Tech Line

Troubleshooting Tools for Everyone's Budget

With some free troubleshooting tools, you definitely get much more than you pay for.

Chris: I liked your earlier tips on using Netperf and the Windows password reset CD. Both of those tools were within my budget, and I was hoping that you could recommend some similar troubleshooting tools for general purpose network troubleshooting.

Kevin, first I must say that I think your "budget" is similar to that of several other administrators out there. I think that Netperf and the Windows password reset CD fell within your budget because they were free. Each of these tools had been described earlier in my "Bottleneck Battle" and "Admin Access … Denied!" columns.

Since there are hundreds of different tools out there, I can't talk about them all here. So instead I'll start some of the tools that I've gotten the most mileage out of over the years.

For starters, one of my favorite general purpose troubleshooting tools is the Ultimate Boot CD. This tool includes the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor boot disk and countless other tools. So in addition to gaining access to a system in the event of a lost or forgotten password, you can also use the CD tools for:

  • Memory testing
  • Disk partition resizing
  • Disk cloning
  • Hard disk diagnostics
  • CPU performance testing
  • System benchmarking
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The Ultimate Boot CD ISO image is 140MB in size, but can be downloaded as an 83MB self-extracting zipped executable. While there are some other boot CDs out there, I chose to stick with the Ultimate Boot CD because it's completely legal. Some other CDs that you can get online have illegally licensed content, so I'm not pointing them out in an effort to keep my job for at least another week.

Another set of tools that you should look at are the countless troubleshooting tools available at Filemon and Regmon are excellent tools for viewing file and Registry activity in real time. I also like PsTools for network troubleshooting and system maintenance. If I continue with my commercial for Sysinternals tools, your eyes will probably start to glaze over, so I'll quit while I'm ahead.

The Sysinternals web site is sponsored by Winternals, which like many software vendors might have studied marketing from some expert crack dealers. They lure you in with the free Sysinternals tools ("Come on! Give 'em a try! You'll love them!") and when you're looking for a better troubleshooting fix, they're there to sell you the Winternals tools.

I, for one, am an admitted Winternals addict. I was lured in by Sysinternals freeware and soon lined up for the Winternals Administrator's Pak. The Administrator's Pak is loaded with tools that you'll soon wonder how you ever lived without. While it retails for $499, I've found the time saved by using Admin Pak tools to be well worth the price of the software.

While the Ultimate Boot CD and the Sysinternals freeware tools should give you a good start on the road to better network troubleshooting, there are plenty of other excellent tools out there to help you along the way. If I didn't mention your favorite tool, please tell other readers about it by mentioning it as a comment to this article.

About the Author

Chris Wolf is a Microsoft MVP for Windows --Virtual Machine and is a MCSE, MCT, and CCNA. He's a Senior Analyst for Burton Group who specializes in the areas of virtualization solutions, high availability, storage and enterprise management. Chris is the author of Virtualization: From the Desktop to the Enterprise (Apress), Troubleshooting Microsoft Technologies (Addison Wesley), and a contributor to the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit (Microsoft Press).learningstore-20/">Troubleshooting Microsoft Technologies (Addison Wesley) and a contributor to the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit (Microsoft Press).

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