Understanding Device Manager

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By Paul Suiter

One of the most important things an operating system does is to allow your computer's hardware to talk to the software you're running. There are so many kinds of hardware devices made by so many dozens of different manufacturers that getting everything to work together properly can be quite a task. Microsoft incorporated several programs in Microsoft® Windows® 95 and Windows 98 to help users resolve problems, add hardware, and fine-tune and update drivers. Device Manager is one utility that can do all of this. In this article, I'll examine Device Manager, a program that offers powerful management for the allocation of hardware resources and configuration.

Opening Device Manager and Accessing Views

In both the Windows setup and the Add New Hardware utility, devices are configured and given their resources. Device Manager puts all of this together in a helpful package that allows end users to make adjustments within the configuration of the devices. By creating a system that's user friendly, Microsoft has put users in the driver's seat to troubleshoot configuration problems.

There are two ways to open Device Manager:

  1. Right-click My Computer and choose Properties, then click the Device Manager tab.

  2. Open Control Panel, double-click the System icon, then select the Device Manager tab.

Different views are available for the tree listing. By default, Device Manager shows the listing in View Devices By Type. This view lists all of your types of devices in alphabetical order and places the specific device as the next tree level under the type names. You can also choose to have your devices listed in View Devices By Connection, which is organized according to how the various devices in the computer are connected. This list is much shorter. The devices are primarily listed under the Plug and Play BIOS because that's how most devices connect to a computer running Windows. From this tree level, you can access devices that use the BIOS directly. Other devices may be located further down some tree levels. You'll find your video, sound, and other boards in PCI slots under the PCI bus. To see the properties of these components, double-click or highlight the device and then click the Properties button at the bottom left of the window.

Accessing and Changing a Device's Resource Information

Within the Properties window, you can view or change a device's resource information. The General tab offers information about the device's type, manufacturer, hardware version, and status. Some devices may also have another dialog box called Device Usage, which contains options for disabling the device in the hardware profile and for allowing the device to exist in all hardware profiles. These options can be used when you set up multiple hardware profiles for your system.

The Drivers Tab

The Drivers tab contains a list of the driver or drivers that are associated with a device. In some cases you'll see a message stating that there are no drivers associated or needed for the device. If the device is working properly, Windows puts its own driver in control, and there's no need to worry. You can also view the drivers that are being used for the device by clicking the Driver File Details button. You'll see the path and name of the file or files that the driver is using. This window also offers information about the Provider and the File Version, which is useful when you're preparing to update device drivers.

Need to add a new driver that you pulled down from the Internet? Just access the Device Manager and click on the Drivers tab. Then click on the Update Driver button at the bottom right of the window. Next, start the wizard and follow the steps to replace the old driver with the new one.

The Resources Tab

The Resources tab gives you the current configuration of the memory resources allocated to that device. This is also where you need to resolve conflicts between competing devices vying for the same resources. When you open Device Manager, you may notice a yellow exclamation point [!] next to a device. This is a warning that a conflict exists between the device and another system device. Select the properties of the device and click the Resources tab. The name of the device that it's in conflict with will be under the Conflicting devices list box. At this point, you must decide whether to try to resolve the problem yourself or leave it for the help desk. If you want to try it on your own, the process is straightforward and logical.

Be very careful when making changes in Device Manager. You may accidentally disable or change the configuration of a device so that it doesn't work properly. In turn, this may cause your computer not to boot when you restart Windows. Be sure to document all current configuration settings before making the first change to any device.

The Resources tab lists all resources under the Resource settings box. The box is divided into two areas: Resource Type and Setting. Choose the Resource type you want to change (for example, Interrupt Request) by selecting it. Now click the Change Settings button, which will open the Edit window for that particular resource. If the Change Settings button is unavailable, clear the Use Automatic Settings option, and the button will become functional. In some cases, you may find that a modification of some Resource types isn't allowed. If this is the case, try to change the basic configuration value of one that does allow you to make the change. This option will be unavailable if the Use Automatic Settings option is selected. Choose a setting that doesn't conflict with another device by watching the Conflicting information box. If there are other devices in conflict with the setting, they will be displayed. Once you've made your change and there are no further conflicts, click OK, restart Windows, and verify that the new settings are working.

Other Helpful Features

When you're attempting to resolve a conflict, such as adding a new device to your system, and there are conflicts with resources, you can view other devices and change their resources settings. When you're going through the various basic configurations, choose the device with the least number of conflicts. Go to that device within the Device Manager utility and try to change the resource within this device. By adjusting other devices, you may be able to free up a resource that the new device requests.

While making changes to resources for devices in Device Manager, lock the settings when you're done. Windows will dedicate those resources to the device and will not release them for other devices. Plug and Play devices rely on Windows to allocate resources as needed. You may have noticed that Windows sometimes assigns the same resources to multiple devices. This is especially true with the IRQs (Interrupt Requests) because one device can use the IRQ as long as the other device is idle. By making changes in a device's resource settings, you're taking that option away from Windows. If problems arise with devices that were working fine earlier, these changes may be the cause.

Older devices may still use jumper settings. If you have a device that you're changing resources settings on, such as an IRQ, make the change to the device through its jumpers as well as within Device Manager. If you don't, Windows will attempt to talk to the device using the settings stored within Device Manager, but those settings won't match the settings controlled by the jumpers on the device.

The report function is one of the easiest and most useful functions Device Manager offers. There are several reports that are useful for troubleshooting or for preparing a major overhaul of the PC. It is also very convenient when making changes to any resources of a device. The reports can include system settings, a system summary, a selected class or device, or a combination of the devices and a system summary. To print the report that you need, select the Device Manager tab from the System Properties window. Then, click the Print button at the lower right-hand corner of the window and choose the type of report you need. This is a helpful tool—especially before adding a new component. It gives you a run-down of the current system resource usage and makes it easier if something goes wrong with the addition of the new device and you have to backtrack to the original setup.

Device Manager lists several device control settings. Devices such as the CD-ROM, modem, and ports include Settings tabs that allow users to choose options that, in some cases, can only be found under this tab. In the case of the modem devices, you'll find the usual tabs (General, Driver, and Resources) as well as the Modem, Connection, Distinctive ring, and Forwarding tabs.


Working with Device Manager helps users better understand their computer. Device Manager demonstrates the true relationship between the different devices and the way they work together to complete the system, and it offers different ways to view the devices of your computer—by device type or by connection. Finding information on the various devices and making changes also become easy. Finally, Device Manager can provide you with a hard copy of your system to use when adding new hardware or troubleshooting system problems. Device Manager brings your whole system to you in plain English!

Paul Suiter received his first taste of the deadline rush as a photographer for the Montgomery Advertiser, where he earned four photography awards. After receiving degrees in economics and business management from Auburn University, Paul entered the college book business. After managing two bookstores for three years, Paul became a business analyst for EDS. Now, four years later, Paul continues with EDS, taking its equipment apart and working with G3 switches and advanced imaging programs. But he's finally getting back to one of his favorite pastimes—writing. (Of course, he also enjoys spending time with his wife and son.)

The above article is courtesy of TechRepublic http://www.techrepublic.com.

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