Before we get behind the idea of troubleshooting peripherals as per the title of this article, I would like to explain some basics which if left unexplained would probably leave the user wondering how it even worked in the very first place. Geeks need not read the rest of this and may skip over to the section labeled - Accessing the Windows Device Manager
We are all using Computers these days for our basic or advanced needs. Most of these needs include using the Internet for emailing, chatting, education; working from office; moving around documents (files, folders, images, videos, software, etc.); viewing pictures and videos; software development and all sorts of work that computers can be put use to.
Windows is defined as an Operating System in the world of Computers. For the average user, it is something too vague or inexplicable. I would put it in simpler words - It is the software or the interface which acts as a communication medium between you, the user and the various individual parts of the Computer which include your CPU (Central Processing Unit or Processor), keyboard, mouse, monitor and all other devices that are directly or indirectly connected to it.
Technology has gone too far to make everything so easy for us that we just expect everything to work out of the box. Such is the world of Windows. The people at Microsoft (the company which built Windows itself) have put in a lot of work to get everything working in one go with least interaction from the end user, something near to spoon-feeding. Most of the time it works as expected but things do get trickier and messy sometimes.
Everything works rationally and so does Windows. Ninety Nine percent of the times, it is not the fault of Windows but something outside the control of Windows. A subtle example would be an intermittent power failure causing your PC to shut down. It could or could not cause damage to your PC. The degree of damage could be anything from Windows failing to load, you losing the document that you were working on or severe damage to your Hard-disk resulting in a catastrophe.
In this ever changing world, Constant development is going on. Things do get outdated and so does the Windows version that was shipped to you. It will work but not that optimally and this is the prime reason you need to keep it updated. Simply put as in the music industry first came the Gramophone, then the Tape Recorder, Compact Discs and then Digital Video Discs; similarly you can think of the development and advancement of Windows from MS-DOS to Windows 95, 98, Millennium Edition, XP, Vista and now Windows 7. Most of us are still using Windows XP and that is fine, but what about things (like Finger Print Readers) that were made after XP was released. There are two choices, either you upgrade XP and switchover to a higher version of Windows or simply educate Windows XP about the newer peripheral. This education is what we call installing Drivers.
The importance of drivers:
Windows communicates with hardware in a very basic language that is easy for most hardware to understand, like keyboards, mice and hard disks, but other complex devices (like Finger Print Readers) require additional software which we call Drivers that act like foreign language translators between Windows and those Devices. Of course drivers are required for keyboards, mice and hard disks too but they are very generic in nature and built within windows so they just seem to work transparently. So for every Hardware or peripheral to work, Windows needs a Driver. What happens when a driver is not there! Simple it doesn't work and that's what this Article is all about! Like Windows, hardware is also in a constant stage of development and improvement & so are the drivers that were written for that device. Like software, drivers too may have bugs and they are rewritten to remove those bugs and hence the idea behind always keeping with the latest. Of course everything comes at a price. Since there are a lot of variables, updated drivers may be shipped with a new bug that could break something that worked well earlier. In that case, switching back to the previous version helps.
Accessing the Windows Device Manager:
This is the place in Windows which lists everything that was found to be connected to your PC. You can reach it by the following path. My Computer >> Control Panel >> System >> Hardware tab >> clicking the Device Manager Button. A shorter route would be Windows + Break key that would open up the System Properties Window >> Hardware tab >> Device Manager Button. The System Properties Window can also be accessed by selecting Properties in the context menu we get after Right clicking the My Computer Icon in Windows Explorer. Windows has many ways of doing the same thing and it is up to you what you feel best.
Problem / Unknown Devices:
Device Manager lists all devices under this Category which failed to install due to lack of Driver availability giving subtle hints for the type of the device. They are generally shown with Yellow Question Marks with Unknown Device or similar names. If you see the following descriptions to the side of a Yellow Question marked device, it relates to a driver that was not installed.
1. PCI communications Device - Dial-up Modem
2. Multimedia Controllers - Audio & Sound Drivers
3. USB Controller - Enhanced USB 2.0 Support Driver
4. Graphics Display - Display drivers related to Graphics Card
5. Ethernet Controller - LAN Card
In case you are not getting a Crisp display with the advanced resolution settings for your Monitor under Control Panel >> Display >> Settings Tab, then probably you don't have correct Graphics Card Drivers installed. Similarly if you are unable to hear your Audio / use your Modem or the USB performs poorly, then they all point to poorly / not installed drivers. Generally all PCs ship with a motherboard drivers CD that contains drivers for all the devices pertaining to the System purchased by you. This CD is different from the Windows Installation CD.
Reinstall / Update Drivers in Device Manager:
In case you have your motherboard CD in hand, installation of Drivers will be a breeze for you. Just insert the CD in the CD-Rom / DVD Drive. If Auto-run is enabled, a driver installation menu / screen will pop-up where you can select the various types of Drivers to install. If it doesn't open, browse to the Root folder of the CD-Rom and you will generally find a file called Setup.exe. Click it to open the driver installation menu / screen. Once installed, Windows will automatically remove the Unknown Device from Device Manager & place it under the Correct Category which will be then working.
A geeky method would be to select the Unknown Device, Right click, select Update Driver or Reinstall Driver whatever the case maybe & select the prompts to install the drivers for the device. When prompted by Windows, you will have to provide the location where the Driver is placed & Windows will do the rest. It is all the same thing but as shown earlier, Windows has multiple ways of doing the same thing.
