This laptop has an on-board diagnostic utility. It can be accessed by pressing F12 just after power-on and then selecting Diagnostics.
It will go to Pre-boot System Assessment.
Please answer yes or no when it asks if the monitor displays color correctly.
It will start to test the memory automatically. It is not a complete test; it will ask again if you want to proceed further “No problems have been found with this system so far. Do you want to run the remaining memory test? This will take about 30 minutes or more.” Chose yes or no depending whether you want a complete memory test or not. The complete memory test for 2 GB of RAM will take about 45 minutes.
If the Windows installation is not the original that came from the factory it will display a message: “Pre-boot System Assessment complete. No Diagnostic Utility Partition identified. Please select OK to reboot your system.”
If the Diagnostic Utility Partition is still there, then it will boot to a graphic user interface. Chose Test System -> Custom Test.
When we are in the test menu I recommend starting from hard drive test. It is further down on the list.
Hard drives are failing at a much greater rate than everything else. A whole system tests can perform all system checkups. But it will take longer and, for example, when video systems are tested it needs your input in a form of answer on whether a color pattern displayed correctly or not. This is why I would not do all the tests but choose them one by one, for example, a hard drive test. It will stop only when it finds a problem on the hard drive.
If the hard drive test passes, then the memory can be tested. And if the memory test can't find any defects, then test all the system.
What can slip through this test are problems with the processor thermal-cooling assembly. This test does not do a long stress test so it will not see that the CPU is overheating when it is on a heavy load. This stress test can be done in Windows using OCCT stress test software.
If you have the Dell Support Center utility on your Dell laptop, then all laptop system tests can be done in Windows without any disks required.
Go to Start, All Programs, click Dell Support Center and then click Dell Support Center program.
It will open a window like this.
Go to Self Help, Troubleshooting.
Click Automated Scan. It will open a new window that looks like one below.
You can choose to run a Default Scan that will scan all the system or a Custom Scan in which the tested component can be chosen. Unchecked all and check, for example, Hard Drive and check all the four tests there.
The test that had run from Dell Support Center in Windows did not find any issues with the hard drive the first time. But it should find something as this was a hard drive with defects on the disk. The System Test that ran from a CD did find a problem, as expected, so this indicates an advantage of System Test on a CD over Dell Support Center Utility in Windows.
Only when the Dell PC Checkup ran for the second time did it find a problem with Smart Short Self-Test.
Me holding a laptop hard drive
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