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PC factory test tool runs Linux

Apr 9, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 13 views

[Updated Apr. 10] — A vendor of software that tests PC system health during manufacture and servicing will demonstrate a Linux-based appliance at the Embedded Systems Conference next week. PC-Doctor says its Network Factory appliance can improve quality and reduce returns for high-end x86 device makers.

(Click for larger view of the PC-Doctor Network Factory)

PC-Doctor is best known as a software vendor. It claims that its software diagnostic tools have shipped on about 140 million PCs. It also serves the market for higher-end x86-based devices, with clients that reportedly include defense contractors Honeywell and GE, as well as International Game Technology (IGT), a large Nevada-based vendor of slot machines and “mega-jackpot” systems.

The company's new Network Factory appliance, currently in the prototype phase, aims to simplify rollouts of PC-Doctor testing set-ups at both new and existing factories and service centers, it said. The appliance is based on an unspecified hardware platform from MBX running Gentoo Linux, the Apache web server, PHP scripting, and the open source Firebird SQL database. It also runs PC-Doctor's networked diagnostics software (shown below), which provides a database for test results and systems information.

The Network Factory appliance works in collaboration with a runtime component installed on the PC. The runtime verifies that there are no hardware faults or failures on the system, and then reports back to the server. The runtimes are available to test x86-based PCs and devices running Linux, Windows, and DOS.

PC-Doctor Network Factory screen
(Click to enlarge)

PC-Doctor's CMO, Doug van Aman, said the server-appliance version was a response to customers in small factories looking to reduce complexity with a turnkey product. In a statement, he commented, “The people who attend [ESC] are very representative of those we had in mind when we conceived the idea of a turnkey solution.”

van Aman added, “We're used wherever quality and traceability of a device's birth certificate are required.”

Choosing Linux

PC-Doctor Network supports both Windows and Linux, but the company selected Linux for the appliance “because it's easy for us to customize,” van Aman said. Other benefits include open licensing “and the fact that most of the open source software packages that we use tend to run well and have good Linux community support,” he added.

The company chose the Gentoo distro, “because we know it,” said van Aman. “We chose a source-based distribution because we only need to support a few hardware configurations, and we want to squeeze the maximum performance out of the hardware that we have.”

The value of open licensing also played a part in the decision to go with the Firebird database, said van Aman. In addition, the development team liked the software's support for ANSI SQL features, such as foreign keys, triggers, and stored procedures, and it was impressed with Firebird's “good performance and low memory overhead.” A final benefit: “the database is a single file in the file system, which makes management simple,” he added.

At ESC, PC-Doctor will also show off its software products, including:

  • PC-Doctor Factory Express — packaged software for Windows test environments
  • PC-Doctor Factory — original customized software for deployment in a manufacturing or repair depot, supporting Windows, Linux, QNX, and bare-metal environments
  • PC-Doctor Network Factory — The basis for the new Linux-based server appliance, this networked version of the customizable product shares diagnostics and validation information via a networked database, supporting Windows, Linux and bare-metal test environments
  • PC-Doctor Service Center — standalone kit for small factories and service operations — includes multiple hardware test devices for PC technicians, plus device diagnostics, supporting Windows and bare metal environments


PC-Doctor will display the server appliance version of PC-Doctor Network Factory, along with its other products, at space 411 at ESC, which runs April 14-18 at the San Jose Convention Center. Pricing and availability information was not available.

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