Hardware ID Guide
Every now and again you'll come across a part that refuses to be identified. No brand name, no model number...nothing but some chips, PCB, and stamped metal. Luckily, all its not lost. There are some simple steps you can take to help put a name and number to almost any piece of hardware. While some of these steps are common sense, others may bridge the gap to identifying a mystery part.
The easy stuff: Before you proceed any further on this list, give your part another thorough look. Look for any manufacturer labels, part/model numbers, manufacture dates, and any other tag or label that you may have missed. Take note of any information you come across. Even if this second look doesn't solve the mystery, the information you gather will come in handy in building your case.
- Model number
- Part number
- Interfaces / Ports
- Format / Standard / Form Factor
- Unique or identifying text / numbers
- Unique features (open ended category: passive/active cooling, unusual/rare ports, distinctive design/coloring)
- Expansion (connections for add-ons, etc)
FCC ID: Most electronics sold in the United States are certified by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). As a result, most parts are tagged with an FCC ID number. This number should at least reveal the manufacturer, which will get you half way to identifying your part.
Logos: Do you see a logo you don't recognize? Have a look at The Hardware Project Logo Guide!
Gather the facts:
- Is it a card? What type (audio, video, etc.)? What interface (PCI, Sbus, etc)? What ports (DVI, minijack, coax, etc)?
- Is it a drive? What type/format (CD, HD, tape)? What interface (IDE, SCSI, MFM)? Manufacture date?
Take all of the information you've gathered up to this point and put it together.
Search: Any information you gathered up to this point should be put to use. Any string of numbers from any chips, PCBs, or other parts should be Google'd, Bing'd, Yahoo'd, whichever. Combine pieces of information and drill down through the results. On more than one occasion, I've found success searching for a mystery part on Ebay (many Ebay stores are filled to the brim with old parts and chopped up systems).
Turn it on: Sometimes the simplest way to identify a piece of equipment is to use it. Most video cards identify themselves on boot. That mystery DIMM should report its size on POST. Any BIOS worth its own weight should spill all sorts of information about the surrounding computer.
Software: If your machine has a functioning operating system, your task just got much simpler. Most OSs have built in functionality for divulging all of the host computer's specs. For more granular information, there are numerous applications that will extract every detail of your system's hardware. (Ex. CPU-Z, GPU-Z, etc.)
No functioning OS?: Try a live CD. Most Linux distributions have live CDs available, but the completeness and accuracy of hardware detection varies between them.