What is a POST Test Card?

Explanation of a POST Test Card & How They Work

Picture of an Optimal Shop POST Test Card
POST Test Card. © Optimal Shop

A POST test card is a small diagnostic tool that displays error codes generated during the Power On Self Test. It's used to identify problems that can be detected as the computer is starting up.

These errors, called POST codes, correspond directly to a test that has failed and can help determine what piece of hardware is causing an issue, like if it's the memoryhard driveskeyboard, etc.

If the system doesn't encounter an error until later on during the boot process after the video card is activated, then the error can be displayed on the screen.

 This type of error is not the same as a POST code but instead is called a POST error message, which is a human-readable message.

POST test cards are also known as Power On Self Test cards, POST cards, POST diagnostic cards, checkpoint cards, and port 80h cards.

How POST Test Cards Work

Most POST test cards plug directly into expansion slots in the motherboard while a few others connect externally via a parallel or serial port. An internal POST test card of course require you to open your computer in order to use it.

During the Power On Self Test, a two-digit code is produced and can usually be read on port 0x80. Some POST test cards include jumpers that let you modify which port to read the code from since some manufacturers use a different port.

This code is created during each diagnostic step during bootup. After each piece of hardware is identified as working, the next component is checked.

If an error is detected, the bootup process usually halts, and the POST test card shows the error code.

Note: You have to know the BIOS manufacturer of your computer in order to translate the POST codes into error messages that you can understand. Some websites, like Post Code Master and BIOS Central, have a list of BIOS vendors and their corresponding POST error codes.

For example, if the POST test card shows the error number 28, and Dell is the BIOS manufacturer, it means that the CMOS RAM battery has gone bad. In this case, replacing the CMOS battery would most likely fix the problem.

See What is a POST Code? if you need more help understanding what the codes mean.

More About POST Test Cards

Since the BIOS can deliver an error message before the video card is enabled, it's possible to experience a hardware problem before the monitor can display the message. This is when a POST test card comes in handy - if the error can't be delivered to the screen, the POST test card can still help identify the problem.

Another reason to use a POST test card is if the computer is incapable of making a sound to give the error, which are what beep codes are. They are audible codes that correspond to a particular error message. While they're useful when a error message can't be displayed on the screen, they're not at all helpful on computers that don't have an internal speaker, in which case the corresponding POST code can be read from a POST test card.

Few people already own one of these testers but they're not very expensive. Amazon sells a number of POST test cards, many of which are under $10 USD.

 

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