Windows NT and Hardware

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By Stu Sjouwerman and Ed Tittel

Chapter 4 from Windows NT Power Toolkit, published by New Riders Publishing

The Windows NT Workstation network client operating system has specific system requirements for it to function properly. In this chapter, we discuss the hardware requirements for running Windows NT Workstation. In addition, we explore adding new hardware to an existing Windows NT system, and we examine several tools you can use to inspect, configure, and troubleshoot hardware.

On This Page

Windows NT Hardware 101
The Roles Drivers Play
Document Your Current Hardware Configuration
Adding New Hardware
Windows NT for Laptops
Multiple CPUs and Windows NT
Third-Party Hardware Utilities
For More Information

Windows NT Hardware 101

Although Windows NT is a powerful network operating system, not all hardware can be used with it. These hardware restrictions are based on several aspects, including the following:

  • Windows NT is a complex program that requires robust hardware.

  • Windows NT is security-oriented and requires securable hardware.

Windows NT was not designed with most entertainment or personal uses in mind, such as gaming, full-screen videos, graphical design, and music editing. Therefore, Windows NT doesn't have built-in support for such hardware.

These limitations are important for several reasons. First, if you attempt to install Windows NT on unsupported hardware, the installation may fail. Second, if you are able to get Windows NT to function on unsupported hardware, you might not be eligible for Microsoft technical support. Third, Windows NT might function for a while on unsupported hardware, but applying new or updated drivers or service packs may render the system unusable. Hardware that once worked could cease to function because service packs make these types of system changes.

To help you determine what hardware is supported, Microsoft has compiled and maintained a list of compatible devices. This list is known as the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). It is included on the Windows NT CD and the TechNet CD-ROM, and it is available online at This list focuses on the fundamental hardware components supported by Windows NT, and is not exhaustive of all available components on the market. The HCL lists information about device types, some of which are shown in the following list. (To view a complete listing, download the HCL from the Microsoft Web site.)

  • CPU (single and multiple)

  • System (motherboards)

  • Storage devices (hard drive, CD, tape, and so on)

  • Storage controllers (IDE, SCSI, RAID, and so on)

  • Network devices and interfaces

  • Video (cards and monitors)

  • Input devices (keyboard, mouse, and so on)

  • Modems

  • Printers

  • Audio

  • UPS

  • International devices

The HCL indicates whether a listed device is fully supported, partially supported, or not supported. Furthermore, it indicates whether the device drivers are included on the Windows NT Workstation CD, are available from Microsoft, or are available from the device's manufacturer or vendor.

What's in a Service Pack?

A service pack is a collection of code replacements, patches, error corrections, new applications, version improvements, and service-specific configuration settings that correct or replace problems in the original release of a product.

Installing Non-HCL Devices

If you want to throw caution to the wind and install devices not listed on the HCL, be sure to search the manufacturer's or vendor's Web site to see whether the device is compatible with Windows NT. In some cases, new hardware is supported by Windows NT (via a compatible driver on the Windows NT Workstation CD or a new driver from the vendor) that has yet to be added to the HCL. If the device is supported in Windows NT, you may be able to obtain technical support from the equipment manufacturer or Microsoft.

Always make sure that your core system components are on the HCL. The core components are the CPU, motherboard, memory, storage devices, and storage controllers. Typically, if you employ a supported CPU, you'll be forced into using a supported motherboard and memory. But take the time to verify those, too, just in case. Other items, such as the keyboard, mouse, video card, and monitor don't necessarily need to be fully compatible, but you should have fully compatible spares handy in case the components cannot be used with Windows NT.

If you are using storage devices or storage controllers that are supported, but for which drivers are not included on the Windows NT Workstation CD, the default method of installing Windows NT, which attempts to install the storage drivers automatically, may not be successful. Instead, you should choose to install the vendor-_supplied storage drivers manually. We recently purchased a new dual-CPU system with an embedded Adaptec AIC-7895P Ultra and Ultra Wide SCSI on the motherboard. When the installation started to switch into GUI mode, a STOP error occurred. We skipped auto storage detection and manually specified the drivers, and then the installation was completed successfully.

Checking Hardware for NT Compatibility

Another important step is to make sure your hardware is Windows NT compatible. If your hardware is older than August 1996, you can use the Windows NT Hardware Qualifier (NTHQ) to verify hardware compatibility. The NTHQ is an automatic inspection tool used to inspect a computer system for HCL compatibility. It is found on the Windows NT Workstation CD in the \Support\Hqtool folder. However, if you have hardware that is newer than the NTHQ, the tool becomes useless because Microsoft has not offered an updated version of the NTHQ. If you use the version from the Windows NT Workstation CD, you'll only verify that your system was compatible as of August, 1996. Because more than two years of technology advancement has occurred since that time, you'd just be wasting your time. The only method currently available to check for HCL compatibility is to manually check your hardware against the HCL.

