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by Robert D. Fuller

Check-It BoxThis ensemble of software diagnostics from the folks at TouchStone is the only software that I have ever seen that comes with not one but two screw drivers. That should tell you something right away about the programs. Yes, programs, you get a whole range of programs to cover DOS, W3.1 and W95. You really don't have to be a computer engineer to use them, but it helps. The computer engineer will especially like the first part of the programs for DOS called CheckIt 4. Everyone else, even those new to computers, will like the Windows features in WINCheckIt Pro.

That reminds me that a lot of the readers are new to computers, so here are some term definitions.

DOS CheckIt 4 is a series of applets or small application programs that can be run from a floppy disk. They do not have to be installed to the hard drive. Installed, they will take about 2 Megs of hard drive space. These applets are just what the computer doctor ordered to check out most of the individual components of an ailing computer. They can each be hand tailored to do just what you, the doctor, wants to do. You can check that the component is functioning correctly, burn it in by repeating the tests over and over, or you can certify the component with a full diagnostic. It is a comprehensive package that I will not go into because this is a family magazine and Clarke is short on space.

I will mention that the two screw drivers are for attaching any of three included "loopback" plugs . These are connectors that are wired to electronically bend or loopback the output pins on an external data port to the input pins of the port. This allows an output signal to be bent back to the input and checked for being correct. The three plugs are for a 9 pin serial port, a 25 pin serial port and the standard Centronics parallel printer port. Use the loopback plugs properly and you can isolate a problem to a bad external device or a malfunctioning port. You can also determine the speeds that your com port can handle. The loopback plugs can be used with either CheckIt in DOS or WINCheckIt while running Windows.

 WINCheckIt Pro has many features that will cause a lot of people to buy the program just to get them. They include a four volume technical library on CD-ROM, benchmarks, hardware/software/performance changes detected indicator, clean and zip, tune up, hardware advisor, software shopper, resources monitor, system file editor, and rescue disk creator.

The four volume library is comprehensive and contains a lot of information for the newcomer and the experienced computer user. The benchmarks allow you to monitor your system performance and save the test results so that you can compare this month with last months figures. The changes detected indicator will alert you to any changes in the benchmark results and let you know if your startup files such as autoexec.bat or system.ini files have changed since the last set of benchmarks were obtained.

Clean and zip is one item that I find very useful. You can check all of your disk drives for duplicate files. The program comes back with a list which you can filter or sort in several ways. You can sort by date, file size, name and file extension just to name a few. Then you can select files to delete, move, or zip to help you clean up your hard drive space. The zips are compatible with PKZIP and you can go the unzip route and individually select files to unzip from a zipped archive file. I find it very useful.

If you have ever tried to run a DOS program under windows and the system has come up with an insufficient memory message, tune up will help. The program consolidates all of the small chunks of your extended memory into one free space so that hopefully your DOS program will run. The hardware advisor is a list of many hardware products such as network cards and CD-ROM's'. The result of the program is a report which will tell you if the item you are thinking of installing is compatible with your system. It will give you the recommended setup parameters such as jumper settings and IRQs' to use.

The software shopper accomplishes the same thing for software programs. That way you know if you will have any conflicts or enough memory and disk space for installing the program.

The resource monitor checks your CPU usage, disk drive space, and memory free space. You can see how busy your system is.

The system file editor allows you to change your system files such as the autoexec.bat file. Don't forget to make a backup copy of any system file under another name before you change what you have now. That way you can always recover from the changes if you have to go back to the old file. The create rescue disk will generate a floppy disk with enough of your system files on it so that you can boot up your system in the event of a major event as the boot sector on your hard drive getting wiped out. Everyone should have at least one rescue disk around in case of emergencies. You will always need it at the worst time. It doesn't hurt to have two of them just in case you really have problems.

 So far I haven't mentioned anything about what flavor of windows you're using. When I started to install the program I was running W3.11. When I finally got it to work I was running W95. I had problems getting the diagnostics to run in W3.11. I believe it was because of the non- standard disk driver WBIDE.EXE with my 32 bit VESA card.

WINCheckIt Pro could not handle the driver and I managed to crash my system big time. So I telephoned Touchstone tech support for assistance. I finally had to tell the program not to check my modem configuration to be able to collect the system data. My system required that the program drop to DOS to run the diagnostics. The applets ran individually, even the modem test, but when I tried "Check everything" instant hang. Tech support suggested that I turn off all of the windows 32 bit disk access, when I did Windows went out to lunch. The three fingered salute accomplished nothing and my only resort was the power off master clear route. Windows would not come back up, period. It would get halfway loaded and then the system would reboot. After trying to get tech support again, I got tired of waiting with on the phone, so I left a message for a call back. Still no response and it was now a weekend.

 I discovered with NORTON DISK DOCTOR that my hard drives had lost clusters so I allowed them to be fixed but still no joy. Reloading Windows and even DOS didn't help, so I figured that here was a perfect time to install W95, same thing. I finally checked the win boot log and found that the system was having problems loading some drivers, so I removed them from the system.ini file. Presto! W95 Worked.

 I believe my problem was a combination of doing things wrong and having a nonstandard driver for my VESA IDE controller. Somehow a lot of my files became truncated to a single allocation unit on my hard drives. After fixing the files, I have not had any problems with the program under W95.

The moral of the story is to make sure that you have backups before installing any new software. The Touchstone tech support people were very knowledgeable and helpful. One of them even called back a few days later to see if I had anymore problems. You should not have any problems with the software as long as you are using standard Windows drivers.

 The program is available locally for a street price of about $45, much better than the list price of $129. In spite of the problems I had with my installation, I like the program. It is a well done package with good manuals. The needs of the computer expert and the computer beginner are well satisfied. Now, if they had included an alignment disk with it....