Windows has always been able to tell you nearly everything you want to know about your computer--hardware, software, drivers, you name it (OK, it won’t tell you what your brother did to mess everything up last week, but that’s a different situation). System Information puts the information neatly at your fingertips. Let’s take a look at this useful Windows utility and what it can show about your computer.
Getting started with System Information
To open System Information from the Start Menu, click on All Programs, then Accessories, then System Tools, then System Information. Or you can use one of Windows 7’s most useful features and just type System Information into the search box and click on System Information in the list of results (you’ll see other system related tools there as well). Be sure you choose System Information and not the Control Panel’s System shortcut.
Keep in mind that System Information is a viewer; it’s not for changing anything, just for details of what you’ve got and where.
An overview of System Information
This is what you’ll see when System Information opens (the picture is what’s on my computer; yours will display different information according to what you have installed but the general layout will be the same). Each category in the left pane has expanded details on the right. At the bottom is a “Find" box, where you can search for specific information.
For example, if you wanted to find your computer’s IP (internet protocol) address, you’d type IP Address into the box and click Find.
The System Summary is an overview of your computer and its operating system. You’ll find the computer’s name (the one you gave it when you set it up) and its manufacturer, as well as its BIOS and how much memory you’ve got installed.
Checking out your hardware
The Hardware Resources category is full of advanced details. It is primarily designed for expert users or IT professionals; the average user may not find anything useful in there without looking up exactly what some of the technical terms mean. However, if you do want more detail, Microsoft’s web site has a wealth of information on these things, explained in ways the average person can easily understand. Just go to http://www.microsoft.com and use “Search Microsoft.com" to turn up just about anything you’d like to know.
There’s a section called Conflicts/Sharing that might or might not contain anything, depending on how your system is set up. In the DOS days and the early days of Windows, IRQ (“interrupt request") conflicts were a big deal and often you’d have to twiddle and fiddle and shift things around so that your devices wouldn’t be fighting each other for the same resources. That’s really not a problem any more, so the Conflicts/Sharing section is just for information, not a warning of potential disasters.
If you’re curious about what IRQs are assigned where, click on the IRQs section and it’ll tell you.
The Components section goes into great detail about the devices you’ve got installed. On my computer, Multimedia only displays the audio and video codecs, which is not something the average user needs to worry about, especially if media files play fine in Windows Media Player.
Here’s what the CD-ROM section looks like. I’m not sure why Microsoft didn’t update the name of this section to reflect the fact that it’s a rare computer indeed that doesn’t have a CD/DVD burner these days.
The other choices are similar. You can get full details about your mouse, keyboard, infrared input devices (if any), hard drives, optical drives, floppy drive (if any), modem (if you’ve got one), network adapter and so forth.
The section called Problem Devices is much like the Conflicts section because Windows 7 handles hardware problems so well. As you can see, there’s a problem with my audio controller, because the driver for that device is not installed. I have an older sound card and haven’t located a Windows 7 driver for it yet.
Your software and its components
The Software Environment section will look different on every computer, because here’s where you see all the details about the software you have installed, both what came with the operating system and what you’ve added on. As with the Hardware section, much of this information is only of interest to advanced users or IT professionals, and some of the categories are things like program groups, startup programs, print jobs and running tasks, which most people already know about. Still, it’s useful to have all this information in one place.
Here is a section of the System Drivers showing just a few of what seems to be a bazillion drivers. These are from Microsoft and should be pretty much the same for most users.
So, why do I need to check out System Information?
The short answer is, why not? It’s true that a lot of what you’ll see might not mean much at first glance, but it’s a great way to find out just what’s in your computer - including a lot of things that most of us don’t know are there. Unlike what can happen with some of Windows 7’s other applications, you can’t put your computer in any danger by poking around in System Information, because it’s just a viewer.
I’ve been using Microsoft operating systems for a long time, and I remember having to work pretty hard sometimes to make the operating system play nice with all the components. (Modems were particularly fussy about their IRQs.) The early versions of Windows had some of the same problems. But Microsoft’s been hard at work fixing all the stuff that they used to leave up to their customers (or the technicians the customers had to hire to smack everything into shape), and each new version of Windows is better than its predecessor. I like looking at System Information to see lists of “conflicts" that don’t cause the least bit of trouble, and I like looking up some of the technical terms so I learn more about what they mean.
There are quite a few web sites offering add-on “system information" tools, but none that I’ve seen offer much more than the built-in System Information. If you use the tool that comes with Windows 7 you’ll find out about your computer without putting it at risk.
Have you used System Information? Was there any part of it you didn’t understand? Is there a section you found particularly useful--or too cryptic to be any use at all?