Fortunately, most non-custom, pre-built systems from big-name manufacturers (such as those from Dell, Compaq, HP, and Micron) are certified as Windows NT compatible. You should have no problem installing Windows NT onto these systems right out of the box. However, custom-built systems (whether they're built in-house or from a local vendor) offer less security of HCL compatibility. If a component is not supported or causes Windows NT to fail, you'll be responsible for returning to the vendor to purchase replacement parts instead of getting the vendor to perform the replacement under warranty (that is, if the system is labeled as Windows NT _compatible).

In a production environment, HCL compatibility is of premium importance. Having to fight with components to maintain a functioning system is expensive in terms of time and productivity. Outside of critical production, such as on test, personal, or home systems, HCL deviancy is not as detrimental. We recommend that you stick with components listed on the HCL in any situation in which a downed system can cost you money or customers. You'll need to be the judge of your own time and sanity regarding whether HCL compatibility on non-critical systems is worthwhile. We've spent so many sleepless nights and lost so many weekends to messing with non-HCL devices that we don't even think twice anymore. If it's not on the HCL, it's not going into a Windows NT system.

Minimal Hardware Requirements

In addition to making sure that all your hardware is compatible with Windows NT, you need to make sure that your system meets a few minimum requirements before installing Windows NT. Table 4.1 lists the minimum hardware requirements (according to the Windows NT Workstation 4.0 documentation) and recommended hardware requirements (according to industry professionals) for installing Windows NT Workstation 4.0 on a PC.

Table 4.1 Windows NT Workstation Minimum and Recommended Hardware Requirements





x86 33Mhz

Pentium or higher



16MB or more

Display adapter


VGA or better

Hard disk space


120MB or more

Additional drives

3.5-inch disk drive and CD-ROM

3.5-inch disk drive and CD-ROM

The Roles Drivers Play

Windows NT relies on device drivers to provide system-level control over hardware components. A device driver is a low-level software component that provides an interface between the language and control mechanisms of the operating system with the functions and capabilities of the device. Every device that can be accessed, controlled, or used by the Windows NT system has an associated driver loaded into active _memory.

The Devices applet in the Control Panel lists the installed drivers, their status, and their startup value (see Figure 4.1). The list of drivers includes all the generic drivers for each type of core system component, as well as any special or custom installed drivers. Only about half the drivers actually installed are ever active. This is due to duplicate drivers (such as device-specific drivers and generic drivers for video cards) and drivers without matching hardware (such as the PCMCIA driver). The status of a driver indicates whether the driver is loaded and active (started) or not loaded (blank). The startup parameter defines how the driver is activated. Possible values are _listed here:

  • Boot. Drivers set to Boot are loaded when the system starts and before other drivers are loaded. This setting is used for drivers critical to initial system _operation.

  • System. Drivers set to System are loaded when the system starts and after all Boot drivers are loaded. This setting is used for drivers critical to general system operation.

  • Automatic. Drivers set to Automatic are loaded when the system starts and after all Boot and System drivers are loaded. This setting is used for required drivers not essential to system operation.

  • Manual. Drivers set to Manual are not loaded when the system starts, but can be loaded manually by clicking the Startup button in the Devices applet or started automatically by a dependent device.

  • Disabled. Drivers set to Disabled are not loaded at system startup, and users are prevented from starting the device. However, the system can still start Disabled devices if necessary.


Figure 4.1: The Devices applet in the Control Panel.

You can also use the Devices applet to configure hardware profiles. A hardware profile is a collection of drivers specific to a hardware configuration. Hardware profiles are most often used on portable or notebook computers that can be attached to a network, use a modem, have a docking station, have swappable drives, or use PCMCIA cards or PC cards. A hardware profile is used for each different component configuration so only those drivers needed for the present devices are loaded. This not only speeds the system by not loading unused drivers, it also reduces system errors by not loading drivers when the associated hardware is not present or active.

You can also use hardware profiles to disable devices even when they are present. For example, a notebook computer that gains Internet access via a modem when on the road and via the company LAN when in the office may use one hardware profile to disable the modem when connected to the LAN and another to disable the NIC when travelling. The modem would still work when the computer is at the office, but because the modem would be disabled, the system would always use the LAN to connect to the Internet instead of attempting to dial the modem.

You initially create hardware profiles through the System applet on the Hardware Profiles tab (see Figure 4.2). Simply select an existing profile and click Copy. After copying the profile, make any necessary changes for that profile and save it under a new name. When two or more profiles exist on a system, you'll be prompted upon each bootup to select the profile you want to use for that session. You can select which drivers are enabled and disabled for each profile through the Devices applet.


Figure 4.2: The System applet.

From within the Devices applet, select the driver to manage from the list, and then click the HW Profiles button. This displays the Device dialog box, where the status of the selected driver is listed for each existing hardware profile. Select a profile and click Enable or Disable to change its status. The changes you make to a profile will not take effect until the next time the system is booted with that profile.

