The Windows Device Manager is the first place you should use to troubleshooting hardware issues. In this video, you’ll learn how to launch Device Manager and install, manage, and uninstall device drivers.
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If you’ve ever taken a piece of hardware and connected it to your computer for the first time, you’ll notice that Windows doesn’t immediately recognize it. It notices that a new piece of hardware is there. But it has to go through the process of identifying that hardware. And eventually, Windows presents a screen you that says that piece of hardware is now available for you to use.
If you’ve seen that, then you’ve seen device drivers at work. That’s because the operating system, itself, has no idea how to directly interact with the hardware that you’re connecting to your computer. There has to be something in the middle that tells the operating system how to use this hardware. And that thing in the middle is a device driver.
If you wanted to look at device drivers in detail, you’ll notice that there are different versions, depending on the different operating systems that you might be using. If you have a device driver for Windows XP, that’s not going to work in Windows 7. And you also have differences in device drivers whether you’re using a 64-bit version of the operating system or a 32-bit version of the operating system.
There will be completely different device drivers. That’s because each one of those operating systems is a little bit different. So you have to have device drivers that are written specifically for the OS.
You also will notice that if you ever call technical support with a problem saying that I’m having a problem with my video display or my mouse isn’t working properly, one of the first things they’ll ask you to do is update your drivers. That’s because these device drivers are constantly developed. They’re constantly worked on. If there are bugs or new features available, they will wrap them into the latest version of the device driver. So make sure that you have the latest version of drivers running on your computer, and you can sometimes avoid some of the problems that will occur if you’re running something that is an older device driver.
If you want to see how your hardware is performing with these device drivers, you can look at the device management view. And under Device Manager, you can see every piece of hardware that’s on your computer. You can easily find this Device Manager in Computer Management. And you can also start Device Manager right from the command line, running devmgmt.msc.
Let’s look at Device Manager and see what our Windows operating system sees across our entire OS.
In Windows Vista and Windows 7, there’s another way to get to the device manager. You can go to your Start menu. And in your control panel, you will find a Device Manager option right there. So not only can you start it from the command line, you can also find it in your Computer Management. Or it’s right there in the main section of the control panel.
When I start the Device Manager, you’ll see that it brings up a number of devices on the left side. Everything is listed according to a different grouping of devices. So you have Batteries, Computer, Disk Drives, Display Adapters. And notice that everything, by default, is in a collapsed mode, unless there is something that you need to be aware of.
If a device is not working properly, or a device is disabled, you’ll notice that it will automatically be expanded. And you’ll notice, here, that I have a Sound, Video, and Game Controller. And I have disabled the High Definition Audio Device. If we right mouse click on any of these and look at the properties, it will tell you that this device, indeed, is disabled. And I knew it was disabled, because of the little down arrow that’s right next to the icon, next to the High Definition Audio Device.
Inside of the Device Properties, we can enable the device, here. We could also look at the specifics of the driver. And if we wanted to know what version of driver we were running, we can see everything listed here. That way if we wanted to visit the manufacturer’s website for this hardware and look at what version is listed online, we can compare that to the version we might be running in our operating system.
And if you click Driver Details, you can see a lot of details about all of the different files that are used to make this hardware operate. So you can see the drmk.sys, nhdaudio.sys, and et cetera. All of these are necessary to have this device work properly. And unless we have all of the proper drivers in place, this hardware is not going to be able to be used by the Windows operating system. So we want to make sure that everything we need is inside of this driver configuration, and inside of this, we can then make other decisions on what we’d like to do.
For instance, if we had just installed a new version of the driver, we may realize the new version actually is more buggy than the old version. So there’s an option here to roll back the driver if you have already performed one of those upgrades. You can, from here, also enable it, just as you could on the General tab. And if you don’t want this driver here at all, if you want to get rid of the driver inside of your Windows operating system, you click one button, and it will uninstall everything.
Under the Details tab, you can find more information about different components or different aspects of the device driver itself. If you wanted to see the driver assembly date, you can see that information. Let’s choose another variable in here.
Let’s look at the Class Icon Path, and that’s where it will get the icon for this device driver. So a lot of detail in here that you perhaps don’t need to go into if you’re simply using this hardware day to day. But if you’re trying to troubleshoot a problem or enable or disable a driver, this is exactly where you should go.
If you need to install a new driver or update an existing driver, you should go directly to the manufacturer’s website. If you’re searching around the internet, you’ll notice that there were other third party sites that might also offer drivers for download. But if you really want to trust what you’re downloading and what you’re installing on your computer, your best bet is to go directly to the manufacturer’s website. You’ll find that most drivers need administrator access to be installed or updated.
A good example of this is something like a video driver that affects everybody on the computer. You have to have administrator access to be able to get that particular driver installed or updated on your computer. When you install these drivers, you may notice that some drivers are listed as being unsigned, and they’ll pop up a message that says this driver’s unsigned, are you sure you would like to continue?
