Test Your PC for Year 2000 Glitches
By John Makulowich
If all the talk about the so-called year 2000 problem has you wondering whether your current PC or the one you're thinking about buying can handle the digits for the next century, it's time you connected to the National Software Testing Laboratories' World Wide Web page at http://www.nstl.com/.
There you can find and download the free YMark2000 program, a self-extracting 31K ZIP file with the utility and readme.txt file that tests whether your system works properly.
Produced by NSTL, Conshohocken, Pa., a division of the McGraw-Hill companies that touts itself as the world's leading independent information technology testing organization, the YMark2000 program was last updated April 17. It helps you determine if your PC will support dates after Dec. 31, 1999, by seeing if your system is year 2000-compliant.
The test procedure is straightforward. After double-clicking on the compressed y2000.exe file to extract the two files named 2000.exe and readme.txt, you run the executable program, that is, 2000.exe. You need to cleanly boot to the DOS prompt. That is, you can't run the utility within Windows; if you try, the program automatically aborts after the legal agreement notice. (In Windows 95, you get a clean boot by pressing the Start button, clicking Shut Down and then choosing the item, "Restart the computer in MS-DOS mode?")
The results that appear cover three areas: Year 2000, Year 2000 Leap Year and hardware clock structure. The program lets you know at each step whether the system passes. I ran it on a Packard Bell Platinum 2240 (200 MHz MMX Intel CPU) and received this notice at the completion: "This system correctly supports the year 2000."
For those who want to explore the details of the year 2000 issue, the readme.txt file contains valuable information, including an overview and what amounts to frequently asked questions.
It's important to realize, as NSTL makes clear, that their program "only tests the personal computer's ability to support the year 2000 and not the operating system or software applications. Separate testing must be performed on software." They also state that the program will only work with any x86-based "industry standard" computer that contains a built-in real-time clock. By "industry standard" they mean IBM-compatible or clone, pretty much any PC built since 1985. Operating systems covered are all versions of DOS and Microsoft Windows.
In the readme.txt file, you find an explanation of the two clocks in every computer, the built-in hardware clock and the so-called virtual clock. The hardware or real-time clock runs on a battery all the time, whether the system is on or off. The virtual or system clock is set to the real-time clock when you turn the computer on. It runs only while the computer operates. With the computer running, the two clocks run independently. Basically, the system clock is a timer that increments a counter 18.2 times per second; the notion of days, hours, minutes or seconds is not part of its vocabulary. On the other hand, the real-time clock tracks the time and date. The problem arises because the real-time clocks in PCs don't track centuries, just years, like 97. When we hit the millennium, the real-time clock will show 00. It gets more complex, but you get the drift.
John Makulowich writes, talks and trains on the Internet. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; his home page is http://www.cais.com/makulow/.