What is Diagnostic Software?

M. McGee

Diagnostic software is used to identify problems on a computer or piece of equipment. These programs test the onboard systems for issues and help to alert users of potential problems or breakdowns. Over the years, these programs have gone from very basic to complex and highly specialized. With this increase in technology, the skill required to use the software has actually decreased to the point where most people can use this software with little or no training.

Technological advances have made Web page-based diagnostic software available for home users.
Technological advances have made Web page-based diagnostic software available for home users.

Programs that provide diagnostic information are common everywhere. Something as simple as the oil light on a car dashboard is a type of diagnostic software. These hard-coded diagnostic tools usually monitor one specific part of a larger piece of equipment and typically are always operating. While these types of diagnostic programs are the most common, they are usually the least versatile. When people think of true diagnostic software, they usually think of the types used on computers. These programs monitor the computer for problems involving every aspect of the machine, from hardware to software—far more complex and versatile than the change oil light.

Heart monitors have computers in them which need diagnostic software.
Heart monitors have computers in them which need diagnostic software.

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Since the introduction of diagnostic software, it has evolved in many ways. The original type could usually only find the most major of problems. There needed to be strong indicators or physical damage in order for the software to recognize and report the problem. When computers became more common in people's homes, particularly with the rise of Disc Operating Systems, commonly known as DOS, diagnostic software became more common. Small built-in programs, such as Checkdisk (CHKDISK), allowed users to perform basic diagnostic routines on their systems. These early programs would often output technical information and esoteric error codes instead of readable information. In recent years, the output reports have changed considerably. The basic outputs are now readable by most users, and they often contain tips or warnings telling users what they should or shouldn't do, all in plain language.

IT professionals may use hardware diagnostics to identify failing computer parts.
IT professionals may use hardware diagnostics to identify failing computer parts.

Technological advances have even made Web page-based diagnostic software available for home users. With minimal Web searching, nearly any home user can find a wide range of Web sites offering to speed up their computer or diagnose problems. Many of these sites are scams, so consumers should perform proper research before using them. General Internet searches can generally provide a number of resources to check a company's credibility.

Diagnostic software can help identify program glitches.
Diagnostic software can help identify program glitches.

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Discussion Comments


@FernValley- I am unsure about "free" software. I have heard about those, I think, but I'm not sure if I will use them because the idea of free PC diagnostic software doesn't seem much better than the spyware others mentioned. I think I will stick to purchased kinds, myself.


@watson42- I have used some of the free types of computer diagnostic software myself. There are a few that I like. Ad-Aware will scan for viruses and delete questionable files. Another good one is CCleaner, which clears your hard drive of "cookies" and other space-wasting memory that you get from using the internet. Both are available for free for personal use, but have better versions that expect you to pay money for or at least give some donation for to support. There are great things being done on the internet through working together like that.


@Monika- I have heard of that happening to people too. The problem is that many of the "free" things that are labeled as "spyware" claim to block dangerous ads and scan for viruses, but many of them have their own personal sets of viruses and ads that they filter in. There are a few nice shareware products out there, though, you just need to read reviews before you download.


@JessicaLynn - It sounds like that vehicle diagnostic software really helped you become a more informed consumer. That's great!

I just wanted to reiterate the warning about the web diagnostic tools. A friend of mine tried to use one because she thought she had a virus on her computer. It turned out that the website was a scam that actually gave her a virus. She ended having to take her computer in to get it repaired anyway!


Diagnostic software for cars is really amazing. That last time my check engine light went on I was able to take my car to the local auto shop and find out what was wrong with it for free! It just took a few minutes for them to make their diagnosis.

I was really happy because when I actually took the car to get it repaired I had already had a little bit of time to do some research. So for for once I actually had a clue what the mechanic was talking about!

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