appears to be a fairly ubiquitous POST (Power On Self Test) diagnostic card, but it has a video port on the rail.  In fact, the P.H.D. will allow you to boot virtually any system, regardless of what is broken, and perform tests via an interface displayed on the monitor.  So, rather than relying on the motherboard's POST to determine what the problem is, the P.H.D.'s onboard firmware, memory and video port can examine the motherboard, completing 150 tests in under five minutes.  An Extended Diagnostic Mode will test almost any peripheral connected to the computer, through a library of almost 300 separate tests.

The test-mode interface uses nested, pop-up menus to select individual or ranges of tests.  The card fits into an unused PCI slot in the motherboard and will allow the system to "boot" even if there is no (or a defective) video card, keyboard or mouse.

The QuickTech Pro software includes two CDs, a DVD and three floppy disks.  The software runs in one of two modes - self booting or via a command prompt.  In self booting mode, the software directly addresses hardware to, as Ultra-X claims, "perform true low-level diagnostics."  The software can perform a battery of tests on virtually every component on the motherboard as well as most peripherals.  Ultra-X claims over 300 individual tests.  The software supports any computer from 486s to the current Pentium 4, AMD and Cyrix products, including the 64 bit Opteron and the newest Intel chipsets.  It recognizes up to four gigabytes of memory, dual channel DDR PC3200 and PC3500 modules and Serial ATA hard drives greater than 300GB.

The feature set of the Professional Diagnostic Tools is quite broad, but the true test of any product is in its performance in a real-world situation.  I spent a week using both tools on several systems, working and broken, then turned the package over to the technicians at a local high-tech company's R&D lab for some real stress testing.

I ran the tools through their paces on an ASUS A7N8X Plus motherboard with an Athlon 2400+ processor and a gigabyte of Micron DDR400 memory.  As far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with this system and the tools backed that up.  I exercised the system with QuickTech Pro's Burn-In tests which succeeded in making both the CPU and the memory quite hot (but didn't break anything).  The Quick Inventory menu correctly identified all of the components of the system, including manufacturer names and even, in a few cases, serial numbers.

One essential feature of this software is its ability to edit the motherboard's BIOS.  This is particularly crucial for older systems that may require a proprietary boot disk to access the configuration information or for systems with a BIOS password that has been lost.  I was able to examine and modify the BIOS of every motherboard that I tested.

The software's interface is very similar to that of the P.H.D. card.  It is a series of nested test-based menus that are quite intuitive and very easy to navigate.  The only reason that I ever needed to refer to the (CD-based) documentation was for details on exactly what a specific test examined.  Since each test or series of tests is reasonably well labeled, it's quite possible to never need to refer to the documentation, but I highly recommend taking a look.  The PDF documents are extremely well written and organized and should serve as an example to other companies on how to document a product.

I also used QuickTech Pro on an Aopen motherboard with a Pentium III 933 and 1.5GB of Micron PC133 memory.  Again, the software worked exactly as I surprises.  Ditto on an MSI KT333-based motherboard with a Duron 1700 and 512MB of DDR333 memory.

The junk pile has a few motherboards and peripherals that aren't working correctly.  Since QuickTech Pro requires a system that will at least pass the POST test, I dug out a couple of boards that had some peripheral problems, including an Abit board with a dead Winbond chip and an Intel board with broken integrated networking and sound.  I also found a few PC100 memory modules that I knew were defective.  I ran the suite of motherboard and memory tests.  QuickTech Pro identified the defective serial and parallel ports that the Winbond chipset controlled, as well as the dead network adapter.  The memory test showed that each of the three memory modules had a bad chip that caused the same memory error whenever data was written to them.

I turned to the P.H.D. card next.  The junk pile has three motherboards that won't POST, including a slot 1 Athlon board, an old Abit dual Celeron board and a socket A Athlon board.  The P.H.D. card successfully booted on all three boards and identified a defective DMA controller on the slot 1 board, a bad interrupt controller on the dual Celeron board and a broken memory controller on the socket A board.  I've used POST cards before, but never one that provided the degree of detail that the P.H.D. card provided.  Prior to running these tests, about all that I knew was that each of these motherboards had some sort of North Bridge chipset problem, but not much more.

I then turned everything over to the lab and waited to hear their report.  The results were every bit as positive as mine had been.  The technicians tested everything from older Pentium II-based systems to the latest four processor Opteron server, along with virtually everything in between.  A significant part of their work is trying to find out just how fast they can overclock memory modules and still allow a system to boot.  With the P.H.D. card installed, they could easily discern between overclocking boot failures that were caused by memory failures and those that were caused by other components, particularly the CPU.  The key feature that impressed them was that instead of having to cross-reference an alphanumeric error code from the card to a manual (and hoping that the error code was in the manual to begin with), the P.H.D. card provided instant diagnostic feedback on the monitor, saving time and frustration.

They found the Burn-In tests of QuickTech Pro to be extremely useful in locating intermittent problems.  By setting the tests to loop until a failure, it was easy to discover just where an intermittent failure was occurring.  Also, the memory tests allowed them to stress the memory systems as they overclocked the modules, basically allowing them to put the system into a worst-case scenario in terms of clock speed and memory accesses.  They felt that it made the work of determining just where a particular module would fail quite easy.

Overall, the Ultra-X Professional Hardware Diagnostic Toolkit sets a new standard for integrated hardware/software diagnostic tools.  It is easy to use, extremely powerful and well organized.  The Toolkit takes the guesswork out of diagnosing hardware failures and serves as the centerpiece for a well-equipped computer repair lab.  It is the perfect choice for a corporate IT department, computer repair shop or home computer enthusiast.  We highly recommend it!

On the Web: Ultra-X


Articles / Reviews



Free PC Tech

Copyright The NOSPIN Group, Inc. 1991-2006.  All rights reserved.