Recently, I was trying to check my computer specs and ran into a snag. It had to do with this Meltdown and Spectre chipset nonsense. It seemed that some articles referenced the “chipset” and others the “code” name. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Microsoft Windows decoder ring, so I decided to see if any system utilities could help. In this tutorial, I’ll show how to check computer specs and the differences between the tools.
I’m focusing on free PC specs checkers to determine what hardware and software I have without opening the case for this article. Some people call these “system profilers.” They can be instrumental when troubleshooting Windows or talking to tech support reps who often need basic computer information. But the degree of information you need really depends on the circumstances, which is why I’ve included multiple solutions. These will work whether you’re on a desktop or checking specs on a laptop.
Windows Layers of System Information
Microsoft actually provides several tools to find out your computer specs. One immediate benefit is you don’t have to download software. These tools vary from the basics to ones that require a propeller hat. However, for many people, your PC’s About panel is sufficient.
✪The instructions below reference the Windows key . If your keyboard doesn’t have one, use Ctrl + Esc.
How To find Basic System Information
- You can press your Windows key + Pause. The Pause button is generally above the PgUp.
The resulting panel shows high-level info on your PC in an easy format. The left sidebar also gives you shortcuts to other settings. The right sidebar has more advanced settings. Typically, this panel answers the common questions:
- Which Windows Edition am I using?
- What’s my PC make and model?
- Which processor is my PC using?
- How much memory does my PC have?
- What’s my Windows Product ID?
One new feature is a Copy button that allows you to save your system information. While the above panel is nice, it may not provide you with what you or a tech rep needs.
You can find the next layer using a program called msinfo32.exe. This tool provides much more system information. But, again, it doesn’t provide everything. For example, you can’t drill down to see details like driver version numbers. For that, you’d need to use another tool or Windows Device Manager. Still, let’s start with the built-in tools and add where needed.
How to Find Your System Info
- Press your Windows key + R key. This opens a Run dialog box.
- In the Open text box, type msinfo32.
- Click OK.
✪ If you don’t have a Windows key, you can press Ctrl + Esc and type MSINFO32 in the textbox.
A resizeable System Information dialog will open that has 3 sections. Your panel may differ based on which Microsoft Windows version you’re using and what’s installed.
[a] This navigation section categorizes your system information in a collapsible format. At the top of the hierarchy, you have your System Summary. Underneath, you have main sections for Hardware, Components, and Software Environment and their sub-categories.
[b] This section displays the information for the category you’ve chosen.
[c] A search box that allows you to find an item. This is a great feature and often overlooked. If you don’t see this feature, you may have it set to “Hide.” You can change the setting from the Edit menu at the top of the dialog.
Handy Sections & Quick Answers
The System Summary panel is useful and can answer the following questions and more:
- Which version of Microsoft Windows am I using?
- What’s the build number of my Windows version?
- What’s the make and model of my PC?
- Which processor or CPU am I using?
- Which BIOS is my PC using?
- What’s my User name?
- Where’s my Windows directory?
As you can see, there is an overlap with the Systems Properties panel. You might also notice that the labels don’t always agree, even though these are both Microsoft tools.
And if you’re futuristic, you may be wondering if Windows Cortana or voice search can answer these tech spec questions. Sort of. I couldn’t get her to tell me answers. However, she did give some decent results from the Microsoft Bing search, which opened in Microsoft Edge.
Sadly, the Help menu option doesn’t give you details about this app. Instead, it gives you the Help page for your Windows version.
Finding Problem Devices
In addition to summary info, this tool can show you more diagnostic info, such as devices that might be causing problems. For example, in the screen snap below, I have a Component that is not loading. You’ll have to drill down to Problem Devices to see it.
This Error Code and Device name make searching for a solution much easier.
MSINFO32 gives you access to Windows Error Reporting. These logs can provide clues when it comes to troubleshooting. In addition, you can sort the entries by clicking a column heading and exporting the details to a separate file. I’ve often clipped text from these files for searches. And yes, you can export the information.
✪ One misconception about the tool is some people think it provides a listing of all installed software. Sorry, it doesn’t.
BelArc Advisor Blends Both Worlds
BelArc Advisor is a free software program that compliments Windows System Information. Unlike the native Windows program, you will need to download and install the software. However, the software is free for personal use. The program provides loads of information about your PC in a browser tab. The page offers little styling, but you can jump around to sections using hyperlinks.
There are some key differences between this system profiler and other spec checkers. Most notably, you get a listing of installed software and version numbers that appear in your web browser. The listing shows the software name and version number. If you mouse over the small blue icon, you can see more details such as program size and if the application is currently running.
BelArc was also the only scanning tool in this summary that provided me with my PC Manufacturer’s System Serial Number. Sometimes your computer manufacturer makes it easy to find that info, often not.
Another difference is BelArc identifies missing security updates. In my case, it found some Adobe updates. This is very useful as sometimes your Windows settings may not pick up items based on your settings.
In the Missing Security Updates section below, you’ll also note that each item has a hyperlink that will take you to the relevant vendor software page. One item to bear in mind is it’s not going to pick up every update or every software package. Instead, it focuses on key security items such as Adobe, Java, Microsoft, etc.
Key Questions BelArc Advisor Answers
- Is my Virus Protection up to date?
- Are my Security Updates current?
- What’s my PC make and model?
- What’s my PC system serial number?
- What User Accounts are assigned?
- What’s my display(s)
- What devices and IPs are attached to my network?
- What software do I have installed and version?
✪ One drawback to BelArc Advisor is there is no menu item to export or save your info. You would either have to print the page or save it as a PDF file with some program like SnagIt.
If you plan on moving software to a new PC, I’d suggest saving the file to some cloud storage like Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. It’s a nice inventory reference.
Speccy is another free third-party tool from the same people that make CCleaner. Again, there is an overlap between the other spec checker tools. What I appreciated about this system profiler is the presentation. Like the other tools, it has a left navigation panel to click to refine the view.
If you click into an area, such as CPU, you can drill down and see more info. Of all the tools, this is the one that answered my question about my chipset. From this listing, I can see my chipset model name is “Kaby Lake.”
In some cases, you’ll also see some real-time info. These are usually shown as green bar charts and tend to show temperatures. The options section allows you to change between metric and Fahrenheit.
Like MSINFO32, Speccy does allow you to save your files or snapshots. This is a handy feature if you’re testing configurations or need to provide a tech rep with your computer specifications.
Online Spec Checkers?
The above checkers provide a wealth of information. However, when it comes to a true online checker, we didn’t find one we liked. Either there weren’t enough details about the company, or they still required you to download software, in which case, it’s not online. However, some services did provide basic system information that might be useful.
You might also have some success if you’re trying to answer specific hardware questions. For example, if you wish to add PC memory or add another hard drive. In these instances, some vendors have their own spec checker. However, these too may require you to download a small program.
Below is a portion of the system scanner results from Crucial.com. I was curious to see how I could upgrade my PC memory. The tools above indicated I had 12MB in 2 slots, but I was sure the chips were the same. While it doesn’t have nearly the amount of information as the other scanners, it answers my question.
Granted, I don’t need all these PC specs checkers to find out about my PC or laptop. However, it’s nice to know what information is easily and freely available if I have to troubleshoot a problem.