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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Drivers: Update or Roll 'em Back

Drivers are pieces of software that help Windows communicate with a hardware device. All components (such as sound adapters, chipsets, or hard drives) and peripherals (mouse devices, printers, or webcams) require drivers to work effectively with an operating system.

You can think of the drivers as translators. If you went into a Polish restaurant and ordered pierogies in Warsaw, you wouldn't get very far if the owner didn't speak English. However, if you hired my champion cleaning lady Barbara (who speaks English and Polish, and makes my kitchen sparkle), she would make sure that you made the right choice about the pierogies, that you knew how much to pay, and that you could also convey your enthusiasm for the deliciousness of the meal and order extra sour cream.

That translator role Barbara would play in your pierogi acquisition is analogous to how a driver works between Windows and a device such as a printer or graphics card. When a device malfunctions or doesn't work at all or is not recognized by Windows Vista (and other Windows versions), the problem usually stems from the driver.

So, the first step in any diagnosis is to go into your Device Manager to see what's up. Here's how to do that:

  1. Log in as an administrator.
  2. Click the Windows button and type Device Manager. When Device Manager appears in the Start menu, click it to launch the applet.
  3. Click Continue in the UAC warning, and the Device Manager window launches (see Figure 9.17).
    Figure 9.17

    Figure 9.17 The Device Manager lists all the components and peripherals attached to your system.

Get Jiggy with the Device Manager

Your Device Manager contains all the physical devices connected to your system that use drivers. So, let's get familiar with it. On a healthy system, you'll see a list of all the device types with plus (+) marks next to them in the Device Manager. Click the plus mark, and the category opens up and displays the specific devices on your system that fit that category.

On a system with problems, you will see devices listed with a yellow triangle and exclamation mark in it (see Figure 9.18). This shows that the device has a problem.

Figure 9.18

Figure 9.18 This system's Device Manager shows a problem with a multimedia audio controller. It's actually a Creative X-Fi sound card that has a buggy driver.

The next step here is to determine what kind of device is malfunctioning and why it's malfunctioning. The best-case scenario is when Windows is definitive about the device. If it lists a specific device with a specific brand and model number, all you have to do is right-click and choose Properties to get more information.

On the General tab, you'll see a box labeled Device Status. This typically gives you a good idea as to what's going on with the malfunctioning device (see Figure 9.19).

Figure 9.19

Figure 9.19 On the General tab, you'll see Vista's diagnosis for the malfunctioning device. Typically, it is a missing or incorrect driver.

Usually the message says that the device driver is missing. That's handy because the remedy is simple: Go get a new driver and reinstall it.

Now a caveat here: I almost always circumvent the Vista driver repair routine (by clicking the Reinstall Driver button below the error message) because nine times out of ten, it doesn't work. I'll show you how to do it in a more reliable way in the section "How to Update a Driver," later in this chapter.

However, here's what happens if you click the Reinstall Driver button below the error box. You get a wizard dialog that suggests that you do one of the following:

  • Search automatically for an updated driver.
  • Browse the computer for a driver.

If you send Vista off to automatically search for a driver, it will connect to the Internet and go to the Windows Update routine to see whether there is a driver online that is appropriate and more current than what's on your system now.

If it finds one, it'll download it and attempt to update the system with it. That's in a utopian world (where snacks are free and you never suffer coffee breath when you are kissing your supermodel girlfriend).

Sometimes, though, Vista has no clue what device it is dealing with (see Figure 9.20) and might have classified it as an unknown or "Other Device."

Figure 9.20

Figure 9.20 Sometimes Vista has no clue what the device is, so you have to do a bit of detective work.

Now you have your work cut out for you.

There are five solutions:

  • Investigate it—Chances are, you know what the malfunctioning device is because it's not working. So, your job now is to locate the device brand, make, and model by physically inspecting the device and digging out the manual or box.
  • Unplug USB devices—Often, the mystery device is a badly configured USB device. So, unplug all devices connected to your USB ports one at a time until the troublesome hardware listing disappears from the Device Manager.
  • Update the chipset—It could be possible that the malfunctioning device is a difficult-to-identify chip or appliance inside the system case or attached to the motherboard. If this is the case, the best course of action is to go to the website of the computer maker and see whether there is a chipset update. This is a collection of drivers for all the various computer parts on the system that include the microprocessor and various motherboard bits.
  • Delete it—A handy trick that often solves a device malfunction involves a quick tap of the Delete key. In the Device Manager, simply select the malfunctioning device and delete it. This pops open a Confirm Device Uninstall? box. Click OK, and the device's entry is removed from the Device Manager. Then reboot your system. On bootup, Vista detects the device as a newly installed device and looks through its own driver stores to see whether there is a driver to match. If there is, it installs the driver and repairs the problem.
  • Delete it and the associated driver—When you go to delete a device in Device Manager, when you get the Confirm Device Uninstall box, a check box might appear with a Delete the Driver Software for This Device warning. Check it, and when you delete the device, it removes any affiliated driver, which may help clear the way by removing a corrupt or malfunctioning driver. If you do this, you'll have to install a new driver manually if Vista can't locate one for you when you reboot.

How to Update a Driver

When it comes to updating or installing a driver, I usually skip all the automatic driver detection mechanisms inside Vista and go looking for a driver myself.

This takes a bit of patience and detective work, but it pays off with results. Here's how:

  1. Determine the make, model, and brand of the malfunctioning component. This is the hardest part because consumer-readable part numbers are not always printed on a device, although some of the more user-serviceable components such as PCI cards, graphics and sound adapters, and external components usually have stickers or inscriptions on them someplace that give you a clue as to what they are. Sometimes this information is actually listed in the entry about the device in the Device Manager.
  2. Next, look up the manufacturer of your computer on the Internet, or if you bought the component separately from a retail store, go to the device maker's website. Look for support, downloads, or even a link to drivers. Clever companies such as Lexmark link to them on their home page (see Figure 9.21).
    Figure 9.21

    Figure 9.21 Clever companies link to their drivers from their home page. In this case, access to drivers is linked on the navigation bar on Lexmark.com.

  3. Locate the driver for Windows Vista if it is listed. If not, you might want to see whether a Windows XP driver is available instead. Although not ideal, XP drivers are sometimes an acceptable substitute if Vista drivers are not available.
  4. Download the driver software package to your desktop or to a folder that you can locate later.

Driver Downloaded! Now Comes the Hard Work

After the file is downloaded, you may proceed a couple of ways depending on the file type (see the preceding sidebar for a demystification of this). If the driver comes with a setup file, double-click it to start an auto-install of the driver. Often, helper applications (such as printer applets or video adapter control panels) also install in this process. When it is finished, you may be prompted for a reboot. Even if you aren't prompted, reboot anyway to refresh the system.

If the driver doesn't have an installation routine, just extract it to a folder because there's a bit more work to be done. Here's how to proceed in that case:

  1. Remember where you extracted the driver files to. I usually extract them to a folder in Documents or to a folder I create on the Desktop called "Drivers."
  2. Next, click the Windows button, type Device Manager, and click it to open it when it appears in the Windows menu.
  3. Locate the device in the equipment list that needs a new or updated driver, right-click on it, and choose Update Driver Software (see Figure 9.22).
    Figure 9.22

    Figure 9.22 You can initiate a driver update from the context menu in Device Manager.

  4. In the dialog box that pops open, select Browse My Computer for Driver Software. On the next screen, use the Browse button to locate the folder where you downloaded the driver files and check the Include Subfolders check box; then click Next.
  5. At this point, Vista looks in the folder you have selected to locate the available drivers and either chooses the best one and auto-installs it, or queries you about which one you want to use. If no drivers appear in the folder, you might have to locate a different driver or ensure that you are pointing at the correct folder.

In Case of Emergency: Roll Back the Driver

Sometimes drivers have bugs, too, so if a buggy new driver becomes available, it can cause havoc when installed. If this happens, you might want to roll back to an older driver:

  1. Go back into your Device Manager and right-click the device with a misbehaving driver.
  2. Choose Properties; then select the Driver tab.
  3. Next, look for the Roll Back Driver button (see Figure 9.23). If a previous generation of driver is available, you can click the button and the system will dump the existing driver and reinstall the older version.
Figure 9.23

Figure 9.23 If a driver doesn't work properly, you can always go back to a previous version by rolling it back.

This should be a temporary fix, because you'll want to come back later and install a newer driver when the device maker issues yet another new driver to replace the buggy version that caused the problem in the first place.

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