Give Your PC a Quick Physical

SAN FRANCISCO (04/10/2000) - Just how healthy is your computer? Are the drives spinning as fast as they should? Is your video card up to par? Can hackers get to you on the Internet?

One quick way to find out is to visit PC Pitstop, a free diagnostic Web site that examines your PC over the Internet and reports whatever problems it finds.

It's a nice and easy check, but don't expect miracles.

Also, it's limited for now to systems running Windows 95, 98, NT, and 2000. You must be using Internet Explorer 4 or a later version, as well.

PC Pitstop begins its work by installing an ActiveX control onto your system.

Then, while you watch, it examines and benchmarks your hardware, operating system, and Internet connection for potential problems. It also checks for uncharacteristically low performance and security risks.

Sounds scary, doesn't it? There's a great potential for such a Web site to inadvertently damage your system or intentionally spy on you.

The folks at PC Pitstop go out of their way to reassure you of their wholesome intensions. "None of the private information on your hard drives is being accessed," the site promises when it explains the tests. It also offers a link to what has to be the most direct, simple, and right-minded privacy policy I've ever read.

When it comes to your computer's configuration, PC Pitstop has a hands-off, eyes-on policy. Aside from installing the ActiveX control, the tests don't change anything on your hard drive.

Diagnostics on the Surface

When the diagnostics are complete, PC Pitstop provides a report overview showing you where minor and serious problems exist in seven categories: system, memory, disk, video, Internet, Windows, and security. Where you see a yellow or red flag, you click for more details.

Almost everything is explained in simple, concise language, with definitions a click away. Its explanations of potential security problems is a little less clear, but still informative.

Once it's explained your problems, PC Pitstop offers step-by-step instructions to fix them. Occasionally it provides an automated tool to do repairs for you.

The report on my machine was accurate but far from thorough. For instance, it told me that I needed to defrag my D: drive, and I did. But PC Pitstop doesn't dig into the registry to check for conflicts, dead associations, and other complex problems that plague Windows. I don't think it even came close to finding the most vexing problem on my PC: a newly-developed inability to go into sleep mode.

But how much can you expect from a Web site that diagnoses your system from a distance, and does it for free? PC gives you a quick, easy overview of the basic issues, and that's worth having.

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