Resolving Hardware Problems

I recently received several questions from people having problems with their computer hardware. In one case a new hard drive that was installed and correctly reported by the BIOS wasn't being assigned a drive letter by Windows. In another the sound card only worked sometimes although a reboot would get it going again.

It's just about impossible to diagnose and solve problems such as these by email as you need the computer in front of you to be able to see what happens when you try various things. The best that I can do from here is to tell you where to look to get the information about what Windows can see relating to the hardware in your system.

First go to the Control Panel (The Settings option on the Start menu is one way to get there. In the Control Panel you will find an option called System and this is where you'll find the information that Windows knows about the hardware in your system.

The page within the System Properties that you want is the Device Manager where you will find a complete list of all of the hardware in your system listed either by type or by the way that it is connected. Hardware that is not properly configured will have an exclamation mark in a yellow circle over the device icon. Windows ME also places a question mark in a green circle over the device icon of hardware where a default windows driver has been installed and where the device may therefore not be functioning to its full potential.

If you double click on a device in this list then the hardware properties box for the particular hardware device will open. This has several pages depending on the particular device that you are looking at. The first General page tells you the device type, manufacturer, hardware version, and a box containing information about the status of the device. The computer I use to attach to the internet has the 'PCI Bus Master IDE' showing an incorrect configuration and the status starts off - "This device is disabled because the BIOS for the device did not give it an IRQ..." - which is caused by my having disabled the IDE in the BIOS. I don't have a problem with this because I deliberately disabled the IDE bus as there are no IDE devices in the system (they're all SCSI).

Another page of the hardware properties is Settings which will contain information about all of the settings associated with the particular device. This page will not appear where there are no settings associated with the particular device. You may be able to change the settings on an incorrectly configured device in order to get it working properly.

A page that appears for most devices is Driver and this is where you need to go to check the information about the currently installed device driver. There is also an option here to update the driver (ie. install a different driver for the device). In many cases downloading the latest version of a driver from the hardware suppliers web site and installing it here may fix your problem.

Another page that appears for many devices is Resources and this is the page that will tell you which IRQ (interrupt) and memory addresses etc. that the device is using. There is also a report at the bottom that tells you about any conflicts. If your devices have conflicts that are stopping them from working then unchecking Use automatic settings and changing the resources that the device is using may fix things.

Not all devices have all of the above pages and some devices have additional pages (usually because there are more settings available than will readily fit on one page).

Where a hardware device in your system doesn't appear in the list of devices at all it means that Windows doesn't even know that the device is there. This will probably be due to either the hardware not being installed correctly in the system or the system BIOS has not been updated to recognise the device properly (for those devices connected directly to the motherboard such as IDE hard drives). Devices recognised by the system BIOS are reported on during the Power On Self Test (POST) when the system first starts up so if your hardware is being reported on there then you know that you don't have any problems with the hardware installation. If your device is not reported during the POST then you might want to check that all of the necessary cables are plugged in and that any jumpers on the device are in the correct location and then go into the system BIOS when you next start the system and check that the device is properly configured there.

If the POST reports correctly on your device but it doesn't show in the device list in Windows then for some reason Windows has failed to recognise that the hardware is there. In this instance, about all that I can suggest is that you go into the Add New Hardware option in the Control Panel and see if you can add the device there.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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