Document Your Current Hardware Configuration

Knowing your system's components is an important part of maintaining a functioning environment. Just as a surgeon can't aid you if he doesn't know anatomy, neither can you administer a system without knowing the devices within it. It is important that you maintain an accurate account of the devices, configurations, drivers, and other related items. Having documentation at hand can save time and effort when you're configuring or troubleshooting.

Windows NT does not include an exhaustive inventory utility that can print a complete list of your system components. However, a few tools can offer you some insight to expound on your own exploration. First, you need to create a list of the hardware components manually. You need to know the type, make, model, and general specifications of each piece of hardware. Be sure to collect this data for every device inside of or connected to your computer, including the following:

  • CPU

  • Motherboard

  • Memory

  • Storage controllers

  • Storage devices (hard disk drives, floppy drives, CD-ROM drives, tape drives, and so on)

  • Video card, monitor

  • Sound card, speakers

  • Network interface card, network media (cable)

  • Modem

  • Printer

  • Keyboard, mouse

Having done that, you need to add information about where you obtained drivers for each device: from the Windows NT Workstation CD, a manufacturer-supplied disk, or a file from a Web or FTP site.

Next, list all details about the hardware- or software-based configuration for each device. Include items such as to which bus port it is connected, any jumper or dip switch settings, connected cables (both internal and external), existence or absence of terminators and other device-specific settings, and any software-controlled BIOS _settings. Some devices require that you boot into MS-DOS (whether on a dual-boot system or from a floppy) and then use an MS-DOS configuration tool to set BIOS settings (some 3Com NICs are this way). The more data you collect and record, the less you'll need to search for it later during a crisis. It's a good idea to have all of this information in one place; that way, when you're troubleshooting, you know where to go to look for such information.

This information is the start of an ever-expanding collection of data about your computer system. We like to call this collection of data a computer information file (CIF). In addition to a device inventory and configuration details, you need to include copies of all drivers, device manuals, and a maintenance log for every device in your CIF. Anything and everything that's ever used to install, configure, decipher, explain, research, or troubleshoot any component or aspect of your computer system should be included in the CIF.

Within Windows NT, you can employ a few tools to extract some configuration data from the Windows NT environment. The most obvious of these tools is the Windows NT Diagnostics (WINMSD.EXE) tool (discussed in Chapter 2). The data from this utility can be printed out or saved to a file using the Print Report or Save Report command from the File menu. Several Control Panel applets (such as Keyboard, Modems, Display, Mouse, Multimedia, Network, PC Card, Ports, Printers, SCSI Adapters, Tape Devices, Telephony, and UPS) offer information about hardware. In general, these applets will help you discover the installed drivers, BIOS version, and current settings. For further information on the Control Panel applets, refer to Chapter 6 "Windows NT Control Panel Utilities."

If you want to avoid writing out the hardware inventory by hand or even creating your own database to organize the details, you can employ Hardware Organizer from PrimaSoft (shown in Figure 4.3). This tool is designed to help you maintain an exhaustive inventory of every component within your system. It includes fields for nearly everything you could ever think of recording. Not only can you create a well-organized database of information with this tool, but you can export that data into Web-ready HTML documents, easy-to-read reports, or informational labels. The templates provided that store data are fully customizable. In addition, this tool is Internet-enhanced to give you immediate access to online resources for drivers, documentation, and troubleshooting tips. If you're interested, you can download a trial version from the PrimaSoft PC Software Web site at


Figure 4.3: Hardware Organizer from PrimaSoft.

Adding New Hardware

Windows NT provides only two options for installing new hardware. Either Windows NT provides a Control Panel applet for the device type, or the manufacturer provides a Windows NT installation utility. Unlike Windows 95 and Windows 98, Windows NT does not include an Add New Hardware applet.

Windows NT makes provisions for installation of the following types of devices into an existing system using the Control Panel applets:

  • Video cards and monitors

  • Keyboards

  • Modems

  • Mice and other pointing devices

  • Multimedia components (audio, video, joysticks, and so on)

  • Network adapters, protocols, and services

  • PC cards

  • Printers

  • SCSI adapters and controllers

  • Tape devices

  • UPSs

For devices not listed previously, such as a specialty hard drive, a CD-ROM or other optical drive, or a SCSI device (hard drive, CD-ROM, scanner, and so on), you'll need to use a manufacturer-supplied installation utility. Even if Windows NT includes a related applet for installation, many devices can be installed successfully using only the manufacturer's installation utility. When in doubt, seek out the manufacturer for installation instructions and, when available, their own installation utility. In most cases, you'll have fewer problems with the vendor's installation than if you try to force the limited Windows NT applets into performing installations they aren't quite capable of.

Removing the Old Drivers

Windows NT is a bit adverse to changes in the composition of the hardware on its host system. In other words, removing old drivers from Windows NT is nearly impossible, and adding new devices is often difficult. The Devices applet does not offer a remove or uninstall function. Your only recourse is to set the Startup value to Disabled or Manual to prevent the driver from loading during startup.

