Updated: June 24, 2020
In Linux, getting detailed information on your hardware is relatively easy. In Windows, less so. Or rather, you need third-party software to get all the data you need. Now, if and when you can combine useful information with a reasonably laid out presentation layer, you get a must-have tool that can serve all your hardware curiosity needs.
One such utility is HWiNFO. Small, portable, standalone - and powerful. Now, throwing randomly grand adjectives about is easy. Which is why I ought to write a proper review and tell you a bit more about what HWiNFO does. Follow me, nerdlings.
Start me up
When you run HWiNFO, you have several options - show sensors information (real time), display a summary of all the detected hardware, or launch the main interface, through which you can access both these features and then some. You can also change the program settings, select what type of information is shown when you launch it, updates checks, and a few other details.
The program somewhat resembles the Windows Device Manager, but there's more to it. You have the ability to save a report of your hardware, check detailed data on all the listed devices, and also use the driver and BIOS update tools (third-party). We shall discuss that soon.
On the other hand, if you go for Summary, this window gives you just that - a summary. Still, you get quite a bit. You have the CPU information, like the TDP and all the available features (extensions), the clock rates, information on your BIOS firmware, your drives at a glance, memory size and timings, GPU data, and alike. This can be quite useful when you just want a quick 'n' dirty understanding of your system, and to diagnose any immediate, glaring discrepancies.
A wealth of information
Working with HWiNFO takes time - and some knowledge. If you do not fully understand what the tool is telling you, the information won't be that useful. But if you're a techie, it's your one-stop shop. The really cool thing is that it dispenses with a need for half a dozen different utilities - for your CPU, GPU, SMART data, etc.
Sensors & real-time data
HWiNFO is also highly useful as a real-time monitor. Say you build a new custom PC, and you want to see how well the cooling system is working. Well, you can use HWiNFO for that. Let it run, and it will collect and display (temperature) data with the default refresh rate of five seconds. Best of all, you get also the min/max values, so you will be able to see exactly how your machine is coping under stress. You can also click on any which displayed metric to see a graph. By default, you get a 30-min window.
The real-time sensor isn't just for temperatures - you can also monitor voltage drain, GPU clock and utilization, hard disk activity, and tons of other attributes. For instance, I was surprised to learn that the hard disk in this particular laptop (a test machine bought in 2015, used for frequent Linux testing) has an estimated remaining life of 95%. Not sure how this translates into practical probabilities for long-term health and use, because some of the data looks odd. For instance, the Write Total of 2.5GB. Does this refer to the current session, or lifelong usage? Because the latter is a ridiculous under-estimate. But then, HWiNFO merely reads hardware counters, so it's hard to know where the inaccuracy lies. Or perhaps I'm misinterpreting the data.
If you expected this section to be relatively slim, think again. HWiNFO is all about verbosity, and this is also reflected in the application's settings. Mostly, it's about making sure the program works in a reliable way that does not compromise the stability of your system. This is super-nerdy territory, so if you're not sure, leave the settings as they are. The first tab (General / User Interface) is mostly harmless. But you still need to be careful, and at least a little bit hardware savvy. The rest is where be dragons.
I thought this button (in the main interface) would scan my hardware and then check if there are updates available on the Web. What it did instead was just forward me to the official site of the linked third-party tool. Reading the forums, I learned that the driver updates is done through a separate utility, and it is currently disabled. Not sure why, but this mars the otherwise stellar performance.
HWiNFO is a highly capable tool. You can use it in a completely portable fashion, without any installation, which makes it rather useful for any on-the-fly hardware discovery and troubleshooting. The program combines the functionality you normally see in several programs, and it provides detailed information on pretty much the entire range of hardware devices. Real-time sensors monitoring is another excellent asset.
I think there should be detailed explanations what different options do so people don't blindly check or uncheck boxes. There should also be a reset button, so you can go back to default settings - although you can just delete the tool's configuration file, and start again. Lastly, the Driver Update thing feels weird, and I hope it gets fixed and improved. All in all though, HWiNFO is an excellent program, and you should consider it a must-have in your Windows toolbox. That would be all for today.