Mac EKG! Tell me, where does it hurt?
Author: Rick Baggott
Date: April, 1993
Keywords: UTILITY PROGRAM SOFTWARE REVIEW maintenance troubleshooting hardware
Text: MacEKG is a control panel device (CDEV), or extension, that analyzes your Mac at startup and or at shutdown, and reports any hardware problems it finds. It keeps a record of pass tests and compares these results with the most recent test to alert you of potential problems. MacEKG is published by MicroMat Computer Systems in Navato, California. Their sales information number is (415) 898-6227, and technical support number is (415) 898-2935. The three disks, manual, registration card and any notices come packaged in a convenient durable bookshelf binder. The manual is complete, legible, indexed and has instructions for a quick install and startup for those of us who can't stand to, "read the doc." This diagnostic package is System 7 savvy, complete with balloon help and a healthy vocal prompt sound file. I rather look forward to booting my Mac just to hear a pleasant female voice tell me everything is okay. MacEKG will also run under a minimum System 6.0.7, however System 7 is recommended to take full advantage of the programs capabilities. The retail price is $150.00 but I found it in the latest Mac Warehouse mail catalog for $99.00. A reasonable $3.00 shipping and handling charge includes overnight delivery. Upgrades from MicroMat are $40.00 and if you're on America On-line you can download the upgrade for $25.00. Installing MacEKG on the hard drive of my Mac SE was fast and painless. The majority of the program comes in self-extracting compacted files. After unpacking, drag the "MacEKG" file (CDEV) to the system folder. Drag the unpacked "MacEKG folder" to the system folder, or if using System 7, drag it to your Preferences folder inside the system folder. All ancillary items, such as the graphic and sound files are stored inside the MacEKG folder. If disk space is limited, the only file required in the MacEKG folder is the "MacEKG Prefs" file. Three sound files come with MacEKG. Collectively they take up a fair amount of disk space, but you may install only sound file #1 if you wish to conserve. Should you decide to install all possible MacEKG files, you'll need about 2,400K of disk space. If you don't have a color Mac and use only one of the sound files, you'll use about 794K. MacEKG loads last at startup along with the other INITs and CDEVs. The full (longest) test took a minute and seventeen seconds on my Mac SE with the DOVE Marathon accelerator active. It obviously wouldn't take as long on the newer Macs and would take longer on an older Mac Plus. Considering all the tests that are run, it seems to be very fast at completing these tasks. There isn't anything to do after installing MacEKG, except re-booting, to run MacEKG in its default configuration. If you like to tinker with things like I do, you can go to the control panel, open the MacEKG icon and custom configure to your hearts content. There, you can also review the history of MacEKG tests on your machine or export the logs for your favorite word processing program. MacEKG is replete with sounds and graphics. It is definitely a Mac program. It's the most involved diagnostic program I've seen. For those who have downloaded Ken McLeod's MacEnvy (public domain) and Scott Berfield's Speedometer (shareware, $25), these programs give you an idea of the kind of thing MacEKG does, only MacEKG's process is much more extensive. Service technicians will find MacEKG indispensable for testing critical computer components and providing a standardized benchmark for complete testing of the Macintosh. While MacEKG provides the everyday user with a powerful set of diagnostic tools for testing and watching over their system, it is also quite useful to the service technician. MacEKG features advanced chip-level diagnostics previously available only to Authorized Apple Technicians. Network managers will find EKG useful for monitoring individual computer configuration and overall system health. Using MacEKG and its ReActivator feature, you can set up the machine to continually run MacEKG and repeatedly reboot. By setting MacEKG's sound preference control (see Control Panel) to Warnings Only, you can set up your computer to run MacEKG both continuously and silently until it finds a problem and calls your attention with a warning message. This allows the machine to be tested automatically without attendance; freeing you for other things while waiting for a problem to be caught. Once the machine has reported a failure, EKG's warning message and logs will point you in the direction of the problem.
COMPONENT TESTS: MacEKG utilizes a bit-to-bit component test on five important integrated circuits: VIA1, VIA2, SCC, SCSI and PRAM. These tests not only verify that the component is operational, but determines the degree of operation based on several performance tests.