Some of you may think that you can get around this limitation by deleting the driver files and hacking the Registry. If you are so bold, go for it. But we strongly caution against such action. Driver files are not always labeled clearly, nor can you be positive that some other device or service does not require the file. Plus, how can you be sure that you've removed all the related files for a particular device? In addition, the driver-related items in the Registry are not all located in the same areas and are not stored under "device" or "driver" labeled keys. Undertaking a search and destroy mission in the Registry is often dangerous.

In most cases, old drivers will just sit on your system unused. In a few situations, drivers can be removed if the vendor provided an installation routine that records an installation log and includes an uninstall option. The uninstall routine can appear as an item in the Start menu or as an entry in the Add/Remove Programs applet in the Control Panel. Otherwise, you should simply disable the driver rather than attempting to extradite it from the system.

Adding new hardware to an existing system can be tricky. As with adding new devices to any computer system, you first need to verify that the new component will not cause resource conflicts before you physically install it. This means checking requirements for IRQ, I/O address, DMA, and memory. The Windows NT Diagnostics tool's Resources tab is a great place to check for available (free or unused) system resources (see Figure 4.4).

Next, you need to locate the drivers for the device. This is actually where adding new hardware can become a problem.


Figure 4.4: The Windows NT Diagnostics tool's Resources tab.

Adding New Drivers

Windows NT is not perfect right out of the box. In the two plus years since its release, several updates to the base network operating system have been distributed. These are known as service packs and hotfixes (see Chapter 23 for details). These update patches change core components of the operating system as well as the device drivers it uses. Windows NT configures its HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) during initial installation based on the presence of the core system hardware components. Changing these base system components (such as CPU type or number, BIOS version, and motherboard speed) usually results in an nonviable operating system.

After you install a service pack, you should use only drivers from that service pack for installing new hardware devices. Attempting to use drivers released before the service pack or on the Windows NT Workstation CD can result in device inoperability, intermittent failure, or system level STOP errors. When you add new devices to a Windows NT system, always visit the device manufacturer's or the vendor's Internet site to look for new or updated drivers for Windows NT. If no drivers are found, attempt to pull drivers from the installed service pack and then from the Windows NT Workstation CD.

To pull a driver from a service pack, you must extract all the files from the service pack file. To do so, you issue the command nt4sp4.exe x (or a similar command based on the actual filename of the service pack) from a command prompt or using the Run command from the Start menu. The x parameter instructs the setup routine to request an extraction directory and then extract all files into that directory without launching the installation procedure. When the files are extracted, you can specify the extraction directory in any dialog box that requests files from the Windows NT Workstation CD. If the file is not found, you can specify the Windows NT Workstation CD.

After you install a new driver, you should reboot immediately. This causes Windows NT to attempt to load the new driver. If startup fails, you can employ the Last Known Good Configuration (LKGC) boot option by pressing the spacebar when prompted. This should return your system to the state of the last successful logon. If you are able to log on to the system but the driver does not enable the device, the LKGC will not be useful because the LKGC is overwritten each time a logon is successful. Always reboot after adding a new driver or changing a driver configuration. Another tip is to make only a single change each time. Otherwise, you will not know what change to your system caused any problems that might occur.

You may also want to take extra precautions when adding new drivers to your system. Backing up data on drives that may be affected by the driver change is wise. Also, updating your Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) by issuing the rdisk /s command gives you a way out if your startup files are damaged. Finally, backing up the Registry may prove useful if you need to repair, replace, or restore a segment of the Registry that's damaged or changed by the driver installation process. Keep in mind that the most often recommended troubleshooting solution for Windows NT is reinstallation. So, taking every precaution to avoid that unpleasantry is a mark of an intelligent administrator.

Windows NT and Plug and Play

You need to be aware of two other issues when working with hardware under Windows NT: Plug and Play and BIOS configuration. Windows NT does not support the Plug and Play model. Plug and Play is a technology used to detect and configure hardware devices automatically during bootup. However, because there are so many Plug and Play devices on the market, Microsoft included a workaround for those willing to handle the problems that can arise when installing Plug and Play hardware in Windows NT.

Pulling drivers

Always be sure to pull drivers from the same release number, security bit length, and language version of the service pack that is installed on the system. Doing otherwise can result in problems with no resolution.

The workaround is a Plug and Play driver that enables Windows NT to read the BIOS of Plug and Play devices, but not configure them automatically. This improves the range of devices that can be installed under Windows NT. You can find the Plug and Play (PnP) driver on the original Windows NT installation CD in the \Drvlib\Plug and Playisa\x86 folder. It's called PNPISA.SYS. However, if you have applied a service pack, you should use the Plug and Play driver from the extracted service pack files. To install the Plug and Play driver, right-click the PLUG AND PLAYISA.INF file accompanying the .SYS file, and then select Install from the pop-up menu. Be sure to reboot immediately after installation.

