Overview of Hardware Inventory Software and Hardware Audit Approaches

This article explains different approaches that can be used to collect hardware inventory information from a single or multiple Windows PCs connected to LAN.

Imagine few typical scenarios of IT support tasks - you need to add memory to one of PCs, report a model and serial number of the video adapter installed there and check a free space on HDD. What these tasks have in common? They all require to perform a hardware audit in order to get information about empty memory slots, video adapter and HDD. Having this hardware inventory information in this particular case you will decide how many memory you can install and if you need to replace HDD, in other words it's critical for any kind of hardware maintenance, upgrade planning and other IT support tasks. You can save significant amount of time and efforts and make better planning if you have an access to the up-to-date hardware inventory information.

Requirements for Hardware Inventory and Hardware Asset Management Solutions

If you try to collect hardware inventory information described above using standard Windows tools, you will see that it isn't easy task. Windows System dialog in the Control Panel reports the total amount memory, but it doesn't report information about free memory banks. Device Manager reports information about video adapter, but it doesn't report its serial number. Only HDD info is easily accessible, but you need to open a special dialog to access it. Windows wasn't designed to report hardware inventory information through standard dialogs, but it has detailed information about all hardware components, so hardware audit tools should help you to extract this detailed information and represent it in easy form to allow you to find required information quickly.

Usually IT team is responsible for support a large number of computers connected to a local company network. Storing hardware information in a centralized database will help to generate integral hardware inventory reports for entire organization and perform other tasks, for example find identical hardware components for replacement, etc. Another important factor for hardware audit solutions is an ability to collect inventory information remotely over a local network. It can significantly reduce a time required to collect hardware inventory information from all computers in the network.

Overview of Hardware Inventory Software

There are a lot of inventory tools and utilities that can be used to collect information about hardware assets. They can be divided on two categories: hardware audit tools for extracting inventory information from a local computer only and network inventory solutions. The second category can be classified by the technology used to extract hardware inventory information, so there are tools based on Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), tools that extract information from the Windows Registry and tools that mix both approaches.

What is the difference between solutions that use different technologies to extract inventory information? Tools that use WMI have specific requirements for the network infrastructure where they can be used. In particular you have to enable WMI on network PCs in order to collect inventory information from them. Tools that collect inventory data from the Windows registry are less restrictive, because they can work with no additional settings in a typical network environment.

Also different type of inventory solutions provides a different level of asset audit functionality and additional services. For example, you can use PsInfo utility to get basic inventory information. If you need a detailed inventory data reported by WMI, you can use WMI Console tool (WMIC) that is available in Windows. It provides a command-line interface to access and export inventory data on a local or remote PC. Alternatively you can use one of network inventory tools that can audit entire network to collect hardware and software inventory data, generate inventory reports and perform other useful operations.

Useful Resources
  • WMI Reference contains information about infrastructure that provides an access to software and hardware inventory information on Windows-based operating systems.
  • Microsoft Script Center is aimed to educate network administrators how to use Windows PowerShell and other scripting solutions to perform audit, inventory, management and other administrative tasks.