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May 19, 1997

A cool diagnostic tool is hidden on the Win95B CD-ROM

I've written several columns about the current commercial build of Windows, known as Windows 95B, OSR2, or OEM Service Release 2. (See my Jan. 13 column "Even more Windows 95 work-arounds exist for the bleeding edge,") for one update. But OSR2 continues to unearth new gems, so I'll keep revealing them to you.

One new goodie is a virtually unknown hardware diagnostic tool called Hwdiag.exe. This program resides in a noncompressed, executable form on the Windows 95B CD-ROM. You can run it from the CD or simply copy it to your hard drive and run it from there. Its location on the CD is D:\Other\Misc\Hwtrack, where D: is the letter of your CD-ROM drive. It works on Win95, 95A, or 95B.

Windows 95B, as you may know, is a version of Windows that Microsoft hasn't made available as a commercial upgrade from Windows 95 or 95A. Under Microsoft's licensing terms, you can get it only from an OEM dealer with the purchase of a new computer system, a new motherboard, or a hard drive. For details on OSR2, one good source is a Web site maintained at

Once you have OSR2 and you can access Hwdiag.exe, however, there are many ways this little tool can be useful to you.

Hwdiag.exe lists every key in the Windows Registry that refers to hardware in your system. The entries are color-coded to make the display easier to decipher. Registry entries are displayed in green, and file attributes (path and date information for drivers, for example) are in magenta. Error messages and warnings are displayed in red and blue, respectively.

The information in Hwdiag.exe isn't intended for beginners, but if you know a little about interrupts and drivers this tool can be very helpful. For example, I reported a few weeks ago that my CD-ROM drive and Zip drive had mysteriously vanished from the components listed in My Computer and the Explorer. (See "Think you've got PC problems? Oh, the troubles I've seen," April 14.) Hwdiag.exe reported that my SCSI adapter, to which both devices are attached, is not working properly and provided a specific error code. This suggests a hardware problem, and the code may help me get my components talking to one another again.

For those who find Hwdiag.exe's information about hardware useful, there are a variety of ways to look at the output. You can cut and paste selected sections or the whole listing into your word processor. You also can save the output as a plain text file (losing formatting such as color-coding) or as a rich text file, which is compatible with most word processors and suitable for e-mailing if you want to share the data.

Hwdiag.exe also supports menu options to filter the data to show only certain classes of devices (storage devices, for instance) or devices with problems. But in Version 1.0, which I used, these options didn't seem to change the output much. Typically for a Microsoft utility, there is no README file or Help file to guide the user, so you'll have to try it out for yourself to judge its usefulness for you.

I'd like to thank reader Bob Reams of Richmond, Va., for suggesting this tool. He described to me how he used Hwdiag.exe to find that his system had four modems installed in the Registry, with three of them disabled. He removed the three bogus entries to help with the installation of a new Winmodem. Reams will receive a copy of Windows 95 Secrets for his suggestion.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of Windows 95 Secrets Gold and four other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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Copyright © 1997 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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