Advanced Usage Configuration - Enabling Ghost Devices:
Windows always tries to be helpful by keeping a track of all what you did so that you or Windows itself will not be faced with the trouble of doing it again. In case you are observant enough, you might have noticed that the first time you plug in a USB Pen Drive; Windows takes around five seconds to install it. The next time you plug it in the same Port, Windows detects it immediately and the same Drive is ready for use within less than a second.
Windows always keeps a record of all the Devices installed earlier & pulls out the required information from its memory (or cache as we call it). Windows seems to be quite helpful at this place but what happens when it installs the wrong driver. This is where the problems set in. You are unable to use the device and have to remove it manually. We will refer to these devices as Ghost Devices which are installed within Windows but not in normal view. Ghost Devices are not shown in Windows XP even if you enable the option to Show Hidden Devices under its View menu.
Vista users need not follow the below steps. They can view Ghost Devices by normally selecting the select Show Hidden Devicesunder View menu of Device Manager.
For Windows XP users - My Computer >> Control Panel >> System >> Advanced Tab >> Click the Environment Variables Button >> New Button under System Variables. Enter the following values in the Dialog Box that opens up-
Variable Name : DEVMGR_SHOW_NONPRESENT_DEV
Variable Value : 1
Ok out everything and reboot. Again open up Device Manager and select Show Hidden Devices under its View menu. Device Manager will now list those devices which are installed in Windows background. They are easily identified as they appear fainter than the others.
It may be advised at times to remove the device and reinstall it. Fortunately, the procedure to reinstall Ghost or other Devices in normal view is pretty simple. If the above setup is already done & Hidden Devices are set to view; simply select the device, Right click & select uninstall from the Context Menu that appears.
Check for any Driver related Programs of the Device in Add / Remove Programs in the Control Panel and uninstall them too. Printer, Bluetooth & NIC drivers generally fall in this category.
The next time you plug in the Device make sure you have the Drivers CD ready. USB devices have typical methods of install. Some may require that you install the Drivers prior to plugging the device; others may require that you plug in the Device when the Wizard asks you to. Generally a USB device identifies itself with the name of itself to Windows as soon as it is plugged in. Windows tries to locate the Drivers from its own database or from the list of drivers installed by you and then installs it.
Backing up Drivers:
You may want to reformat and reinstall your Operating System from scratch with the probability of not having your Drivers CD. You have everything installed which is working fine but for some reason, a re-install of the Operating System is needed. It could be due to a Root-kit infection, Internet Explorer misbehavior or some other reason with no solution other than to reformat & reinstall Windows from scratch. There are free utilities on the Internet that would backup your Drivers for you. I have not tried them but would like to point out a few links.
It also could be that you decide to downgrade / upgrade your Operating System when you don't have the Drivers but only for the version of Windows that is currently installed on your PC. A good idea would be to, take screenshots of Device Manager with everything expanded and save them to your backup. Another way of keeping a detailed log of all your Hardware would be click the Start Button of Windows >> All Programs >> Accessories >> System Tools >> System Information >> Click File >> Export. It may take a few seconds on a slow system but you will be presented with a Dialog Box asking you to place Detailed Log of your System Specifications that will prove very helpful when searching for drivers. Save this Text file to your Backup. Since your current version of Windows is up and running, why not search for them and download them beforehand. It will save you a lot of grief later.
It may not interest you but I noticed a something strange after I put my PC to hibernate. On resume, my Dot Matrix Printer (which are rare these days) connected to my Parallel (LPT) port would stop working. To get it working again, I had to go to Device Manager >> Action >> Scan for New Hardware and there it was back in action.
We all use Bluetooth these days and below is a nifty trick to speed up your Internet Connection in case you are using a Bluetooth modem to connect. It applies to Windows XP only.
In Device Manager expand Modems and select your Bluetooth Modem >> Right Click for Properties >> Modem tab. Note down the Port number Listed after Port. It would be COMx where x is an integer (6, 7, 13 or something like that). Set the Port speed to 115200 in the Same Tab. Close the Modem properties box. Expand Ports (COM & LPT) in Device Manager. Select the Bluetooth Serial Port (COMx) related to your modem >> Right Click for Properties >> Port Settings >> Increase the Value of Bits per Second to 115200. In case you were using a Bluetooth Modem which worked slowly, you should note an increase in speed. Changes are applied immediately and there is no need to reboot. Don't try setting the maximum modem speed to greater than 115200 (128000 or higher) as then you will face random disconnects resulting in an unstable connection.
Now the next time, you find a device misbehaving you know the way to make it play well. Just I would like to add that visit the manufacturer's website of the device, search for drivers related to your particular device model for your version of Windows and download them to a safe location you know. Point Windows to the downloaded path of the Drivers when it asks for the drivers and you are all setup in a breeze.
Another Article on Experts Exchange relating to an advanced way of removing & reinstalling a device is http://www.experts-exchange.com/articles/OS/Microsoft_Operating_Systems/Windows/XP/Manually-remove-a-Hardware-Device-and-its-Drivers-from-Windows.html
Just in case you found this Article worth reading, feel free to visit a previous one which I wrote earlier at http://www.experts-exchange.com/articles/OS/Microsoft_Operating_Systems/Windows/XP/Applications-worthy-of-being-in-a-Windows-Techie-Toolkit.html
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