Sunday, March 29, 2009

IT Phone Home: PC Auditing to Go

This will be a slam-down post. As in, I’m slamming down in the pan, frying it up and tossing it on the plate.  Got a busy schedule this weekend, time is a luxury, and I’m a short-order cook.

At work we’ve had an anomaly crop up.  A number of our newest systems have been found to be strangely missing system RAM.   Down to 1 GB from 2 GB according to the factory specs and build information based on system number.

I’m no PI but a roundup of the particulars leads us to a single conclusion.  Unfortunately, because our installation process does not actually involve base-lining every system we install (I know, I know…) I can’t say with 100% certainty that the system put on the desk definitely had all the RAM ordered when it was placed on the desk.  So loss could have occurred anywhere from the factory, through the delivery chain, to the install, to post-install period.

So (being the bright folks we are) we got together and figured out that we needed to document what each and every system we install contained when we touched it and walked away from it. And it needed to be done by the installer.  That way we could be certain what every system had when we put in on the desk, and if something came up missing, what it was and that it happened after the installation.  It would be golden if we could also extract serial numbers of RAM DIMMS, chassis, hard-drives, and other elements without cracking the case open.

Now I can’t speak for all shops, but our install techs are very busy and time is of the essence.  Opening every case and inventorying all the key components could really slow down the process of deploying to staff.

We needed a fast way to make like a panda and eat, shoot and leaf.

The Solution

After a lot of research, we appear to have settled on the retired AIDA32 project software.  A bit more testing and validation is required but we are feeling pretty good with this first-round draft pick for the team.

There are two versions, AIDA32 - 3.93 and AIDA32 –3.94.2.  The biggest difference between them is that the second one supports a server mode that when configured will accept Audit auto-sends from systems when AIDA32 has been set up to run in “client-mode”.  The second one also seems to have slightly better hardware support.

We like this one because it is highly customizable to the degree of specific hardware and Operating System components that can be selected or excluded for reporting.  After much work I configured a custom report that will provide us with a system summary, user account information, motherboard identifiers, system chassis type, RAM DIMM size, counts, and serial numbers, hard drive SMART information, hard drive model and serial number, label of hard drive, workgroup information,  AV information, monitor type and serial number, and network IP configuration info.

That lets us know exactly how the installer configured the system, who it was configured for, where it was configured, and what all was specifically on the system when it was deployed.

Now, to make things even more fun, I’ve been able to package it all up in a single folder that each technician can carry and run from their USB stick.

Then I used it’s batch-file, command-line, custom reporting, and email actions support to allow them to click a single batch file.  That file runs a system audit based on my parameters, packs it up in a text-file, attaches it to an email message and sends it to three of us.  All in the space of about a minute.

So the tech can click it, allow it, and forget it.  We get our reports and audit documentation and the techs suffer through negligible time-loss.

One of the bonus finds was this AIDA32 User Guide (zip) which has great details on configuring the tool as well as all the command-line parameter support.

Bonus Trick

I wanted the batch-file process to be almost seamless, and I found this great tip on how to (kinda) run a batch-file to launch in a minimized/hidden CMD window.

It was a clever trick and some background on what exactly it does can be found in this chock-full-o-nuts post: Antimail : Script recipe of the week: how to copy an opened file.

Between this trick and some AIDA32 command-line fu, it looks to be a perfect match with system auditing information capture at time of installation and a 1-minute drill to the goalposts.

First Runners Up

Here are more free “system auditing” tools that I was familiar with and considered.

However they either provided too much information, or not enough control over the information in the report.  Plus they didn’t have a way to auto-transmit the data, so collection was a bit more involved and technician-dependent.

Belarc Advisor - Free Personal PC Audit – This was the first PC Audit software I ever used at home, years ago.  It still is great but isn’t free for business usage.

SIW | System Information for Windows by Gabriel Topala – Great information. Beautiful GUI. High degree of information provided.  Reporting is good and can be run in batch-modes. Wonderfully versatile but not free for business usage and I couldn’t quite get the granularity of reporting I wanted.

SIV - System Information Viewer – free and provides an insane amount of detailed hardware information. Simply insane in the membrane. A beautiful product that makes the hardware geeks cry.  However it was too much info for our needs.

System Spec- Portable System Information Utility – Really, really nice portable product to audit your system.  Beautiful reports and easy to use.  Completely free.  Probably would have been my choice but didn’t quite allow me the reporting item selection flexibility I was looking for.  It was so close to being perfect it hurt.  Highly recommended, particularly for mom-n-pop system builders and home users.

WinAudit v2.27 - Free Computer Audit Software – Fast fully free (commercial/personal usage) and portable tool that provides nice reports.  I can’t complain much about it.  It does a great job and has a variety of options for outputting reports and getting them to where they need to go.  Email is supported.  I had to pass because I couldn’t quite get the selection of report item includes/excludes nailed down perfectly for my purposes.  Really worth looking into for home users.

Windows System Information Utility by HeidiR -( – I’m offering this link at it seems to contain more information on the product than the developer’s own website page.  Pick either one for your download.  I liked this one as well

Network inventory software - Free PC Audit – Free, small, and single exe file portable app.  Sure you can keep the help file and read-me if you want as well.  System scan is a bit slower than some of the other tools.  Reporting is pretty detailed.  You can export the report and

There are some other free and many, many commercial/enterprise system auditing applications out there, but if you are looking for a small, flexible, and portable tool to quickly scan and audit systems either at deployment or post deployment, there is a good chance at least one of these tools will fit your need perfectly.







cdman83 said...

Indeed, AIDA is (was) a great tool, however its development was halted a long time ago, as you can read on the official website:

This means that support for newer hardware (anything since 2004) might be less than stellar.

CypherBit said...

An additional measure could be a BIOS password and Chasis protection on. A log of when the chasis is open will be kept.
While it can be circumvented most users won't even know about it.

I bought a SIW techician's licence for similar purposes and it works quite well.