Manage Drivers in Vista

Before you start

Objectives: learn where to find Device Manager, how to work with devices and their drivers, what different labels mean, and where to find some specific options.

Prerequisites: you should know what drivers are.

Key terms: driver, device manager, hardware, device, rollback, installation


Device Installation

When installing devices we should follow the instructions that came with the device. Typically the device will have an installation disk that includes the driver and often other software for getting the most out of the device. For some devices Windows will already have drivers built in. For that devices we can simply attach the device, and Windows will automatically install appropriate devices. For some type of devices we will never have installation disks or files. For example, Windows will always detected and configure the appropriate drivers for USB flash drives. To manage devices and their drivers we will use the Device Manager.

Device Manager

To open Device Manager go to Control Panel and select Device Manager from the list. Another way is to right-click Computer, select Properties and then click on the Device Manager. If we get User Account Control (UAC) prompt, we simply select Continue.

Device Manager

Image 172.1 – Device Manager

In Device Manager we can see all devices attached to our system. Notice that devices are organized by type. We can right-click any device and see the information about the device by going to its properties. Devices that have a regular icon identify devices that are correctly installed. A yellow exclamation mark identifies a device that Vista could not recognize (no driver was found for the device). The Windows has detected the name of the device but doesn’t know how to configure it. To correct this problem we can click on the device and search for a suitable driver. To do that, right-click on the device with no drivers and select Update Driver Software. In many cases we will need to download the driver from the manufacturer’s Web site or install the driver from the device’s installation disc. The drivers on the installation disc are often outdated. To get the latest driver for a device, check the manufacturer’s Web site.

Right Click

Image 172.2 – Right-Click

Search for Drivers

Image 172.3 – Search For Drivers

A down arrow identifies a disabled device. Do disable particular device, right-click it and then select Disable. We typically do that for devices that we don’t want to use, but we can’t physically remove them from the system. When the device is disabled, the computer can’t use it. To use a disabled device, enable it in Device Manager. In contrast to Vista, Windows XP will have a red x for disabled devices, instead of down arrow.

Disabled Device

Image 172.4 – Disabled Device

For most devices, we will typically physically install the device, then start Windows. The device will be detected and the drivers installed automatically or the Found New Hardware wizard will appear. The wizard will tell us that it needs to find the driver for the device. We have three options when this happens.

Found New Hardware Wizard

Image – 172.5 – Found New Hardware Wizard

If we choose the first option our computer will search the Windows Update website for a driver that is compatible with the device. The behavior for looking for drivers at Windows Update is controlled by a setting on the advanced system properties. Let’s go to Control Panel > System and Maintenance > System > Advanced System Settings > Hardware tab > Windows Update driver settings.

Windows Update Driver Settings

Image 172.6 – Update Driver Settings

In our case Windows will ask us each time we connect new device before checking for drivers. If Windows Update server doesn’t have the appropriate driver, Windows will ask us to insert the disk that came with this hardware. As soon as we insert the disk, Windows will automatically search the disk for the appropriate drivers. If we don’t have a disk we can try other options. For example, we can download the drivers to our computer, so we will need to tell the installation process to browse our computer for the driver software that we’ve already downloaded. Windows will always check if the driver is digitally signed. If the driver is not signed, by default Vista will prompt us if we want to continue with the installation.

Uninstallation

If we physically remove the device from the system, Windows will automatically remove it from the list in Device Manager. If we attach that device again, Windows will automatically configure it since it already has drivers for it. If we uninstall a device in Device Manager, we can also choose to delete the driver software for that device. In that case when we insert the device again, we would have to reinstall the drivers. Also, if that physical device is still present in the system, rebooting the system or scanning for hardware changes in Device Manager will usually re-detect the device. To prevent a device from being used, disable it instead of uninstalling it.

Troubleshooting

If we are having problems with a device, we can try and update the driver through Device Manager or download the latest driver. If changing a driver causes system instability, we can use the Rollback feature to revert to a previous version. To use the Rollback feature, right-click on a particular device, select Properties, select the Drivers tab and click on the Roll Back Driver button.

Driver Options

Image 172.7 – Driver Options

If we can’t log on after changing the driver, we can press F8 during the reboot process and choose the Last Known Good Configuration option. We can also select Safe Mode. In Safe Mode, we can use driver rollback or disable the device. All kernel mode drivers in 64-bit Vista editions must be digitally signed. If we find that we cannot install a driver, it could be because it is not digitally signed.

Hardware Resources

To see the hardware resources used by devices, in Device Manager we can go to the device properties, and then on the Resources tab.

Resources

Image 172.8 – Resource Settings

Here we can see device resources like memory range, I/O range and IRQs. Here we can also see whether there are any conflicts with other devices on our system. By default, resources for plug and play devices are configured automatically. Today we will rarely need to change the hardware resources used by a device.

Remember

When installing new devices, the first thing we should do is follow the instructions that came with the device. In many cases this means running a setup program that came with the device. We can find Device Manager in Control Panel. A yellow mark identifies a device that Vista could not recognize (no driver was found for the device). A down arrow identifies a disabled device. For most devices, we will typically physically install the device, then start Windows. The device will be detected and the drivers installed automatically or the Found New Hardware wizard will appear. If changing a driver causes system instability, we can use the Rollback feature to revert to a previous version.

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