Repeated Prompts

You'll need to know how to deal with a few quirks related to the Plug and Play driver. The driver will scan the system for unknown or new devices during each startup. If a device is found, Windows NT attempts to apply existing (already installed) drivers to the device. If that fails, you'll be prompted to provide drivers from the Windows NT Workstation CD or from a manufacturer-provided disk. You also have the options of telling Windows NT to skip driver installation this time and prompt at the next startup, or to completely ignore the device and never prompt again. When prompted for driver files, you should first attempt to use manufacturer-provided files. If those don't work or exist, you should try the extracted service pack files or, finally, try the Windows NT Workstation CD.

In most cases, after the driver is installed, you'll never see the prompt again. However, we've experienced several problems with notebook displays that caused the Plug and Play driver prompt to occur every time the system booted. We disabled the driver through the Devices applet by changing its setting to Disabled. This stopped the annoying prompt, but it stopped the autodetection of new Plug and Play devices as well. A second problem is that the driver is not perfect. Often, it discovers devices that are purposely dormant, such as a bus mouse connector on a motherboard when a serial mouse is in use, or it will not discover other devices, such as external modems.

When nonexistent or unnecessary devices are detected, you should either instruct the system to not prompt you again or disable the Plug and Play driver. If real Plug and Play devices are not detected, you'll need to perform driver installation through normal means. A final problem with the Plug and Play driver is that it still does not add the capability to configure Plug and Play BIOS settingswhich returns us to the second hardware issue we mentioned earlier.

Problems with BIOS Configuration

The Plug and Play driver for Windows NT may pose problems for devices that are BIOS configurable. These devices do not have physical switches or settings, but rely on a chip to perform all configuration settings. These BIOS settings can be changed only through a configuration tool. When Plug and Play is involved, these settings are automatically set by the Plug and Play-compliant operating system. When Windows NT and the Plug and Play driver are present, the first possible configuration settings are used whether they cause conflicts or not. Windows NT is not able to alter the BIOS settings of devices due to its built-in hardware security restrictions.

Working around this limitation can be difficult. First, you need to determine the initial default settings of the device. Then determine if these settings can be retained by changing the settings of other devices (although this moves the configuration problem to another device, another device may have physical controls instead of BIOS only). If not, you need to locate an MS-DOS-based configuration tool from the manufacturer. One device type we've performed this on over and over again is the 3Com network interface card. The driver disk includes a great MS-DOS configuration tool that can be used to set the BIOS as well as perform diagnostics on the device. You should look for this type of tool for every device that has BIOS configurations.

If you are unable to move other devices and no MS-DOS configuration utility is available, you still have one final option. First, disable the Plug and Play driver, and then power down the Windows NT system. Locate a Windows 95 or Windows 98 system. Install the device in the Windows 95/98 system in the same position (bus slot, SCSI order, and so on) as it would be in the Windows NT system. This works best on a dual-boot system, but it can work when two separate machines are used. In the case of a dual-boot system, you don't need to move the card because it will already be physically installed. Boot the system, and then allow Windows 95/98 to install the device. On the Windows 95/98 system, select the Device Manager tab (shown in Figure 4.5) from the System applet, locate the device in the list, open its Properties dialog box, and select its Resources tab. Deselect the Use Automatic Settings check box, and then modify the settings to match those needed on the Windows NT system. When you finish changing the settings, power down the system and move the device back into the Windows NT system (or, in a dual-boot configuration, reboot into Windows NT). The device should then work fine in Windows NT.

Some of the Control Panel applets, such as the Multimedia applet, allow you to open a Settings or Resources dialog box for a device. You can change the settings displayed in these dialog boxes. However, changing them changes only the Windows NT system; it does not modify the BIOS settings. The ability to change the settings through these dialog boxes is for the purpose of matching the Windows NT system's driver interface with the actual device settings.


Figure 4.5: The Device Manager tab of the System applet from Windows 98.

Video Driver

Windows NT's video system can be a bit troublesome. During the initial installation, the default drivers for standard VGA are used. This results in a display area of 640[infin]480 or 800[infin]600 with only 16 colors. Although this may be fine for installation, it is typically not very conducive to ongoing human interaction with the system. Therefore, you'll need to install additional video drivers to obtain better resolutions and color depth. How video drivers are actually installed is different for each video card vendor. You would think they would all comply with Windows NT's standard method of installation via the Settings tab of the Display applet, but they don't. You need to read the documentation that accompanies the video card to determine how the drivers should be installed. If the documentation fails to mention Windows NT, you need to visit the vendor's Web site or contact them by phone. We are amazed at how many video cards require special installation instructions for Windows NT.


There are typically two methods of installing video drivers. It is important to use only the method prescribed by the vendor; otherwise, you never correctly install the driver. We've had to reinstall Windows NT to correct video driver problems before, so take our advicelook for documentation first. No matter which installation method you use, you should always set the system to standard VGA (VGA compatible display drivers) first, before attempting to install new drivers. As always, reboot before installing new drivers.

The two methods for installing video drivers are:

  • Use the Display applet's Settings tab

  • Use a manufacturer-supplied installation utility

In most cases, the video cards you are using are newer than Windows NT. This means that the drivers included on the Windows NT Workstation CD are not designed for your video cards. Thus, you should always seek out new or updated drivers before attempting to use the old drivers from the Windows NT Workstation CD. This is especially true if you have already applied a service pack.

