Server Problems

This is technically a rant, but it is also software related, so I have posted my woes here….

I ran into problems with one of my Windows 2003 servers
yesterday.  It all started when I had connected remotely (via RDP)
from the office and installed the latest Microsoft updates.  The
upgrade went smoothly, but after a reboot I was no longer able to
connect to my server remotely.  Later, when I got home I went down to my server
room to investigate the problem.  I was half expecting to see a BSoD, but I
was able to log onto the console and everything looked peachy, except for RDP not working.

The next step was to check out the network settings, perhaps my card
had gone phut, or maybe the upgrade had changed the network
settings.  However, I found out that I was not able to pull
up the network settings dialog, without mmc.exe
hanging.  Rebooting into safe mode enabled me to check the
network, and all the settings were as they should be, but once I rebooted
into normal mode, I could not get at the network properties once again.

At this point I decided to cut a big corner and restore the system from
a ghost image that I had made back in January.  My machine has
been working fine since January, until yesterday, so I know the image
would work.  I waited a brief pause while Norton Ghost did it’s thing,
and then I was able to boot back into my system.  The network
hanging issue had gone away – hurrah! All I needed to do was run
windows update again, and run an upgrade on my anti virus software –
sounds easy enough – oh no!  Both windows update and the anti virus
application were suffering from the same “hanging” problem that I had
been experiencing with the network settings.

Since I could count on the Ghost image being correct, I figured that
the problem must be hardware related – time to start disabling hardware
components.  I cracked open the case, added a new network card,
disabled the on board LAN, disabled the on board modem, and disabled
the
on board sound card.   After another reboot I was able to run
the anti virus update successfully, windows update was still not
cooperating.

I wondered if bad disk sectors or faulty memory could be the
problem.  So I spent the next couple of hours running check disk
(checking for bad sectors).  On another machine I attempted to
download memory checker software, but I didn’t find anything that worked.
I had used memtest86 in the past, but for some reason this application
did not even boot on my server, never mind check the memory.

At 2am this morning I decided that I should shelve this problem for
another day (after some sleep I may have some fresh ideas).  RDP
seemed to be working again, as did my anti virus software (I ran a full
scan), but windows update is still broken – I don’t even get to see
the welcome screen, IE just goes into a tailspin when I visit the site, which makes me think that the problem is IE
related. However, I can browse other web sites.

So, question time…..

1. Does anyone know of any good hardware diagnostic software, which
does not cost an arm and a leg (free would be desirable), will not
destroy the data on my drives, and doesn’t require me to pull apart my
machine?

2. Has anyone out there experienced similar problems with windows update?

3. Can you share any thoughts on why random applications and system
configuration dialogs (they appear to be network related) may hang for no
reason, but work fine in safe mode.

4. Do any log files exist, which would give me an indication as to the
problem?  I
checked the windows update log, but it doesn’t appear to indicate an error. 
Also, the event log doesn’t show up any errors or warnings.

5. Please, no wise ass cracks about replacing Windows with
Linux, this post is not an excuse to start another OS debate. I really
want some insight into fixing my server.