January 3, 2001

By Karen Kenworthy

IN THIS ISSUE

Happy New Year!

Who knew the year 2000 would fly by so quickly? It seems like only yesterday we were hoarding canned food and bottled water. Now we're all a year older and wiser. Our computers are humming right along. And if this snow and ice lasts another week, my supply of Spam will finally be gone. :)

Computer Profiler

A new year calls for a new program. So for the last few weeks I've been working on a new Power Tool I call the Winmag.com Computer Profiler. This little tool examines your computer, discovering and reporting all sorts of interesting information.

I hope you'll find the Profiler interesting. But to be honest, I wrote the program mostly to satisfy my own curiosity. As you know, Windows exists to serve the programs you run. It performs common, mundane tasks, such as reading and writing disks, allocating RAM, etc. This allows your favorite applications to focus on what they do best -- prepare reports, calculate inventories, and shoot down alien spaceships.

Windows also serves by answering questions. Does an application need to know how much RAM you've installed in your PC? It asks Windows. Does a program need to know if a computer has lost AC power, and is running on backup battery power? It asks Windows. For programs, Windows is a warehouse full of data about your computer, computer configuration, and even Windows itself.

Some of this data you'll recognize, but some you may not. For example, most of us know the type of CPU our computer uses. And how much physical RAM is installed. But how many of us know our CPU's revision level? Or our computer's memory load factor? Windows knows the answers to all these questions, and a whole lot more. And thanks to the new Winmag.com Computer Profiler, we can too.

CPU Information

To see the kind of information the Profiler can provide, let's take a look at the information it discovers about your CPU, the central processor unit or chip that does all of your computer's thinking. The program uncovers and displays nine different CPU facts. Here's a quick rundown of five of them:

Processor Architecture: For most of us, this will be Intel, indicating our CPU was manufactured by Intel, or is a clone of an Intel design. However, special versions of Windows exist that run on Alpha CPUs made by Compaq (originally DEC) and MIPS CPUs. As far as I know, no released version of Windows was created to run on PowerPC (PPC) CPUs, used by IBM, Apple, and others. But Windows can report such a version. And if it ever exists, the Profiler will identify it.

Processor Level: What Windows calls the Processor Level many of us might call a generation. Intel and the others have produced several different CPU generations over the years. For example, Intel generations or levels include the old 386, the slightly newer 486, the Pentium, Pentium II, and now the Pentium III. Alpha CPU levels supported by Windows include the 21064, 21066, and the 21164. Only the MIPS level 4000 was ever supported by Windows, though Windows does detect all levels of PPC CPU from the original 601 to the 620.

Processor Revision: Most of us know the manufacturer (architecture) and generation (level) of our CPUs. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Most CPU manufacturers have created several different chip models within each generation. Some models are optimized for use in laptops, or servers. Others have special features that accelerate multimedia programs. Others are simply less expensive, and slower, versions of other models.

Advertising agencies and marketing groups have given these different CPU models fancy names, such as Intel 386SX, or Pentium MMX. But internally, both within the CPU companies and within Windows, these variations are known by their model numbers or letters. It's that value that the Profiler reports.

CPU's stepping: In addition to the CPU's model number of letter, the Processor Revision reveals one other bit of information -- a CPU's Stepping. As a CPU model matures, the chip-maker discovers little ways to make it easier to manufacture. It may also make changes to the CPU design to fix errors, or make the chip more reliable. Each of these changes is given a Stepping number, perhaps because each new version is a new step in the evolution of the chip design. Whatever the reason, the stepping number of your CPU is reported by the Profiler, alongside the CPU's model designation.

Number Of Processors: Most of us have only one CPU inside our PC. But not everyone is so deprived. Several motherboards now accept two CPUs, and a few can accommodate four or more. To make use of the extra CPUs you must be running either Windows NT or Windows 2000, the only multi-CPU versions of Windows. But if you are, the Profiler will report the number of CPUs your computer can command.

More Neat Stuff

The new Profiler can display lots of other neat stuff. In addition to the nine CPU tidbits, it also discloses seven bits about your computer's memory, five electrifying facts about your computer's power source (battery or AC), and 10 eye-opening Windows statistics.

In addition to displaying all this information on your computer screen, it can also copy it to the Windows clipboard. From there, you can paste it into a text file, word-processing document, or even a spreadsheet. Either way, you've got a permanent record of your computer's configuration.

We'll talk more about the Profiler in the days ahead. But if you'd like to see it for yourself right now, just visit the Profiler's home page at https://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptprofile. There you'll be able to download your free copy of the program, and its Visual Basic source code if you're so inclined. The programmers among us might be interested in a neat trick the program uses, to simulate a "splitter" window in Visual Basic.

In the meantime, I'll be digging through Windows, looking for more cool information the Profiler can display. And of course, I'll be spending a little time on the 'net. If you see me there, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"

And if you see my Mom on the Web this week (she got her first computer for Christmas!), be sure to say Hi to her too. If you get the chance, drop her a note at mom@karenware.com. She'd love to hear from you. And you might even be able to explain to her what I do for a living. :)