When you're installing from the Display applet, don't use the Detect button unless the video card's documentation specifically instructs you to do so. Instead, use the Change button and specify the disk or the service pack expanded file directory. After the drivers are installed, be sure to reboot.

If the vendor provides an installation routine, attempting to install the driver via the Display applet will often fail. Be sure all programs are closed before you launch the installation utility. Some of these tools simply automate the Display applet configuration, whereas others perform a system level installation with direct Registry changes. Either way, let the tool perform its work to completion unhindered, and then reboot.

If you are working with a Plug and Play video card designed for Windows 95 or 98, you may experience difficulties installing the driver on Windows NT. Sometimes, just trying the recommended installation process a second or third time resolves the problem. If not, you need to attempt the Plug and Play configuration solutions mentioned earlier to alter the resource settings in the BIOS. If the video drivers still fail to load, you'll need to contact the vendor for further instructions or try reinstalling Windows NT with the new hardware in place.

Video Driver Tools

Tools for working with video drivers are fairly scarce and are typically available only for a specific video card and driver pair. This means you need to check the vendor's Web site for utilities to enhance your video experience.

As for generic utilities, you can find screen savers, wallpaper images, movie players, and even video conferencing software just by looking at any of our favorite shareware and software sites:

Working with the Display

The Windows NT Display applet has four tabs in addition to the Settings tab: Background, Screen Saver, Appearance, and Plus! Use of these tabs is fairly straightforward, and you are probably already thoroughly familiar with them. If not, check the online Help, the Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 Resource Kit, or TechNet. However, you need to keep the following things in mind when working with the Display applet:

  • A solid background color uses less video resources than a pattern, which uses less video resources than wallpaper. For systems with an older video card or low video memory (fewer than 2MB), try to stick with solid color backgrounds.

  • Screen savers should be employed only on systems that do not perform tasks when in sleep mode. If your Windows NT system hosts Web pages or an FTP site, performs a backup, runs a defragmentation program, or even downloads files from the Internet automatically, avoid using graphic-intensive screen savers. The Open GL 3-D screen savers included with Windows NT can tax the CPU up to 90 percent, causing background tasks to effectively operate at roughly 1/20th their normal speed.

  • The Plus! options all require more video resources and some CPU cycles to function. Use the visual settings sparingly on low-end systems.

  • Unless required, try to stick to 256KB or 65KB colors instead of True Color (16.7 million) or greater color depth. The higher the color depth, the less resolution can be obtained and the more video resources are used. On video cards with 8MB of onboard RAM, this may not be much of a problem.

  • When selecting refresh frequencies, always use the Test button to verify that your selections will function. You should also check the monitor's documentation to discover what frequencies are supported. On some monitors, using the wrong frequency can damage the electronics of the display.

  • The List All Modes button on the Settings tab lists all of the combinations of resolution, color depth, and frequency supported by the video card and driver combo, but this does not mean they are supported by your monitor. Always check the monitor's documentation and test the settings before you accept them.

In case you make a change to the Display applet (whether to the video driver, color scheme, wallpaper, or whatever) and it results in an unintelligible display, there is a recovery method. You'll need to reboot by either resetting the power (not recommended) or using the keyboard to instruct the system to shutdown and restart. Two key sequences work for this:

  • Ctrl+Esc, Up Arrow, Enter, Alt+R, Enter

  • Ctrl+Alt+Delete, S, R, Enter

When the system starts to reboot, watch for the boot menu. Select the menu item labeled Windows NT Workstation Version 4.00 [VGA mode]. This boots the system using the default VGA compatible driver. You'll see a display of 640[infin]480 resolution and 256 color depth. From the VGA mode boot, you can reset the video settings or install a new driver.

Audio Card Installation

Windows NT was not really designed with multimedia, specifically audio, in mind. Windows NT is a work-oriented network operating system that's not intended for desktop audio. However, it offers enough of a multimedia support structure that it is possible to get Windows NT to perform most multimedia and audio functions. The real trick is finding the right drivers and getting them installed.

We've had the most success with the Creative Labs line of Sound Blaster products under Windows NT. Other vendors' audio products can work under Windows NT, but we've learned to stick with what works rather than going out exploring. In any case, you should always visit the vendor's Web site for updated drivers and installation instructions.

Most audio cards are Plug and Play. Thus, you'll need to install the PLUG AND PLAYISA.SYS driver (described earlier in this chapter in the section "Windows NT and Plug and Play") before installing the drivers for the card. But, before you do this, be sure to have the audio card's extracted drivers on hand, because when the system reboots, it will detect the card and request drivers.

