An operating system is not only the underlying system for accessing and working with software applications installed on the computer; it also provides a framework for the peripheral devices connected to the computer to work.
When a new piece of hardware is connected to the computer, it requires that a piece of software be included that allows the hardware to communicate with the existing operating system. These pieces of software are called device drivers, or drivers for short.
New pieces of hardware usually come with a CD-ROM or disk that includes the device driver on it. Some installation CDs include their own installation programs, or you can use the Windows process to install the device drivers.
For devices that don't ship with a device driver CD or disk, Windows has quite a number of generic drivers that can be used.
Over time, hardware companies release updated device drivers that fix existing problems and provide better integration with your system. Some hardware automatically detects and installs these updated device drivers, or you can manually install them yourself.
Some simple devices such as a mouse or a keyboard are fine using the generic drivers, but other devices such as video graphic cards can benefit greatly from updated drivers.
The latest versions of Windows include a Plug and Play feature that allows the computer to detect when a new piece of hardware has been connected to the current system. When detected it automatically begins the process of installing the necessary device drivers. During the installation process, the computer asks that you insert the installation disk where it can load the device driver.
If the new hardware doesn't have an installation disk, then you can install the new hardware using the Add Hardware Wizard, shown in Figure 31.2. You can access this wizard from the Control Panel. The first step of the wizard searches your system for any newly installed hardware. If a new hardware device is found, the wizard asks you to load the CD or disk that contains the new device driver.
Figure 31.2: The Add Hardware Wizard lets you install and troubleshoot new hardware.
If a hardware device starts to work improperly, it could be that the device is starting to fail or that the device driver has become corrupt. You can replace or upgrade device drivers using the Device Manager. You can open the Device Manager by double-clicking the System icon in the Control Panel. This opens the System Properties dialog box. To open the Device Manager, select the Hardware tab and click the Device Manager button.
The Device Manager window, shown in Figure 31.3, shows all the installed hardware for the current system. If you select a specific hardware device from the list and open its Properties dialog box, you can see specific information on the selected hardware.
Figure 31.3: The Device Manager shows all hardware installed on the current system.
The Properties dialog box for the selected hardware includes several tabs. The General tab, shown in Figure 31.4, shows the hardware's type, manufacturer, and installation location. There is also a status field that explains if the hardware is having any trouble.
Figure 31.4: The Properties dialog box displays the details about the selected hardware.
The Driver tab of the Properties dialog box, shown in Figure 31.5, displays the current driver version and date. It also includes buttons to get more details about the driver, update the current driver, roll back the current driver, and uninstall the driver.
Figure 31.5: The Driver tab of the Properties dialog box has an option to display the details about the selected hardware's device driver.
To update a hardware device driver, follow these steps:
Select Start Control Panel to open the Control Panel.
Double-click the System icon in the Control Panel.
Select the Hardware tab and click the Device Manager button.
In the Device Manager, select the hardware device that you want to update and choose the Action Properties menu command.
In the Properties dialog box, select the Driver tab and click the Update Driver button. This opens the Hardware Update Wizard, shown in Figure 31.6.
Figure 31.6: The Hardware Update Wizard guides you through installing new device drivers.
If you have the updated device driver on CD or disk, select Install the software automatically and click Next.
The next step of the Hardware Update Wizard scans the system to locate the new device driver. If the device driver is found, it is automatically installed. If it cannot be found, you can go back in the wizard and try to locate the device driver manually.
Before accessing the Hardware Update Wizard, download the new updated device driver to the desktop where it can be easily located.