June 24, 2003

By Karen Kenworthy


Up here in the Northern Hemisphere, we've just enjoyed our longest day of the year. Thanks to the tilt of the earth's axis, the sun doesn't disappear behind the secluded Power Tools workshop until sometime after 9 p.m.

I love these late summer sunsets. If you watch, you'll see the world pause, momentarily caught between day and night. Birds become still, dogs stop their barking. Even the warm wind rests, preparing to change direction, ready to bring the cooler night air.

Listen carefully, and you'll hear the world softly sigh. It's truly a magical moment.

Profiler Grows Up

Between these daily respites, I've been working pretty hard. In fact, I'm wearing the letters off my computer keyboard, making changes to several of my Power Tools programs. :)

Just last week we met a new version of the popular Computer Profiler. As I'm sure you know, this program displays hundreds of bits of information about your computer and the software it uses. Programs you've installed, facts about your disk drives, printers, memory, and network connections, even dozens of details of Windows itself, are all revealed by the Profiler.

Last week's new version of the Profiler added USB devices to this list. Now the Profiler reports every USB device you've ever connected to your computer. Depending on how talkative the device, the information displayed may include the device's manufacturer, model, serial number, version, and driver.

We didn't have time to talk about it last week, but the Profiler also learned to ferret out information about a computer's SCSI, PCMCIA, and PCI devices. Since then, it's mastered the secrets of IEEE 1394 (a.k.a. "FireWire") devices too.

News You Can Use

This is getting scary. Can nothing stop this juggernaut? On my laptop, the new Profiler reports over 1,000 facts. Where will it end?

I can't say. But the new Profiler abilities can come in handy. Have you, or someone else, ever inserted a PCI network adapter card into one of your computer's PCI slots? Has an IEEE 1394 video camera been connected to your computer? How about an SCSI scanner, or a USB mouse. Has your computer communicated with one of those? What devices are currently connected to your computer?

Windows knows all. And in most cases -- with a little persuasion -- it's willing to talk. That's why the new Profiler spent a lot of time learning to cajole Windows, getting it to spill the beans. Now we can know what Windows knows.

To sample the information Profiler can now report, let's do what the Profiler does. Let's look at each bus, one at a time, and see what we might find there.

Every modern personal computer has a PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) bus. But if you're not handy with a screwdriver, you may have never seen one. That's because the PCI bus hides inside your computer's case.

The best-known parts of the PCI bus are its "slots", long connectors that allow folks to insert circuit cards (called "adapter cards") into a computer. Common adapter cards allow a computer to connect to a network (Network Interface Card, or "NIC"), display information on a monitor (video adapter card), or play music and make other sounds (sound card).

But a computer's PCI bus also connects permanent, built-in devices to your computer. These devices don't reside on cards inserted into a PCI slot. Instead, they live deep inside your computer's basic circuitry. With an electron microscope, and too much time on your hands, you might find them busily moving bits inside a chip soldered to your computer's motherboard.

The built-in devices normally connected to a computer's PCI bus include IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) controllers, allowing your computer to read and write hard disks, CD discs, and more. Some computers have a built-in video adapter, modem, sound card, and even network adapter.

IEEE 1394
Often called "FireWire", this bus was designed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers ("IEEE"). As you've probably guessed, it was the 1,394th specification this group of cool, but nerdy, folks produced. As we saw last week, this bus is often used to connect high- speed devices, such as video cameras, to a computer. Increasingly, the IEEE 1394 bus is being used to connect external hard disks, CD/DVD drives, and other storage devices.

The SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) is older than the PC itself. Still popular among servers and other hard-working computers, this bus most often connects large, fast hard disks to computers. Early scanners and CD drives frequently connected to computers via a SCSI bus. Some early laser printers spoke SCSI too. But today those non-disk devices are more likely to talk over a USB, IEEE 1394, or PCI bus.

Originally designed for laptop computers, the PCMCIA bus usually has two small slots. Each is capable of holding a credit-card sized gizmo called a "PC Card". As you might expect, given the name of the organization that designed this bus ("Personal Computer Memory Card International Association" [who thinks these up?]), these cards can contain computer memory.

This memory once expanded the paltry amount of built-in memory found in early laptops. But today, memory on a PC Card is more likely to store pictures taken by a digital camera. PC Cards have also moved beyond their original job. Now they can contain a network adapter, USB bus and connector, modem, video capture circuit, or even a small hard disk.

[Note: On my test machine, the search for PCMCIA devices is behaving strangely. For some reason, Windows doesn't report information about my one and only PC Card (a combination USB and FireWire adapter) among PCMCIA devices. Instead, the device shows up among the PCI bus's devices.

Is this because the PCMCIA bus is really a variant of the PCI bus? Or is this a quirk of my particular device, and its driver? At the moment I don't know. But if the new Profiler does report one of your PCMCIA devices in the correct location (on the PCMCIA tab), I'd appreciate hearing from you. Then I can stop scratching my head. :)]

More Cool Stuff

While I had the Profiler on the operating table, I also updated a few of its older features. When displaying information about your computer's disk drives, the Profiler always showed the total size, and amount of free space, for each drive. Now it also displays these numbers for all your disks combined.

Another change affects the Profiler's list of installed programs. Previously, programs were displayed in the order Windows stored them. Unfortunately, Windows' list is jumbled -- arranged in no discernable order. Naturally, this took all the fun out of searching for a particular entry, out of a list of 100 or more programs. :(

To put the fun back where it belongs, the new Profiler sorts the list. Installed programs are now displayed in alphabetical order. Not a big deal. But if it brings one smile to a user's face, it was worth it.

You'll have to look closely to see another Profiler improvement. Thanks to several reader requests, the main window is now resizable! Want to see more computer facts at one time? Just drag the sides or corner of the Profiler's main window to increase its size.

For more control, you can also adjust the two panes on the Profiler's main window. Want to give less space to the left-hand pane (showing computer details) and more space to the right-hand pane (showing descriptions and explanations)? Just use your mouse to right-click on the space between the two panes. You can then drag the divider left or right, shifting space between the panes!

Want to take the new Profiler for a spin? It's easy. Just visit the program's home page at:


As always, the program is free (for personal use). And programmer-types can download the program's free Visual Basic source code too!

Or if you prefer, get the latest version of every Power Tool, including the new Profiler, on CD. The disc also includes three bonus Power Tools, not available anywhere else. You'll find every back issue of my newsletter, and a few articles, in the CD's library. The CD even includes a special license that lets you use your Power Tools at work.

Best of all, buying a CD is the easiest way to support the web site and this newsletter. To find out more about the CD, visit:


Until we meet again, take some time to enjoy the beauty of a sunset. And if you see me behind the secluded Power Tools workshop, taking in the splendor, or on the 'net, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"

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