If your audio card is not detected automatically, you still have two options for installing the drivers. Some manufacturers provide an installation utility; if they do, get it and use it. Otherwise, you'll need to use the Multimedia applet's Devices tab (see Figure 4.6) to install the drivers. The Add button displays a list of the known supported media devices from August 1996. If you select one of these, be sure to provide the path to the extracted service pack files in the Install Driver dialog box. From the list of devices, you can select "Unlisted or Updated Driver" to use newly obtained drivers. Once again, be sure you've already extracted the files supplied by the manufacturer before starting the installation process.


Figure 4.6: The Devices tab of the Multimedia applet.

Storage Devices

Storage devices are a key component of a functioning operating system. They host not only the operating system itself, but all your data files. Understanding your storage system and its limitations is an important element in administration. The Disk Administrator is the primary tool by which storage devices are managed (see Chapter 2). Windows NT Explorer and My Computer offer some storage device management functions, but these focus on operations within existing parameters, such as formatting, working with directories, and moving, copying, and deleting files. In addition to these basic operations, you need to be familiar with several underlying issues to properly manage your storage subsystems.

The SCSI Adapters applet is the tool used to install drivers for storage device controller cards. You install both SCSI and ATI (IDE, UDMA, and EIDE) type controller cards through this applet. The Drivers tab offers an Add button that reveals a list of supported adapters. Drivers released since August 1996 can be installed via the Have Disk button.

In most cases, hard drives attached to a properly installed controller card will function without additional drivers (assuming that their jumpers are set properly). However, some specialty drives with advanced features (encryption, RAID, buffering, and so on) require drivers that can be installed only using a vendor-supplied installation utility. Other types of storage devices (CD-ROM drives, tape drives, optical drives, and other removable media drives) require drivers, and these can be installed only using a vendor-supplied installation utility.

Installing New Drives

Installing new drives can cause problems. For example, adding a new SCSI drive to an existing SCSI chain of drives can offset the ARC names of those drives. Windows NT counts drives in a SCSI chain in the order of their SCSI ID numbers (0 through 7 or 0 through 14, depending on the SCSI controller card) not their attached sequence. This means that adding a new SCSI drive with an ID between two existing drives will change the drive letters of existing drives. This can cause drive lettering changes. If the bumped drives host Windows NT system files, you'll need to modify the BOOT.INI file's Advanced RISC Computer (ARC) name to reflect the change. (The BOOT.INI file and ARC names are discussed in detail in Chapter 5.)

It is good practice to set the IDs of SCSI devices in sequential order without skipping any number, using the values starting with 0 and continuing through 6. The SCSI adapter itself is often set with an ID of 7 by default. Setting SCSI IDs in sequential order will prevent the domino effect from occurring when new drives are added. If you add an IDE drive to a system that uses only SCSI drives, the system might not boot. Computers in the x86 family almost always attempt to boot from IDE drives first and then from SCSI. If you need additional drive space on a SCSI system, stick with SCSI drives or you may be forced to completely reconfigure or reinstall the operating system.

Creating Partitions

When you install a new hard drive, you must partition it before data can be stored on it. Most often, you will use Disk Administrator to partition drives. Keep in mind that primary partitions take priority in automatic drive letter assignment over logical drives in extended partitions. When you install a new drive and decide to partition it, you may want to use an extended partition instead of a primary to reduce the drive letter shuffling. In any case, it is always best to assign the drive letters instead of letting Windows NT automatically deal out letters. After you assign a drive letter (even if this means assigning the letter that Windows NT already gave the partition by default), Windows NT will not change it if you create new partitions.

If you change the partitioning on an existing drive, especially on the drive hosting the boot and system partitions for Windows NT, you'll change the ARC path for that partition. Fortunately, Disk Administrator will warn you and instruct you exactly how to change the BOOT.INI file to correct for this. Be sure to follow the Disk Administrator's warning before you restart the system, or you will not be able to boot.

Editing BOOT.INI

Remember to open the BOOT.INI properties and deselect Read Only before attempting to edit the BOOT.INI file. We discuss the BOOT.INI file in detail in Chapter 5.

When you first configure your system to install Windows NT, create a boot partition (the partition where the main Windows NT system files will be stored) of at least 1GB. In our network environment, we've discovered that a boot partition of 512MB or less quickly results in lots of out of drive space errors. We also recommend moving the paging file to a different partition (preferably on a different physical drivesee Chapter 20) and moving the print spooler directory (discussed in Chapter 22). You can use FDISK (an MS-DOS application) or the Windows NT setup routine to create the partition for the system files. Note that FDISK is not able to create partitions greater than 2GB in size.

Support for New Interfaces

Windows NT 4.0 does not include support for IrDA (Infrared Data Association's IR communications standards), USB (Universal Serial Bus), or FireWire (IEEE 1394). If you purchase a computer that includes hardware with these technologies, either Windows NT will not recognize them and function normally, or it will misconfigure them and cause operating problems. Windows NT should be installed on systems that are made up of HCL-compatible components only.

If Windows NT attempts to install drivers for these unsupported technologies, you can try to disable them through the Devices or Services applet. But the best solution is to either remove the non-compatible technology device or move to a fully compliant system.

