I'm running a Windows 7 release candidate, but I'm pretty sure there's a way to do it that works on XP and above.
In Windows Vista (and I believe XP and 7), you can go to Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> System Information. If this doesn't work, try searching for it or entering "msinfo32" in the run box. This provides a system summary, hardware resources, components, and software environment areas, as well as search options.
Try Belarc Advisor
The Belarc Advisor builds a detailed profile of your installed software and hardware, missing Microsoft hotfixes, anti-virus status, CIS (Center for Internet Security) benchmarks, and displays the results in your Web browser. All of your PC profile information is kept private on your PC and is not sent to any web server.
Running dxdiag.exe from the run menu will bring up a short summary. You can then click the Save All Information button at the bottom produces a very detailed list of installed hardware and drivers.
Lots of free software 'audit' your hardware (listing a couple here).
There are specific tools to look at your process, graphics card etc,
- CPU-Z for the processor and motherboard details
- GPU-Z for the Graphics card details
- HDDTune for Harddisks
For a local check, you need to dig through the
Administrative Tools, Computer Management, Device Manager detail.
The other tools give you data in a little more organized manner.
They are quite small to carry in a USB pendrive usually.
I think, you could also get down to writing a VB Script to run through the registry and pull out all the details.
SIW (System Info for Windows) is a free, portable utility that gives a very detailed hardware (and software) report. Runs on Windows versions 98 to 7:
Hardware report: Motherboard, Sensors, BIOS, CPU, chipset, PCI/AGP, USB and ISA/PnP Devices, Memory, Video Card, Monitor, Disk Drives, CD/DVD Devices, SCSI Devices, S.M.A.R.T., Ports, Printers...
I like this:
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software.
HWiNFO™ (for DOS operating system), HWiNFO32™ and HWiNFO64™ (for both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows® versions) is a collection of professional hardware information and diagnostic tools supporting latest components, industry technologies, and standards. These tools are designed to collect and show the maximum amount of information about your PC/laptop hardware.
The information retrieved by this program is presented in a logical and easily understandable form and can be exported (saved) in several various types of reports such as Text, HTML or XML format.