Should You X-Ray Your Computer?

Category: Hardware

Do you know what's going on inside your PC? Most people don’t, and most of the time they don’t need to know. But there are occasions when a detailed inventory of a computer’s components comes in handy. Read on to learn some surprising reasons why you SHOULD know what's under the hood of your computer, even if you're NOT a techie. And also, some software tools that will let you “x-ray” your PC, so you can see what's inside without touching a screwdriver. Read on...

What's Going On Inside Your PC?

Why would you want to know what's inside that plastic and metal box you call a computer? I can think of several good reasons. Here are a few of them.

If you need to call tech support, you may be stuck when a rep asks for the make and model of your video card, or the amount and type of RAM that’s installed on your PC. If you want upgrade your memory, you’ll need to know what sort of RAM memory is already installed on the motherboard to be sure you get the compatible kind.

If you ask for help with an pesky cimputer problem in any online forum, the first responses you get will probably be along the lines of, “What’s under your hood?” If you are selling or buying a used computer, it’s important to have a list of what’s inside of it. Buyers will want to know how much memory is installed, the capacity of the hard drive, what type of power supply, and other important specs.

Is the computer running hot? Is the hard drive sending signals that it may fail soon? And is there any outdated software that may leave you vulnerable to attack? By the time you've finished this article, you'll know how to answer all of those questions with confidence.

computer specs

Microsoft Windows includes a “System Information” utility that displays information about many devices and processes on a PC. But it’s limited; often, it won’t tell you what you need to know, and the report it generates is not very friendly. Fortunately, there are more helpful system information utilities out there. Here are some examples that are free and powerful, yet easy for novices. And if you read this article to the end, I'm pretty sure you'll want to download and try at least one of them.

Speccy from Pirisoft gives you detailed info on every piece of hardware in your PC, including but not limited to CPU, Motherboard, RAM, Graphics Cards, Hard Disks, Optical Drives, and Audio support. Speccy also reads temperature sensors built into motherboards and hard drives, giving you a means to check for overheating problems that may be damaging your components or limiting performance.

Speccy can save and reload snapshots of your system info in XML, text, or INI files for printing and other uses. I've always used the free version of Speccy, but there is a Professional version ($20) that offers "Advanced PC insights." The website doesn't provide any details on those insights, though.

Belarc Advisor does a lot more than just inventory hardware, although it does a fine job of that. It also inventories all of the software on your PC, and can tell you if security patches are up to date. It even shows software license codes, which is handy if tech support asks for them. Here's another good reason to have those license codes handy... If you've bought a new computer (or you're recovering from a hard drive crash) you can easily re-install all the software you've purchased, without having to buy another copy, or beg the software vendor to send you the license info.

The Advisor displays the status of your network, including users and devices connected to it. If you've ever wondered if anyone is secretly tapping into your wifi, this will give you peace of mind (or cold chills). Belarc Advisor is very simple to use, and is privacy sensitive. It does not transmit any info about your system over the Internet; the report generated is displayed in your Web browser, and is saved on your hard drive for later viewing.

I don't always need to know...

HWiNFO is another freebie that offers comprehensive hardware analysis, monitoring, failure prediction and reporting for PCs running Windows 95 through Windows 11.

HW Monitor from CPUID focuses on voltages, temperatures and fan speed monitoring. It will also check your hard drive's S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring And Reporting Technology) status to see if there are any errors on the drive. (See also How Soon Will Your Hard Drive Crash?) There's a free CLASSIC version, and a PRO version ($24) that provides monitoring of sensors for remote PCs or Android devices.

And finally, there's SIW (System Information Monitor) which promises to tell you "Everything you ever wanted to know about your computer but were afraid to ask." That includes details on your operating system, software licenses, installed programs, running processes and drivers, autoruns and scheduled tasks, passwords, databases, and security certificates. SIW costs $20 but there is a free 14-day trial, and that may be all you need.

And finally, Autoruns for Windows shows you all the programs and processes that automatically run when your PC boots up or a user logs in. It's free, and provides information that can reduce Windows launch time, free up memory and other system resources, or help you track down especially stealthy malware.

You may not need to know what’s going on inside of your PC very often. But when you do, it’s good to have one of these system information utilities handy. I advise that you run reports from both Speccy and Belarc Advisor and then save them on a backup drive or email them to yourself for future handy reference. A printed copy might be a good idea too.

For Further Reading

This article covers the hardware components of your PC. If you want to know what software is installed, what's actually running, and who might be "sharing" your internet connection, see these related articles:

Here's Why You Must Keep Your Software Updated (and how to do it for free)

[SPEEDUP] Are Stealth Programs Slowing Your PC?

Do You Have a Wifi Intruder?

Do you know of other utility programs that help you discover what's going on under the hood of your computer? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Should You X-Ray Your Computer?"

Posted by:

15 Mar 2023

When I saw the subject of your email, I thought you were going to talk about whether to put your PC through the airport x-ray machines. Only when I looked more carefully did I realize you were talking about making an inventory of what's inside your computer.

Posted by:

David B.
15 Mar 2023

Great article, as always, Bob! :-)

My friend has asked what similar provision is recommended for his Apple Mac.

Can you advise, please?


Posted by:

16 Mar 2023

Hold the option key, click on the fruit on the top right corner, and click system information in the menu that drops down.

Posted by:

lar p
17 Mar 2023

"When I saw the subject of your email, I thought you were going to talk about whether to put your PC through the airport x-ray machines. "
same here . . .
good article - i am an IT professional for over 40 years, and this was all new to me
thanks for info - now let me go play for awhile . . .

Posted by:

John Anderson
17 Mar 2023

I've been using Belarc to keep track of my computer for years. With the advent of a new desktop computer in 2021. Belarc currently shows two missing important security updates: one for a .NET update in 2022, and one for a C++ update in 2012. Yet Windows 11 tells me I have all the updates. Microsoft's papers on installing the missing updates are, for me, vague. Do I need them? How come I'm missing one from long before I got my computer? Thanks for any advice!

Posted by:

Brian B
18 Mar 2023

Hi Bob, Can I just make one point to make it easier for dummies like me? You often give advice on software that allows users to check our machines and stay safe, particularly the freebees above. Alongside that, you often mention a paid version of same software and quote a price. It would be helpful if you could also mention if the price quoted was for a subscription or a one off purchase. Unfortunately, some software vendors tend not to mention that until after you sign up to purchase. I realize this is entirely the fault of the vendors (deliberate?) but the one I hate the most, is when the vendor advertises (on Google) FREE software, when they mean free to download, and a free trial. No criticism is intended of you Bob, as I put these issues squarely at the feet of the vendors, but I'm sure a person as knowledgeable as you would be aware of the subscription/purchase issue and maybe just add that to your pricing information.

Posted by:

Joe Wall
25 Mar 2024

Hello Bob, I’ve been receiving your newsletters for many years, and with my recent issue, I thought that I would send you a question. It has to do with Windows 10 File History, which I am using for my file backups at this time. I know there is other third party software that I could use, but I have stuck with this one for now. I have the settings configured to run a daily backup. The problem has to do with the time of day that it runs. According to everything that I have found on line, the default is for it to run around 2:00 AM. Mine consistently runs at around 9:40 AM. I have looked at the settings in the Security and Maintenance section of Control Panel, which I have never changed, and it all looks fine. I am at a loss as to why it isn’t running as scheduled. Others on line also have encountered this, but no one offers a valid solution. Any input that you have would be helpful. Thanks.

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