Micro2000 Universal Diagnostic Toolkit

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, October 2005
Manufactured by: Micro2000 Inc.
Requires: A PC with hardware problems that need to be analyzed
MSRP: US$300.00

The funny thing about hardware problems is that some of them defy analysis, unless of course you've got an incredible amount of time to waste, not to mention the patience of a saint. Microsoft, Intel, AMD, a hundred motherboard manufacturers, video card makers past and present, sound card vendors past and present, power supply manufacturers and the whole gamut of contributors that make up the composition of every PC have inadvertently conspired to create a modern hydra. The challenge for repair technicians can be daunting, but no matter how complex the solution eventually turns out to be, we all start off by asking ourselves the same question: How Do I Go About Figuring Out What's Wrong With This PC?

The Micro2000 Universal Diagnostic Toolkit is the current answer to the question. Don't fiddle with cables, jiggling connections, switching RAM modules, swapping out video cards and performing the insufferably annoying trial & error process that inevitably accompanies the typical search & destroy mission inside a typical PC. I've been using a Universal Diagnostic Toolkit for two years.

The kit is a three part affair: MicroScope, Post-Probe and a set of loop-back plugs. Along with manuals and CDs the whole thing is bundled in a zippered leather case. Don't leave the Post-Probe manual out of the kit because it contains a reference guide which helps you read output from the Post-Probe board and identify various hardware failures—a set of tables for the POST diagnostic codes of approximately 40 BIOS versions. Very handy.

Post-Probe is a PC board that fits into any available slot, and it's designed to test, identify and troubleshoot hardware failures during bootup. Micro2000 has assembled the Post-Probe using a heavy duty PC board that has stood up to a lot of abuse over all the time I've owned it and it's never given me a problem. It's probably been in and out of 500 different PCs. Plug the Post-Probe card into an empty slot, turn on the system and you get a diagnostic code which almost always pinpoints the exact cause of system failure (if, of course, the failure is hardware and it is detectable during bootup). The information is derived from the PC’s own Power On Self Test (POST) routine .

MicroScope is a powerful software utility that is supplied on the CD in the kit. It performs over 30 distinct system analyses and tests identifying multi-processor issues, performing modem tests, Desktop Management Information (DMI) pool tests, health status tests, plug & play IDs, USB identification & testing, base memory testing and a whole range of service functions including secure disk erasure, boot record and partition recovery and a couple of dozen other things besides. It's a full featured tool that uses its own build of FreeDOS to operate at low levels as needed.

The set of loop back plugs in the kit are very handy and used for external port testing. Loop back plugs are ideal for quickly and safely identifying short circuits, broken port pins, port activation detection and quite a few other problems. The set of plugs that's provided in the kit covers all the typical hardware port configurations.

When Managing Editor Howard Carson asked me to replace the old Universal Diagnostic Toolkit review, I took the liberty of pulling out a brand new problem on which to base the review. The strangest things were taking place on a bog-plain Pentium 4. It had been in service as a basic home machine belonging to one of my office staff for about two years. It was clean, but flaky, but also had no viruses, trojans or other garbage that I could detect. With Post-Probe in an empty PCI slot, the board's boot diagnostic showed me the codes for bad RAM. Despite the fact that the machine was consistently booting to the desktop and operating for a while (sometimes hours) before spontaneously rebooting, Post-Probe spotted the flaky RAM immediately. The card saved me at least half an hour of manual fiddling. Do two or three of those one day and you'll cry yourself to sleep moaning about why you never got a Universal Diagnostic Toolkit years ago.

Cons: The kit is normally hard to find and the Micro2000 web site doesn't make it any easier. Come on guys—sell it direct, put some Buy Now links on your site, and provide direct SKU links to direct, online resellers. People read the reviews, hunt around the web site, then search forever (in vain) to find an obvious purchase link.

Pros: It's not strictly a repair or analysis tool, but the benchmarking included in MicroScope means I no longer have to carry separate benchmarking software. Two other nice surprises included in MicroScope are the hard drive editing and monitor alignment tools. Again, Micro2000 has obviously consulted with a lot of experienced IS/IT, admin people and repair techs to come up with something that really is almost "universal" in scope. Following hard on the heels of the latest push toward data security, the Secure Wipe feature in MicroScope provides privacy and security by erasing all traces of data from a hard drive. It's a very thorough routine that defied all subsequent attempts to recover data from a test drive. The Universal Diagnostic Toolkit is priced according to its true value—and excellent value it is. Recommended.

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