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How to Run the Dell Diagnostics Utility from a USB Flash Drive

If you suspect your Dell computer is having a hardware issue it's a good idea to run the Dell diagnostics utility to check for problems. Running the diagnostics will quickly give you a good idea if your computer has had a hardware failure. Armed with the results you can determine how to proceed with the repair or move on to troubleshooting the software.

Often when you call Dell tech support they will request you run the diagnostics anyway, so running the tests before you call can save you a lot of time on the phone.

When you first purchased your Dell system it most likely included a CD with the diagnostics program on it. You're probably thinking who keeps their original CDs right? Well if you lost or trashed that disc you're not out of luck.

In this hub I will show you how to create a bootable USB drive that contains the diagnostics utility.

If you need to check the warranty status of your Dell computer you can do so at support.dell.com, click on the warranty status link on the left hand side.

What can the diagnostics be run on?

Dell diagnostics can be used on desktops, laptops, or servers.  Although the diagnostics package is specific to the series of computer, for example the server package will not be able to run tests against a laptop.

The utility will test the major system components such as...

  • Hard Drive
  • CPU
  • Memory
  • System Board
  • Video System
  • Keyboard


Step 1 - Download the diagnostics software

The first thing you will need to do is download the Dell diagnostics software package. You can download the software from Dell's website by visiting support.dell.com and clicking on drivers and downloads. On the next page click 'Enter a Tag', type in your service tag and click go.

Scroll down and expand the diagnostics section, the file you need to download is the 32 bit diagnostics utility. In the screen shot below its the file with the red arrow next to it, don't be confused with the other download links that look similar.

Download the utility
Download the utility
Run the installer
Run the installer
Extract the files
Extract the files

Step 2 - Run the installer

After the file finishes downloading run the file to begin the installation. On the first dialog box that opens just click on continue.

Next it will ask you where you want to unzip the files, the default location is fine. After the files extract the diagnostics utility will run automatically so you do not need to remember the extraction location.

Dell Diagnostics Package
Dell Diagnostics Package

Step 3 - Create the bootable USB drive

You can install the diagnostics onto almost any USB flash drive since it requires less than 10MB of space. Make sure there are no files on the USB drive because the Dell utility will format the flash drive.

Connect the flash drive to your computer then click 'Install to USB Flash Drive', again make sure you select the correct drive because it will be erased! The process takes less than 30 seconds to complete.  If you don't have a spare flash drive the utility can also create a bootable CD.

Dell Boot Selection Menu
Dell Boot Selection Menu

Step 4 - Running the diagnostics

To run the diagnostics plug the flash drive you created in to the computer you want to check for problems. Restart the computer and keep pressing F12 as the computer boots, this will load the boot menu for your Dell computer. From the boot menu list select USB Storage and press enter.

When the utility begins to load you will see the customer diagnostics menu. Select option two to load the graphics based diagnostics.

Option three will allow you to run the tests in a continuous loop mode. This can be useful if you are trying to reproduce an intermittent problem.

If you only want to run memory tests then select option 1.

When the diagnostics utility loads you will see the main menu. From here you can run either an express, extended, or custom test. I would recommend starting with the express test. The express test usually takes around 15 to 20 minutes to complete and can catch most common issues. If the express test does not report any problems you may want to consider running the extended test. The extended test is much more thorough and will spend more time testing components like the hard drive.

Main menu
Main menu

The custom test selection allows you to choose which tests to run based on specific components. So if you believe your hard drive may be failing you can skip all the other tests and just check the hard drive. This can save you a lot of time by not running unnecessary tests.

Custom test selection
Custom test selection

Completing the tests

When the diagnostics tests are complete you will receive either a pass or fail result. If a test fails the utility will show you which test detected problems. If no issues were found then the issue you are experiencing may be a software problem. It's also possible that the diagnostics did not detect the problem. If your computer is having an intermittent failure then it may have been operating properly during the test. The diagnostics can be run in loop mode overnight to try to reproduce such problems.

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