NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2009
PC PitStop OverDrive – Free Online Testing and Analysis
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)


Often, it seems that our computers just do not seem to run well. There can be many reasons for poor performance related to hardware and software issues. While there are many utilities which can be purchased or downloaded and installed that can run a battery of diagnostic tests on a computer, one of the most popular and comprehensive testing services is free and online. This service is PC PitStop OverDrive, available online at pcpitstop.com/betapit.

PC PitStop is very popular, with over 100 million tests run. Tests can be run anonymously (no registration required), or the user can register for free, and track computer performance over time. The diagnostic exams are safe, and performed through the Internet Explorer browser. Since many of the tests are performed using Active-X, PC PitStop will not work on Firefox or other browsers, and requires that Internet Explorer be used. The tests are performed on various components in the computer, including the video card, CPU chip (processor), memory, and disk drives. No settings on the computer are changed by PC PitStop, and no content on the hard drive is accessed, meaning that private data is safe and not being read by PC PitStop. Once the diagnostic process is completed, a report card is produced designating the conditions of what is found. Only with the users’ express consent will the automated repair utilities attempt to fix many of the problems that are found. The entire diagnostic process is fairly fast, just taking a few minutes.

The first step in running PC PitStop OverDrive is to download and install an Active-X utility, which takes only a few seconds on a broadband connection. All of the diagnostics are performed on web pages that use Javascript or Active-X, which display in real time the tests being performed. The first test collects information about the PC itself, such as the CPU type and speed, capacity of disk drive, video resolution, BIOS, memory, Windows version, browser version, and a listing of what is currently running on the computer. After the basic data is collected (no personally identifiable information is collected), the computer hardware is tested. These tests will determine the speed of the system and the health of the CPU chip, as well as the condition of the memory, disk drives, video, and internet connection. One warning is in line here, and that is that users with epilepsy or other ailments that may be affected by rapidly changing colors and patterns should not view the graphics card component of the tests. Once the diagnosis is completed, PC PitStop will analyze the data collected, and make recommendations about performance improvements. A full graphical report is provided to the user.

On my computer the entire process was completed in about four minutes. In that time, several dozen tests were performed, and the results of each were displayed. The reports are tabbed into the categories of Summary, Performance, Security, Software, and Drivers. Clicking on a tab may open another level of information. Under the Summary tab is a tab for Fixes, which displays any problems found on the computer. Moving the mouse cursor over a displayed problem will give the user a brief description of the problem. Clicking on any item will open another window with very detailed information giving instructions on resolving the problem. The Summary – Rankings selection displays how the computer tested compared to the millions of other computers tested. In my case on this old computer, I have a very fast processor (top 7% of those tested), but I am sorely lacking memory (bottom 43%) and hard drive space (bottom 23%). My video card performed well, being in the top third that have been tested.

Performance is what matters to most of us when it comes to our computers. The tab “Performance Results” lists 32 performance categories, and the results of each performance test. Items that pass the diagnosis are displayed with a check mark, and those that fail are noted with a bold red “X”. By correcting whatever deficiencies are found may lead to an improvement in performance may result.

Security is another category that should be of high concern, and PC PitStop checks for 37 security breaches, including a very quick scan for viruses and spyware. Included in the security diagnosis are browser tests, desktop security, file download and pop-up ad security, cookie analysis, and other security issues. Each item is clearly displayed and rated, with additional information and fixes being only a click away.

The Software diagnostics displays the name and version of all software installed on the computer, as well as Microsoft hotfixes and updates. The Software – Processes displays the software that is currently running on the computer along with the CPU usage and memory used for each. Clicking on the title of any software listed will display detailed information about that software, as well as any recommendations.

Our computers are heavily dependent on the drivers installed for our components and peripherals for proper performance and security. PC PitStop identifies the drivers installed on the computer, and shows those that are in need of updating. If an updated driver is recommended, a link to the download may be displayed.

I have run PC PitStop OverDrive on several computers and found it to be a very fast and reliable tool to identify the hardware and software problems on the computer. I have registered as a user so I can track performance degradation over time. PC PitStop Overdrive is free, very fast, and comprehensive. It is an outstanding tool to checkout the condition of any computer, and possibly resolves any hardware and software issues that may degrade security and performance.

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