RAM TESTS: MacEKG's RAM test differs from the Macintosh self-test in two ways. When the Macintosh tests its RAM, there is no system software present, so every bit of RAM is tested. Every portion of the RAM is tested twice to verify that all bits of the memory are addressable. Since EKG runs its RAM test after the system and all the extensions have loaded, only the portions of RAM remaining after the system software has loaded can be tested. Since MacEKG runs before the Finder and any applications are loaded, it can access more RAM than application-based testers, because it can test the RAM space that the Finder and these applications would normally be occupying. Though only a portion of RAM is tested by EKG, the RAM that is checked is tested much more thoroughly than the self-test.
PRAM TESTS: MacEKG tests this chip by requesting a series of time calculations, loading its entire contents into RAM, clearing out the chip, and then reloading the data. This is repeated 25 times and the differences in timing compared. If the timing discrepancy is below 5% (normal), then a "Pass" symbol is displayed, and EKG moves to the RAM test. Should the PRAM test experience a timing discrepancy above 5%, or the PRAM refuses to accept the return of its data, the PRAM test will display a "Poor" flag and issue a component warning at the completion of diagnostics.
LOGIC TESTS: The first test MacEKG performs is the logic test. This test is comprised of eight high-level mathematical formulas and is measured by the time it takes to complete each formula. Each individual test addresses a unique aspect of the Macintosh's computational abilities.
VIDEO TESTS: MacEKG tests external video device performance as well as internal video circuitry for abnormalities in functionality and performance. The test involves a 25-step test which performs both QuickDraw and direct-addressing video command tests. This test will measure video performance in any monitor setting. In a multiple monitor environment, only the main screen (the one which contains the Finder menubar) will be tested.
HISTOGRAM: This histogram is a twenty-five entry self-scaling bar-graph which represents EKG's last 25 tests. Its purpose is to provide the user with a visual indication of the systems performance and operational trends without the need to interpret individual log entries. This is much like a month-at-a-glance health report for the system being tested.
MEDIA TESTS: MacEKG tests all read-capable devices on the SCSI bus. It does not perform write tests, so it won't damage any data on your drives. MacEKG's media test measures information-access times by seeking to a particular track, reading a contiguous series of blocks, and then returning the drive heads to their ready positions. The time taken to perform this routine is reported in milliseconds and stored for each device on the bus. CONCLUSION MacEKG didn't find any problems with my Mac SE. It operated without any noticeable incompatibilities with all my other INITs and CDEVs. With System 6.0.7 and Multifinder, the SE froze when I clicked on an item under "Log Display" in the CDEV window of the control panel. It functioned without a hitch by using just the Finder alone. The only complaint I have is that the on-screen read-out of values and text is extremely small and very difficult to read. Of course, by exporting the report to a word processing program, it would be very readable and you could print the results of the tests. MacEKG tests 35 different attributes of your system in three major areas: logic functions, QuickDraw performance, and SCSI I/O. As each section is tested, MacEKG displays the results for the individual tests performed for that particular section. At the conclusion of a section test, it gives you an MPR number, i.e., a MicroMat Performance Rating. The higher the number the better your system's performance. (By way of comparison, a Mac Plus normally gives a number around 500, a Mac IIFX running with few or no INITs may return a number in the high 9000s, and a Quadra [with cache on] returns a number around 13,000.) When finished, it displays a bar graph of the current, first, and last test results. Overall, MacEKG logs and compares 250 different parameters to make sure your Mac is operating at peak performance. Once installed, it learns your machine and how it should behave. If a significant change occurs, MacEKG sounds a warning. It is an excellent tool in determining if a system crash or other persistent or sporadic glitch is hardware or software oriented. Once you're satisfied that you don't have a hardware problem, then you can start your search for that pesky INIT incompatibility. MicroMat has included a couple of extra goodies on the disks. "System Errors 7.0.1" and "Sad Mac Error Codes 3.82" are both stand alone applications that list and describe a myriad of error codes you may or may not ever see on your Mac.
Copyright © april, 1993 by Rick Baggott