Want to know what's in your computer and how it's configured? Want to fine-tune that configuration for peak performance? I looked at a trio of try-before-you-buy shareware programs that can help you learn about and perfect your PC.
Dr. Hardware 2002 3.0.0e works so closely with the hardware that it warns you from the outset that it may cause your system to crash. For the record, my Celeron 433-based machine didn't. (I performed all tests using both Windows Me and Windows XP Home.)The $US19 program tells you almost everything about your system and how Windows is using it. Much of the information the application provides goes well beyond what most users are likely to need - for example, your computer's 'CAS Latency' number (helps to measure memory access speed). If you can't define it, though, Dr. Hardware rarely explains it to you.
This shareware does provide useful data. You don't need to be a system engineer to know the significance of your CPU temperature, or to know the meaning of performance benchmarks.
Cacheman 5.1, $US10, is for the truly performance-obsessed - those who want to wring every last bit of speed from their system by tweaking Windows' various caches.
Thanks to Cacheman's wizards and help system, you can make these adjustments without having extensive knowledge of how Windows works. The wizards, for instance, provide far more explanatory text than is usually seen in shareware - this program ensures that you understand a decision before you make it. And if you change settings without using a wizard, context-sensitive help is always ready.
You can save configurations and return to them later, or easily go back to the configuration you were using when you installed Cacheman. The program can also boost your system's performance by recovering inaccessible RAM.
TweakMaster 1.61, $US20, gives you an opportunity to optimise the performance of your Internet connection. Like Cacheman, it's designed with the non-techie user in mind.
In fact, when the program's Optimization Wizard asks if you have a dial-up or broadband connection, you can bring up a help window explaining how to tell the difference. After asking two or three questions, this wizard offers multiple unexplained 'Optimization Strategies'. You don't need to know what they do; simply try them and stick to the one you like best.
More technically-minded users may want to visit the Advanced Optimization page. My favourite mystery option here was 'Time to Live' - I chose 128, hoping that meant years. Seriously, though, you'll find a good explanation of what 'Time to Live' and other settings mean in the help file. Since the program help isn't context-sensitive, you'll have to do some searching.
Just as with Cacheman, you can save your settings for later restoration as you experiment to find the ones that are best for your system. In addition, this program has a DNS (domain name system) cache that should reduce DNS server searches over the Internet, and a clock synchroniser.
Dr. Hardware 2002 3.0.0e
Tells you just about everything regarding your hardware, but you need "to be technically proficient to understand what the program is saying.
Helps you get more speed from Windows, and it doesn't expect you to be a technical expert to make the adjustments.
If you want to eke out every possible bit of performance from your Internet connection, this program will help.