Building a System Dossier

One habit that’s great to have is to keep a dossier (spec sheet) on every computer you own. This can be as simple as an actual file folder with printed information, or a spreadsheet where you record everything. Hard copies are nice because it’s not dependent on access to a storage device or cloud service, while virtual copies allow you to easily make changes, so it’s good to have both.

Windows

Hardware

One of the best programs for this is Piriform Speccy. It’s a neat little tool that gives you a wealth of information about your system. For example:

  • The basics such as your OS, CPU (with processor family name, such as Haswell, Broadwell, etc), RAM, Motherboard, connected monitors, GPU(s), whether Crossfire/SLI is enabled or not, drives (with manufacturer, model numbers, capacities…), audio….
  • Detailed information on your OS, including installation date, UAC status, firewall status, Windows Update settings, and more
  • A listing of running processes and services
  • Detailed specs on memory modules, including manufacturer, part numbers, timings, speeds, voltages, etc.
  • …and much, MUCH more information for your dossier.

A simpler option which is built into Windows is a tool called “dxdiag”. Click Start and type dxdiag and press Enter. This provides you with the very basics of your computer.

Another option which is built into Windows is a tool called “msinfo32”. Click Start and type msinfo32 and press Enter. This tool will provide many important facts about your computer. It even provides some information which Speccy does not, for example, whether your boot mode is UEFI or Legacy BIOS.

A listing like this is extremely valuable when it comes to troubleshooting issues, because many people are unsure of exactly what components they have. When asking for tech support, be sure to provide as much information as possible.

Software

Belarc Advisor does a similar job to Speccy, but also does one very cool thing that Speccy doesn’t: it can pull a list of the license keys for all your installed software. Very often we see people that need to reinstall something but lost/threw away/forgot the license keys. If you have important paid software, this kind of information is a great thing to put in a system dossier.

Mac

TODO: Mac tutorial

Linux

First of all, you can use the command

[ -d /sys/firmware/efi ] && echo UEFI || echo Legacy BIOS

to find out whether your system is booted in UEFI or Legacy BIOS mode.

One of the most popular tools for finding out your system’s specs is called “neofetch”. You can install this on Ubuntu by typing

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:dawidd0811/neofetch -y && sudo apt update && sudo apt install -y neofetch

and then your password into a Terminal, and run it by typing neofetch into your Terminal. Alternatively, you can install the older “screenfetch” tool using sudo apt install -y screenfetch. These utilities provide lots of information, including CPU, RAM, GPU, OS, Kernel version, Package count, Desktop Environment, Window Manager, and other things. It’s also quite pretty to look at and provides a logo for your OS.

Valve recommends a tool called Sysinfo to view your computer’s specs. You can install this on Ubuntu by typing

sudo apt install -y sysinfo

and then your password into a Terminal. This is a graphical program with various tabs you can view with different types of information in them.

Gnome’s System Monitor is a great graphical utility for getting an overview of your CPU, RAM, network, and storage drive usage. This tool is similar to Task Manager in Windows. You can install this on Ubuntu by typing

sudo apt install -y gnome-system-monitor

and then your password into a Terminal. Additionally, “htop” (or the older “top” works too) is a command-line utility that shows similar information and is installed by default on many systems.

Additional Measures

In addition to saving the output of the above tools, it is a good idea to keep any important information that comes with hardware/software. This information should be stored with that system’s information. For example:

  • Purchase receipt
  • Serial numbers
  • Manuals/installation guides/FAQs/etc.
  • Support information and length of manufacturer’s warranty
  • Terms and conditions of any extended coverage/warranty/service plan associated with it

If something breaks in one of your systems, it is easy to get the relevant info if you store all of these things, and either contact the manufacturer for service or the third-party company handling it.

Since you now know how much RAM you have thanks to the above tools, you may wish to find out if you need more.

One more thing. Let’s say your home/car/place of work is robbed/burglarized. You’ll need to file a police report, and you’ll need to file a report with the insurance company (you do have renters/homeowners insurance, right? If not, you should). The police will want the serial numbers (to monitor pawn shops, etc), and the insurance company is going to want specifics on make, model, date of purchase, and purchase price (to determine what they will pay out in benefits). This is where your dossier of your computer comes in! You are now able to file a report with plenty of information.

In general, having this information makes your computing experience much, much less painful than it would be otherwise.

Final Considerations

Ideally, keep both hard copies and electronic records of your new dossier both on-site and off-site. There’s no such thing as too many backups. Update the folders/spreadsheets/whatever when you get new hardware or licensed software. Go back and read the reports every once in a while to have a better idea of what you have.

This may seem like a lot of information to keep up with, and if you’re new to doing it, it’s going to take some effort. But when you end up needing this information, you’ll be very glad you put in the work to make sure you have the information ready.

TL;DR: Make sure you know what you have. It may be useful someday.

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