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Ultra-X Professional Hardware Diagnostics

by Drew Dunn
1999/06/15

Ultra-X Professional Hardware Diagnostics

by Drew Dunn
drewd@nospin.org

The Ultra-X Professional PC Diagnostics are a set of hardware and software components that are designed to perform a battery of tests on any PC-compatible computer that has a PCI bus. According to Ultra-X, the tools will work even if the computer cannot complete its power on self-test (POST). The tools use an interactive on-screen system for computers that can POST, eliminating tedious decoding of hardware messages. The tools also allow reliability and quality testing of computer systems.

Ultra-X states that the tools will test systems based on any PC-compatible system, from 486 to Pentium III, including Celeron, AMD and Cyrix processors.

The Professional PC Diagnostic Tools came packaged in a well organized hard shell case. The case included the PCI diagnostic card, a BIOS chip (more on this later), two IO loopback testers, a floppy diskette and a detailed manual.

The manual should serve as a guide to other computer companies on how to assemble documentation. Not only is it extremely detailed, but it is also spiral bound so that it will lie flat on a desktop. It includes a quick-start reference and seven chapters on testing and diagnosing a computer. It is liberally peppered with illustrations and tables to eliminate any confusion. The writing style is very technical and includes warnings where appropriate, clearly written troubleshooting procedures and guides to creating useful tests.

The tools include two loopback plugs for testing serial and parallel ports. Ultra-X has cleverly combined a 25 pin parallel and serial port plug into one adapter to save space in the package.

The software comes on a single 1.44MB floppy diskette. It is DOS-based. Once started, the user is presented with an interactive menuing system that allows on-the-fly configuration of tests. The software interacts with the PCI card and can be configured to perform single or multiple tests, such as burning in a computer system. I found the interface to be very intuitive, clean and easy to use.

The PCI card is the heart of this system. At first glance, it is quite intimidating, with 20 switches, 13 LEDs and a digital display. Fortunately, the manual addresses each block of switches and LEDs in detail. The PCI card also contains its own video subsystem, used for a diagnostic mode called "Forced Start". I found this to be the most intriguing testing feature of the tools. With the PCI card configured for Forced Start, a monitor connected to its video port and the system’s ROM BIOS replaced with the previously mentioned BIOS chip, a computer that will not pass its power on self test can be diagnosed. Ultra-X suggests this mode for systems that hang during POST, appear to be dead, have no RAM or are prototypes. Once the system is started, the menu-driven diagnostic tests will appear on the screen, allowing the user to perform a detailed examination of the computer system.

The tests that the Professional PC Diagnostic Tools perform are exhaustive. They include:

  • Verifying compliance with PCI standards.
  • Fully exercising the PCI bus
  • Testing all of the PCI connectors
  • Testing all motherboard core functions, circuits and components
  • Burning systems
  • Benchmarking CPU and PCI bus speeds

Do the tools work? In a word, yes, and very well. I used the PCI card on two systems, one with a bad keyboard controller and one with a defective DMA controller. The tools clearly identified the broken keyboard controller and flagged DMA controller 2 as defective. The manual provided more detail on these tests, including candidate chipsets that contained the appropriate logic.

I also used the tools in Forced Start mode on a system with no memory. As described in the manual, I was able to perform the tests to fully test the system.

Ultra-X Professional Hardware Diagnostics are thorough, but novice users might find them complex and time consuming. Ultra-X does not market this product to those users, but rather to an audience of technicians and advanced users. The tools are well suited to that audience. After using the tools for over a month, we feel that they are essential for any computer repair shop or information technology department. If only because of the tools’ ability to boot and troubleshoot seemingly dead systems, I would recommend them, but because of all of the other features of the package, it becomes a must-have.

Ultra-X
PO Box 730010
San Jose, CA 95173-0010
(408) 261-7090
http://www.uxd.com

Copyright - The NOSPIN Group, Inc.
1991-1999

 

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