Support for IrSA, USB, and FireWire are slated for inclusion in Windows 2000 (previously known as Windows NT 5.0). Some vendors may release drivers for these technologies for Windows NT 4.0, but using them may remove you from Microsoft's support coverage. Be sure to check the use license and contact the vendor regarding support.

Windows NT for Laptops

If you want to install Windows NT on a laptop or notebook computer, you should contact the vendor of the notebook computer before attempting the installation. In some cases, successful installation requires special CMOS settings, drive configuration tools, or system drivers. The manuals included with the purchase of a notebook computer usually do not address these issues.

Windows NT on a laptop can present you with interesting difficulties. Windows NT does not support power management features found on most portable computers. You must turn off all power-saving features by editing the CMOS before you install Windows NT. This greatly reduces the length of time you can operate your laptop on battery power.

Windows NT does not support hot-swappable PCMCIA cards or PC cards. You must restart the system each time you want to switch cards. In fact, you should create a unique hardware profile for each PC card configuration. The PC Card applet cannot be used to switch PC cards; rather, it is used to inspect the drivers and settings of the cards that are currently present.

Multiple CPUs and Windows NT

Windows NT Workstation can support one or two CPUs right out of the box. Windows NT Server can support up to four CPUs right out of the box and includes support for up to 32 CPUs in special OEM versions.

If you upgrade your system from a single CPU to multiple CPUs, you must reinstall Windows NT. Actually, any modification in the number of CPUs in a system requires reinstallation. You must rebuild the HAL in order to accommodate the change in the number of CPUs.

A tool named UPTOMP.EXE on the Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 Resource Kit CD is used to upgrade an existing x86 installation from supporting a single CPU to multiple CPUs. However, it works only on systems that have not been upgraded with a service pack or hotfix. If you have applied any service packs or hotfixes to your system, you must reconfigure the system to support additional CPUs. A few Knowledge Base articles cover this process in detail. We recommend articles 156358, 124541, 142660, and 148245.

After you reconfigure your system to use multiple CPUs, Windows NT automatically balances the workload among them. Only in special Enterprise OEM editions of Windows NT do you have any control over what processes are distributed to a CPU.

Adding multiple CPUs to a single computer is not the only way to improve the computing power on a Windows NT system. A new technology called clustering can network multiple individual computers in such a way that they all can work on a single task.

The Microsoft Knowledge Base

The Microsoft Knowledge Base is just what the name implies: a repository of vast amounts of information about Microsoft products. Knowledge Base articles come from a variety of experts, and each article is classified by an index number that begins with the letter "Q." The Knowledge Base can be found on the TechNet CD-ROM as well as the Microsoft Web site at

Third-Party Hardware Utilities

There are only a few useful hardware utilities around. We've scoured the Internet to find these.

SmartLine Vision's DeviceLock is a tool you can use to add security to any device in the same manner you add security to drive shares. Now you can secure CD-ROMs, floppies, RAM drives, removable media disks, and serial and parallel ports. DeviceLock also includes a cache flush to force storage devices to clean out their buffers before the storage devices go offline. Also included is a remote control utility to manage DeviceLock from another Windows NT system or even from a Windows 95/98 client. You can find more information and a trial download at

If you often find yourself unable to locate that key piece of information to configure a device, resolve a problem, or perform critical troubleshooting, you may want to check out SupportSource. This is a subscription service accessed from an easy-to-use Windows NT application interface. With a customizable layout, a powerful query engine, a Web-enabled interface, component-level diagrams, and detailed hardware specification documents, this service may help you out of a jam. For more information, a download trial, and subscription and purchase details, visit the SupportSource Web site at

System Internals has a nifty tool for recovering data from drives on non-bootable systems through a serial port; it's called NTRecover. We can't begin to explain how this works, but it is a great recovery tool if you can no longer boot a system that hosts critical data files. The damaged system is booted with a floppy that loads the NTRecover driver files, a serial cable is used to connect the damaged system with a functioning system, and the NTRecover host tool is launched on the functioning system. With a fully registered version, not only can you read data from the damaged system, but you can write to the drives and perform disk repair functions as well. For more information and to obtain a downloadable trial (limited to read-only access), visit the System Internals Web site at

For More Information

If the information about Windows NT hardware issues presented in this chapter has increased your desire to learn more, here are a few resources you can research to obtain more knowledge.

If this chapter hasn't provided enough detail on the third-party utilities to satisfy you, try searching on your own at one of these software sites:

Keywords of hardware, driver, device, or a specific type or name of device should help you locate additional utilities.

About The Authors

Stu Sjouwerman has been in computing since 1979. He is executive vice president of Sunbelt Software, Inc., the world's largest distributor of Windows NT system management utilities. Stu is the editor of Sunbelt's Ntools E-News, which goes to over 300,000 NT administrators.

Ed Tittel, an 18-year computer industry veteran, runs LANWrights, Inc., a seven-person research, training, and writing company that specializes in Microsoft and Novell software, and in Web technologies.

Copyright 1999 by New Riders Publishing, Pearson PTR

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