Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 144 / SEPTEMBER 1992 / PAGE 104

Micro-Scope 4.28. (diagnostic software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tom Benford

If you've ever wondered whether the various systems and components that comprise your personal computer are functioning as they should, you'll be interested in, a new product called Micro-Scope. The name is a good thumbnail description of the product, a software tool for looking inside your system and altering settings and parameters.

Micro-Scope is different from other system-diagnostic software products in that it's totally independent of the operating system; the program disks (both 5 1/4- and 3 1/2-inch disks are supplied) are fully bootable themselves, so the program communicates directly with the hardware without the intervention of the operating system.

The program is also unique in its ability to perform low-level formatting on all types of hard drives, including IDE drives. This capability makes Micro-Scope a true industrial-strength software utility that can be used to rectify some serious hard drive problems that otherwise would be uncorrectable. Bear in mind, however, that such power in the wrong user's hands can also wreak havoc, so some of the more advanced formatting and sector-editing functions should not be used by anyone who doesn't have a thorough understanding of how hard drives work.

In addition to the software disks and an excellent spiral-bound user's manual, three loop-back connectors are also supplied in the package. These units attach to the serial and parallel ports and are used during some of the I/O tests.

More than 100 diagnostic tests are available, all easily accessible from pull-down menus. Batch-mode testing can be performed by preselecting the desired tests from the various menus. The main menu selections are Configuration, Setup, Diagnostics, and Tools, in addition to a Quit option.

Micro-Scope provides a wealth of information on interrupts, memory usage, active IRQs, adapters with ROMs, and more. It permits running the CMOS set-up directly from the program and even "forcing" a system type other than the default settings. But, while the program provides lots of information about the system's hardware configuration--including CPU type--I was highly surprised that it doesn't give any information on the CPU clock speed or on other performance parameters like computing and disk speed.

The hardware-configuration detection portion of the program incorrectly reported an 80MB hard drive on a 386 notebook which, in reality, is equipped with a 60MB drive. Micro-Scope also reported other information about the hard drive of this machine which differed from that entered in CMOS:

Drive Specs in CMOS

Type 46

823 cylinders

4 heads

38 sectors/track

Landing zone = 0

Write precomp. = 0

Drive size = 62MB

Drive Specs Reported by Micro-Scope

Type 46

822 cylinders

4 heads

38 sectors/track

Landing zone = 822

Write precomp. = 822

Drive size = 80MB

It's important to note that both Norton Utilities 6.0 and DiagSoft's Power Meter (each of which sells for hundreds of dollars less than Micro-Scope) accurately reported the correct drive capacity and other system-configuration information--including CPU speed.

As noted earlier, Micro-Scope's real ace in the hole is its ability to low-level format IDE hard drives and to read, write, edit, and random-seek all data on a floppy or hard disk--even on the usually untouchable track 0-regardless of the operating system.

I put Micro-Scope to the test with a Seagate 1102-A 90MB IDE hard drive that had seen better days; the drive had some severe problems that pointed to a faulty servo. The drive was reliable for about the first 50MB, but data errors were frequent and massive starting at cylinder 646. Using the program, I was able to low-level format the drive down to 55MB, effectively locking out the bad cylinders and sectors which were causing the problems. While the drive couldn't be totally revived, at least now it's a reliable 55MB drive instead of a flaky 90MB unit.

If you do lots of PC servicing or have several IDE hard drives that need low-level formatting or sector editing, then Micro-Scope is a valuable tool. Its $499 price tag, however, puts it out of the reach of most home users. After all, for $499 you could buy a new IDE hard drive and a copy of Norton Utilities 6.0 or DiagSoft's Power Meter (or both) and have some change left over, to boot (excuse the pun). TOM BENFORD

IBM PC and compatibles-$499 MICRO 2000 1100 E. Broadway, 3rd Floor Glendale, CA 91205 (818) 547-0125

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