In today's blog, I thought I would go through the steps involved in setting up Dell's 32-bit diagnostic software to run the sorts of test that we ask of our customers in tech support situations. This are some of the same tests that we use here to ensure a machine is in good order before we ship it. There's nothing terribly technical involved in setting any of this up.
The first step is going to be getting the diagnostics themselves, and you'll need to do this on a system with an OS installed. To get them, you'll need to go to http://support.dell.com/ and look up your particular system, as the diagnostics vary from generation to generation. As new technology comes along, or older tech is not as common, Dell changes what the diags test for. What you're going to download is a utility that you will run and will let you create some bootable media to use on the machine to be tested.
Download and install the utility and then run it. We typically choose to Create a Bootable CD, so let's do that here. Even though there is a separate button to create just an image, the utility will still think that maybe you want to create just an image rather than actually to burn a disc. Click the radio box that says burn the image instead of saving it to a file, put a blank CD in your burner and click okay. There will be a confirmation dialogue after that, to make sure you really want to use the disc you put in there. Click Burn. Once it's finished, a box will pop up to tell you it's finished. Take out your disc, close the utility and now you have a proper diagnostic CD.
Now comes the fun stuff. Boot the server you want to test to the CD. Once it loads, it will present you with four options and a countdown. The options are to test the memory, to load the graphics based diagnostic, to loop memory and diagnostic, or to quit. If you don't select one before the timer runs out, it will automatically loop them, but this isn't very useful to us. For what we need to do, select 2, the DDGUI graphics based diagnostic. If you find the timer has expired and it's started a test already, you can use ESC to exit out of it. Just keep hitting ESC until you get the diagnostic menu again.
So select 2, and the system will start initializing various test modules. Something to be aware of is that these are not destructive tests. When it comes to your drives, it will scan them, but it will not overwrite your data.
When the diagnostics have finished loading all their modules, you will have a screen with five buttons on the left side. You can navigate with a mouse, or using the tab key if you don't have a mouse hooked up. The buttons should be Express Test, Extended Test, Custom Test, Information. We have found that the Custom Test is the most useful in most cases. It lets you select what components you want to test and it gives you more information as the test takes place. So pick Custom Test.
On this screen you can now select what you do or don't want to test. If you want to test video, it can waste time to leave hard drives selected. If you expand the device names, you can see the individual tests the diagnostic has available. Sometimes a faster one is enough, other times a more thorough test is called for. If in doubt, just leave the defaults. If you want more information about a specific test, then highlight and then click on the Help tab over to the right.
On the upper right, you'll want to check the boxes marked Non-Interactive Tests Only, and Continue on Failure. With those selected you don't have to sit around and babysit the system. You can start the diagnostic and then go get lunch or go home for the weekend, whatever. You can also select how many times you want the selected tests to run. If time permits, it's a good idea to choose multiple iterations. Some problems may be intermittent, like a processor that only acts up if it gets too hot. Running the tests for multiple loops can help track those down.
One last suggestion. Here, we like to make sure the Errors tab is selected before starting the diagnostic, but as they say, your mileage may vary. If you have the Results tab selected, then it will tell you the status of each test, be it passing, failing, in progress, or out for drinks. We're generally looking for things that are going wrong, though, and if you have the Errors tab selected, then whenever something shows up on the screen, you'll know it's a problem and not a routine status message.
As a final note, the Parameters tab lets you fine tune what's being tested. It's not used very often, but it can be interesting to look at.
I hope you've found this overview of the Dell 32 Bit Diagnostics helpful. These diagnostics are one of the most used tools in our chest here, and can be very useful in running down a problem.