EQUIPMENT REPORTS (EN, Oct. 1993)

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Micro Scope V5.0 Diagnostic Software

A helping hand for PC service technicians.


Anyone who is responsible for maintaining or repairing IBM-standard personal computers will want to have the latest release of Micro Scope PC diagnostic software from Micro 2000, Inc. (1100 East Broadway, Suite 301, Glendale, CA 91205; 818547-0397). Unlike most diagnostic software, Micro Scope works independently of the PC's operating system; the disk on which the diagnostic software is distributed contains its own operating system, called Micro-dos.

There are some important advantages to Micro Scope's DOS-independence. For example, its memory-test routine can access more base memory than would be possible with a diagnostic program running under MS-DOS. Another advantage is Micro Scope's ability to access the boot sector on a hard disk drive, which is also unavailable under MS-DOS. That makes it possible to restore a disk that has been made unbootable by a computer virus. (It won't guarantee success but, because 90% of viruses hide in the boot loader program, the chances of recovery are pretty good.) Partition tables, which tell the operating system how a disk drive is segmented, can also be restored with the help of Micro Scope.

The Micro Scope program is sup-plied with two serial loopback plugs (one 9-pin and one 25-pin) and one parallel loopback plug that are required for some tests. An informative 178-page technical manual is also provided. The program is supplied on both 5 1/4 and 3 1/2-inch floppy disks.

Micro Scope can be run under MS-DOS, and there are some instances where that is desirable.

(Troubleshooting a floppy drive with boot-up problems, for example.) For full functionality, however, the program should be loaded from the self booting disk. Once the Micro-dos operating system has been loaded, a menu provides two options: load base memory tests or load diagnostics The base memory tests take up only two kilobytes of base memory, allowing all other base memory to be tested. (Because virtually any error in the first 2 kilobytes of base memory would make a PC unbootable, the test, in effect, verifies that all of the base memory is functioning.) Choosing to load the full diagnostic program brings up the program's main menu, which presents five options: System Information, Batch Menu, Diagnostics, Utilities, and Quit or reboot.

System information

The System Information menu calls up a five-entry submenu that provides access to information about the motherboard, plug-in adapters, interrupt (IRQ) assignments, network adapters, and more. The computer system's configuration is determined from information gathered by Micro Scope from the computer's CMOS memory, power-on self test (POST), and proprietary routines. The information presented onscreen includes the computer's system type (e.g., AT, XT), the revision date of the BIOS (basic input /output system), CPU type, detected hardware (floppy and hard drives, video adapters, I/O ports, base memory, extended memory, video memory, and more), and the CMOS memory settings.

Any conflicts between the contents of the CMOS memory and what Micro Scope detects are flagged with an asterisk.

Micro Scope can also search for adapter cards that contain an active ROM BIOS. (Many plug-in cards, including network adapters and video cards, contain programs that serve as extensions to the computer's main BIOS.) Micro Scope can identify the starting and ending addresses of the BIOS extensions so that addressing conflicts--one common frustration encountered when new cards are installed--can be identified.

The status (disabled, enabled, or active) of IRQ or interrupt assignments can be displayed, along with their associated I/O ports, devices, and interrupt vectors. Interrupt conflicts, which can be diagnosed with the help of Micro Scope, are another common problem encountered when new hardware and software is installed in a system.

The physical-partition table of the computer's hard-disk can be studied. The partition table and volume-boot sector can also be edited-or corrected to restore a virus-infected or damaged disk. By studying the partition table, the properties of the drive installed in the computer can be identified; the number of heads, bytes per sector, sectors per cluster, and other useful information is contained in the table.

The final entry in the System Information menu displays the contents of the computer's CMOS memory, and permits the contents to be edited. Micro Scope can become a convenient replacement for the setup boot diskette that is usually required to access the CMOS memory on older IBM-standard AT computers.

Diagnostics menu

The Diagnostics menu permits system hardware to be tested. One series of routines verifies the proper operation of the microprocessor, math coprocessor, direct memory access (DMA) controllers, and programmable interrupt controllers.

Memory tests are available for base memory, cache memory, expanded memory, and extended memory.

A sequence of tests for floppy-disk drives can help to locate the cause of disk-related problems.

Even 2.8 megabyte floppy drives (as found on some of IBM's latest machines) can be tested.

Hard-disks can be tested with a similar battery of tests. Unlike most diagnostic software, Micro Scope can perform a low-level format on an IDE (intelligent drive electronics) drive. That feature can make Micro Scope pay for itself, because IDE drives that contain a bad sector or that are incorrectly formatted no longer need to be returned to the factory for reformatting.

Tests for serial and parallel ports are also included in Micro Scope, as are modem tests. A number of video tests can help to locate problems with video monitors or display adapter cards. They permit the verification of proper display attributes, screen alignment, text modes, graphics modes, and screen paging. Video memory up to two megabytes can also be tested.

Batch menu

The Batch menu allows multiple tests to be run in an automatic, unattended mode, which is especially useful for diagnosing intermittent problems, or for "burning in" new systems. Any of the tests mentioned previously can be selected; test routines can be saved to a floppy disk which can then be loaded conveniently into other systems. An error log can be printed, or it can be saved to a floppy disk. Tests can be run continuously, or the software can be set to run the tests for a user-specified number of passes.

Utilities

Several utilities are provided to help make Micro Scope a complete solution for computer service. A memory display shows the contents of memory in hexadecimal and ASCII. With that feature, it is possible to find such details as the copyright information for the system BIOS or for the ROM BIOS extensions on adapter cards. A floppy-disk editor displays the contents of a disk in both hex and ASCII, and permits the data to be modified. A similar function is available for hard drives.

One utility, which is unique as far as we can tell, rebuilds the master boot sector of a hard disk with a generic DOS boot loader program mentioned earlier, it can bring many virus-damaged systems back to life.

Micro Scope is a complete diagnostics tool that will be appreciated by PC service technicians, network administrators, and advanced computer hobbyists who want a thorough understanding of PC operation. Priced at $499, it might be too expensive for casual use. But in professional applications, Micro Scope's ability to do low-level formatting of IDE drives--along with its time-saving convenience-will make the program pay for itself in short order.

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