Preparing to Deploy Windows 7 : Gathering Upgrade Information - Compiling a Workstation Hardware Inventory

2/25/2013 6:44:59 PM

When you consider these basic questions—what hardware does the new software require? and do our workstations meet those requirements?—you are likely to find the first question is easy because the Windows 7 system requirements are readily available on the Microsoft Web site. But the second can pose a problem.

In the IT manager’s idea of a perfect world, all of the organization’s workstations are identical: the same model computer with the same hardware inside, a single operating system, and application configuration throughout the enterprise. Of course, most of these managers know that this is a dream that very seldom comes true.

Companies rarely buy all of their workstations at once. They typically buy computers in lots from large vendors or manufacturers. Even if they buy from the same vendor every time, models and supply situations change so quickly that the computers they purchase today are likely to have substantially different components than those they bought only a few months ago.

IT managers also must consider the practices of maintenance and support. When a workstation hard disk fails, an IT person might replace it with a different model the team happens to have on hand. When a department adopts a new application, workstations might need installations of extra memory to support it. The designers in the Marketing department might require high-end graphics adapters in their workstations. The result is a fleet of workstations with widely varying hardware and software configurations. A dedicated and disciplined IT staff might keep careful records of these modifications, but in a busy department, the documentation often is deferred, delayed, or forgotten altogether.

Organizations considering a Windows 7 deployment might need to perform a detailed inventory of the hardware in each existing workstation. A hardware inventory should include the following information for each computer:

  • Processor type and speed

  • System memory

  • Number and capacities of hard disks

  • Amount of free hard disk space

  • Graphic adapter type

The ways to discover this information are discussed in the following sections. Which one you choose depends on how many workstations you have to inventory, how much you can afford to spend, and what other uses you might make of the inventory tool.

Using the Manual Method

The simplest method for gathering workstation inventory information is, of course, to look at each computer. You can open each computer case and look inside, but even then, it can be hard to locate the information you need. Components are often not clearly marked on the outside, and many computers pack them in so tightly that you would have to disassemble them to find out, for example, the capacities of the hard disks. And even if you can determine the disk capacities in this way, you have no way of knowing how much free space there is on the disks without starting the computer and manually checking free space as well.

This method is far too complicated if you have more than two or three workstations to inventory. What you need is some sort of tool that produces a report listing the hardware inside the computer.

Using System Information

All of the Windows operating systems have an application called System Information, which can display extensive information about the hardware and software configuration of the local computer or another computer on the network. System Information can provide all of the essential inventory information listed earlier, and a great deal more. You can save the reported information to a System Information file with an .nfo extension, for later access, or to a text file.

In Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, System Information is accessible from the Start menu, in the All Programs\Accessories\System Tools\ folder. Launching the program displays a system summary for the local computer, as shown in Figure 1. This page includes processor and memory information.

The System Summary page in System Information

Figure 1. The System Summary page in System Information

The Components\Display\ page, shown in Figure 2, contains information about the graphics adapter.

The Components\Display\ page in System Information

Figure 2. The Components\Display\ page in System Information

The Storage\Drives\ page, shown in Figure 3, lists the hard disks in the system, their capacities, and the amount of free space available. Selecting View\Remote Computer\ enables you to connect to another system on the network and view its system information as well.

The Storage\Drives\ page in System Information

Figure 3. The Storage\Drives\ page in System Information

Although the System Information program provides the inventory information an IT technician needs to determine whether a workstation meets the system requirements for Windows 7, the process of gathering and analyzing the information is slow, and for a large network, all but unmanageable. The only way to store the workstation hardware inventory information in one central location would be to create a repository yourself, manually, using a spreadsheet or similar program. The administrators of a medium or large enterprise network need a tool that can gather hardware information from all of the computers on the network into a single interface.

Using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager

Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 is a network management application that, among many other capabilities, can perform an inventory of the hardware and software in all of the computers on your network and store the information in a centralized database for later analysis. SCCM can also manage software updates, distribute software packages, remotely administrator network computers, and deploy operating systems. In fact, the Zero Touch Installation (ZTI) deployment process defined in Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 requires an SCCM infrastructure. 

SCCM is an excellent tool for creating a hardware inventory, but it is not a product that you are likely to use solely for that purpose. First, it’s an expensive product, requiring you to purchase licenses for each server and client on your network. Second, installing, configuring, and deploying SCCM requires a separate database server and the installation of client agents on each workstation.

For assessing the current hardware configuration of your workstations, with an eye toward a Windows 7 deployment, SCCM is almost overkill. The SCCM Hardware Inventory Client Agent queries Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) on the workstation, enabling it to collect information on over 1,500 hardware properties and report it to the SCCM site server.

Assuming that you have SCCM fully installed, enabling the Hardware Inventory Client Agent on your workstations causes them to transmit inventory information to the site server at regular intervals. You can then view the information by using Resource Explorer in the SCCM 2007 Administrator Console.

Using the Microsoft Assessment And Planning Toolkit 5.0

For an enterprise that has not invested in SCCM, you can choose other, simpler, options for automating the process of compiling a hardware inventory. There are many third-party products that can compile a workstation inventory, but the Microsoft Assessment And Planning (MAP) Toolkit 5.0 is particularly well suited to this task.



The MAP Toolkit 5.0 is available from the Microsoft Download Center at

One of the biggest advantages of the MAP Toolkit is that it does not require you to install an agent or other client program on the computers you want to inventory. After you install the program on a Windows server or workstation, it can scan the network and, by using Active Directory Domain Services, IP addresses, or network broadcast messages, locate other computers and query them for information about their hardware and software configurations, as shown in Figure 4.

The Status display produced by MAP Toolkit 5.0 as it scans the network

Figure 4. The Status display produced by MAP Toolkit 5.0 as it scans the network

Exam Tip

The MAP Toolkit is not a full-featured network management tool, as SCCM 2007 is. Instead, it is specifically designed to assess the readiness of workstations and servers for the installation of Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 R2, or Windows Server 2008. The program is relatively easy to install and use, and it’s free.

Like SCCM, the MAP Toolkit stores its inventory information in a Microsoft SQL Server database, but unlike SCCM, it can use the free SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, which it downloads and installs automatically during the setup process. The toolkit is scenario-based, enabling you to specify how you want to use the inventory data. After the program completes its client scan, it displays its results in the Microsoft Assessment And Planning Toolkit console, as shown in Figure 5.

Readiness summary results, as displayed in the Microsoft Assessment And Planning Toolkit console

Figure 5. Readiness summary results, as displayed in the Microsoft Assessment And Planning Toolkit console

Because it is designed specifically for Windows deployment scenarios, MAP Toolkit also enables you to generate boilerplate reports and proposals, into which the program inserts the inventory information it has gathered from the clients. A hardware assessment report generated by the toolkit takes the form of an Excel spreadsheet containing the raw inventory results, as shown in Figure 6.

A hardware assessment report generated by the MAP Toolkit 5.0

Figure 6. A hardware assessment report generated by the MAP Toolkit 5.0

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