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Windows Vista

Installing and Managing Media Devices (part 1) - Managing Hardware Devices

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Managing Hardware Devices

One of the first steps you might need to perform when working with computers running Windows Vista is to determine what hardware is already installed in the system. For example, a customer might state that she would like to be able to send and receive faxes from her computer. You first need to verify that the computer has an installed fax-capable modem. Windows Vista supports many different types of hardware devices. The primary location for working with hardware is the Hardware And Sound Control Panel item. Figure 1 shows some of the available options.

Figure 1. Using the Hardware And Sound Control Panel item

Using Device Manager

The primary Windows Vista tool for viewing details about hardware components is Device Manager. To launch this utility, in the Hardware And Sound section of Control Panel, click Device Manager. The default view includes a list of the many different types of hardware devices supported by Windows Vista. Figure 2 shows an example of the types of information that you can obtain.

Figure 2. Viewing devices by type in Device Manager

You can expand each section to view the devices associated with that category. Some categories might not be present if a certain type of device is not installed. For example, if the computer does not have a modem installed, the Modems section does not appear.

In addition to viewing details based on the default view in Device Manager, the View menu includes other options for accessing the same information. The available views are as follows:

  • Devices By Type

  • Devices By Connection

  • Resources By Type

  • Resources By Connection

In general, the default view, Devices By Type, is the most intuitive way to collect device-related details. The Resources views can be helpful for troubleshooting earlier hardware and for detecting conflicts with some types of devices. Usually, these details are not necessary for normal operations.

Configuring Device Settings

Apart from viewing information about devices, Device Manager provides the ability to access properties for various devices. It also enables you to manage and update device drivers. To access the properties of a particular hardware device, right-click it and select Properties. The specific tabs that are displayed vary based on the type of device, and some types of devices might not include configuration options. Figure 3 shows options for one type of device.

Figure 3. Viewing options related to a modem device


There are several other functions that you can perform within Device Manager, which you’ll learn about next. In addition to the features and commands available in Device Manager, it is also helpful to note that several of the functions are also available by using links in the Control Panel Hardware And Sound section.

Detecting Hardware

Legacy hardware is the term used to describe products that are not Plug and Play–compatible. Generally, these are older devices. You can add them from the Action menu by selecting Add Legacy Hardware. This launches the Add Hardware Wizard, which walks the user through the steps of selecting and connecting a device (see Figure 4). The Wizard offers the ability to search automatically for devices that are connected to the computer, or you can select and configure the device manually.

Figure 4. Using the Add Hardware Wizard to install legacy devices

For the vast majority of devices, Windows Vista can detect automatically when the item is added. If new devices have been connected to the computer but do not appear automatically in Device Manager, you can check for changes manually. To do this, from the Action menu, select Scan For Hardware Changes. Windows Vista then scans the system for compatible Plug and Play devices.

Managing Device Drivers

Device Manager provides a starting point for performing various operations related to managing device drivers. To access these options, right-click a device and select the appropriate command. The Properties option accesses details related to the device and associated device driver. Figure 5 shows the Driver tab for a device, which includes information about the version number of the driver and the date it was created. It also provides several other functions for managing drivers.

Figure 5. Viewing driver properties for a hard disk drive


Perhaps the most common operation is attempting to update driver software. You can start this process by selecting Update Driver Software from the shortcut menu for a device (see Figure 6). The first method of finding driver updates is to search automatically for them. This process tells Windows Vista to look through the local and online driver databases for newer versions of drivers. The other option is to specify the location of device drivers manually. This is useful for updates that you have downloaded manually or that are available on removable media such as a CD-ROM.

Figure 6. Updating device driver software

Sometimes, installing an updated driver might cause the device to stop working. This most commonly occurs due to poorly written driver software or when the incorrect driver has been chosen manually. After a driver has been updated, you can click Roll Back Driver to revert to an earlier version of the driver.

Although these functions are not usually required, it is possible to disable a hardware device or to uninstall device drivers. Both commands are available by right-clicking the device in Device Manager or by accessing the Driver tab of the device’s Properties dialog box. Disabling a device makes it unavailable for use in Windows Vista. You can sometimes do this if you know that the device is not needed or if it is not working properly. For example, if a customer has no need for a modem, you can disable the device. Uninstalling a device removes its drivers from Windows Vista. For Plug and Play devices, Windows Vista attempts to redetect the device automatically, either immediately or after a reboot of the computer.

Device Manager is an extremely useful utility for viewing and modifying settings related to hardware devices and their associated device drivers. Keep these functions in mind as you learn about working with different types of devices in Windows Vista.

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- Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 5) - Repairing Windows Vista
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