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
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 candy...food 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
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
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 expected...no 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