Every manufacturer who wants to have their driver signed by Microsoft, submits it to Microsoft, who puts it in a lab and confirms that this driver is going to work properly. And then they sign off on it, and your operating system sees that electronic signature as part of the driver. If a manufacturer has not gone through that process, then you notice that pop up box will display. And that doesn’t mean that the driver doesn’t work or that the driver is any worse than any other, it just means that that manufacturer has not cleared it through Microsoft.
You may find that a lot of third party drivers are unsigned. But they still work just fine. You’ll need to test yourself and make sure that those unsigned drivers are what you would like to run in your operating system.
In Windows XP, you can get to the device manager through the computer management screen. You can also perform from the Start menu, choose Run, and perform the devmgmt.msc and start it that way, as well. There’s also, you’ll notice, an option to do this in the Control panel, but it’s not as easy to find as it was in Windows Vista or Windows 7.
If you go to the Control panel, you’ll notice there’s no Device Manager listed as one of those options. But if you choose the System option, and you drill into Hardware, there’s also a button to choose device manager, right there. So a number of different ways that you can get to the same place.
If you notice, I have a number of drivers that were not identified in this version of Windows. I’ve not loaded those drivers yet. You’ll notice there is a question mark, and you’ll notice that there is this exclamation mark in yellow. And if I look at the Properties, you’ll see that this device is not configured correctly. To reinstall the drivers for this device, click Reinstall Driver.
Now I’ve never installed a driver for this particular SCSI controller. But I did go out to the manufacturer’s website, and I downloaded that driver. And I have it on my desktop.
If we look at the details of the driver, you can see that there’s nothing there. There’s no driver provided. There’s no date and no version.
Let’s update the driver right now. And it brings us to a Wizard that takes us and steps us through the process. The first is Welcome to the Hardware Update Wizard. It’s going to search for updated hardware.
And one of the nice features of this is there is a Windows Update Service that this device can go out to the internet, query Microsoft’s database, and download the drivers from there. In this particular case, I’m going to choose No. But if you’re looking for drivers you haven’t downloaded in it yet, and you just want to have Windows find them automatically, you may want to choose yes and have that process continue.
We’re going to choose No, not this time, and choose Next. And it says, this Wizard’s going to help you install software for the SCSI controller. I can either choose to install the software automatically– I may have already preloaded this into Windows using a manufacturer set up program. Or I might have it just as a file, and if I do, I would like to choose this option to install it from a list or from a specific location. And I’m going to choose Next.
It then says it’s going to search for the best driver in these locations, or don’t search, and I will choose the driver to install. One of the things I tend to do is search for the best driver. I can even include a particular location in my search. And you can see there’s my Drivers folder right in the desktop.
This happens to be Windows XP. It is a 32-bit version. So I’ll make sure I choose that one and choose OK. And at that point, I can choose Next, and Windows has now completed the Hardware Update Wizard. It was that fast, and it loaded the driver.
It installed a driver for an LSI Adapter. There’s your SCSI logo, right there on the side, and Ultra 320 SCSI 2000 Series with a 1020 and 1030. We can click Finish.
And notice now that everything has changed. We have a driver version, we have a driver date, we have driver information that’s associated with this, and now we’ll be able to take advantage of that new controller and start accessing any drives that might be physically connected to that controller. Until we installed this device driver, we had no way to access that storage.
Let’s jump back to our Windows 7 Device Manager, quickly. Because if you recall, we had a High Definition Audio Device that was not enabled. It was disabled. And I had done that earlier by simply clicking on the device– right mouse clicking on the device– and choosing Disable. Now, if I right mouse click, I can update device software, I can Enable or I can Uninstall.
So you don’t have to drill down into the Properties of that device. You can do a lot of those features right there, simply by right mouse clicking. I’m going to choose Enable. I will have that particular device enabled.
Notice that the down arrow is no longer there. And now I should be able to hear things in my operating system. Because my audio is now working properly.
Back in Windows XP, the process is almost identical. But the icons look a little bit different. If I was to right mouse click on an Audio Controller and disable it, it will tell me that disabling this device will cause it to stop functioning. Do I really want to disable it? Yes, I do.
Notice that it has not a down arrow next to it, but a red X. So if you’re looking at devices in Windows XP verses Windows Vista or Windows 7, you’ll notice those small differences in the icons. But don’t be thrown. It really just means exactly the same thing. I can simply right mouse click now and re-enable enable that device. And now, it will reset it and now make the audio available, once again, in the operating system.
If you’re having problems with a piece of hardware that’s connected to your computer, you can see that the Device Manager should be your first stop to help determine what might be the problem and perhaps give you a way to resolve the issue.