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Chapter 4. Microsoft Windows and Hardwar... > Inspecting Your Hardware with Device...

Inspecting Your Hardware with Device Manager

When you look at the computer on your desktop, you probably see just a few pieces: one big box that contains the electronic guts of your computer, plus a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. You might have an extra gizmo or two plugged in, such as a printer or scanner, but basically, the whole thing looks pretty simple. Windows XP, however, sees much more. To Windows, a typical PC might consist of more than 100 individual devices, and the operating system is fully prepared to assist you whenever you need to take inventory of your hardware.

You can see the entire collection of installed hardware and view details for any item on the list by using the aptly named Device Manager. Here’s how:

  1. Click Start and open Control Panel.

  2. Double-click the System icon (if your Control Panel is organized by category, click Performance And Maintenance, and then click System).

  3. Select the Hardware tab and then click Device Manager.

Figure 4-3 shows the Device Manager window. The first thing you’ll notice is that all your devices are organized by category. So if you want to find your scanner, look under Imaging Devices.

Figure 4-3. Click the plus sign to the left of each category to see the devices included in that category.

Most of the time, looking through Device Manager is about as exciting as reading the phone book. However, if you’re having trouble with a device, the information you see here can be helpful indeed. Here’s what to look for:

  • Technical information about the installed device and its driver files

    To see these details, right-click the entry for the device and choose Properties from the shortcut menu. This information isn’t just gobbledygook (although it can sometimes seem that way). By looking carefully at the details on the Driver tab, for instance, you can figure out where the driver came from, when it was released, and what its version number is, as shown below. Armed with this information, you can then decide whether the driver available for download from the hardware maker’s Web site is newer than the one you already have.

  • Problem devices

    When a device isn’t working properly, Device Manager indicates the problem by changing the small icon to the left of the device name. A red X over the icon means the device has been disabled. A yellow question mark indicates an unknown device. A yellow exclamation point means the device has another sort of problem, such as a conflict with another installed device. As Figure 4-4 shows, you can enlist Windows to help you find the problem and fix it—right-click the device name, choose Properties, and read the details on the General tab. If a Troubleshoot button is available, click it to see more recommendations that might help you get the device working again.

    Figure 4-4. When Device Manager indicates a problem with a device, open the Properties dialog box for that device and click Troubleshoot.


    Is Windows telling you that you have a resource conflict between two devices? This is most likely to happen when one or both devices are old and don’t fully support the Plug and Play standard. For an explanation of what each of these resources means, open the Help And Support Center and search for the topic entitled “Configuring Devices.” To repair the problem, use Troubleshoot in the Properties dialog box for the device that’s reporting the conflict.

  • Configuration details

    Some devices have settings that you can adjust to improve performance or to solve problems. Network adapters and modems, for instance, are jam-packed with these sorts of options, as illustrated by the example shown below. If you’re having trouble getting a device to work properly, a support professional might suggest that you adjust one or more of these settings to fix the problem.


    If you’re having a problem, don’t start by messing around with the settings in these dialog boxes. Clicking the wrong button or choosing an incompatible option can cause your device to stop working completely, and in some extreme cases can even keep your computer from starting properly. Unless you’re absolutely sure of what each option does, resist the urge to poke around with adavnced settings.

Try This!

If you’ve been using your computer for a while, you might have amassed quite a collection of hardware and drivers without even knowing it. If you ever have a problem with the computer, you may want to know exactly which devices are installed. You can produce a printed report from Device Manager.

  1. Click Start, right-click the My Computer icon, and choose Properties. In the System Properties dialog box, click the Hardware tab and then click Device Manager.

  2. In the Device Manager window, click the computer icon at the top of the list of devices.

  3. From the Action menu, click Print (or click the Printer icon on the toolbar).

  4. In the Print dialog box, select the printer you want to use. Under Report Type, choose the All Devices And System Summary option.

  5. Click Print. Be sure you have enough paper handy! The full report can run 20 pages.

Keep the printout in a safe place along with your Windows XP CD and product ID. Write down the date when you prepared the report. For drivers you downloaded yourself, make a note on the report that lists the version number of the driver and from where you downloaded it.

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