SolutionBase: Configuring multiple hardware profiles for a versatile laptop

Laptops are made to travel from place to place. Often, at different locations you have different hardware configurations for docking stations and peripherals. That's where hardware profiles in laptops can help keep things properly configured. Here's how they work.

Hardware profiles were originally designed to easily allow laptop computers to be used in stand-alone and docking station configurations. While these are still valid options, the advances in laptop technology and an increase in the number of inexpensive peripheral devices mean that there may be more than two types of configuration options for your laptop.

For example, in addition to having a full blown docking station configuration in your office that provides a network and other peripheral connections and a stand-alone configuration when your traveling with your laptop, maybe you have a simple port replicator at a remote office you visit regularly as well as a wireless network connection and an external DVD drive at your home.

Of course with the advances in Plug and Play, chances are that good that you can make the configuration changes needed at each location without too much trouble—as long as you don't encounter any device driver conflicts. However, you can avoid all of those intermediary steps and any problems that may accompany them by setting up different hardware profiles for each location in which you connect different peripherals to your laptop.

In this article, I'll examine hardware profiles in more detail. As I do, I'll show you how to set up and configure different hardware profiles for your laptop in Windows XP. (Keep in mind that while I'll focus on Windows XP in this article, the steps are very similar for a laptop running Windows 2000.

What's a hardware profile?

When you use hardware profiles, each time you start your laptop you'll see a menu that prompts you to select a profile configured for the devices at a particular location. Once you select a profile, the operating system will load the drivers needed for the devices connected at that particular location.

A hardware profile is basically a set of instructions that tells the operating system which devices are available and need to be enabled when you start your laptop. When you first install Windows XP on a laptop, a hardware profile named Docked Profile or Undocked Profile is created, depending on how your laptop is connected when you install Windows XP. By default, every device that is installed on your computer when you install Windows XP is enabled in that initial hardware profile.

Creating hardware profiles

Creating hardware profiles is actually very easy once you know how to go about performing the operation. To begin, access the Control Panel and double-click the system icon. When you see the System Properties dialog box, select the Hardware tab, and then click Hardware Profiles button. When you do so, you'll see the Hardware Profiles dialog box, as shown in Figure A, and will see the Available Hardware Profiles list.

Figure A

When you install Windows XP, it creates a default hardware profile that includes the devices that are connected to the system at that time.

As you can see, on my example laptop the only hardware profile is called Undocked Profile, which means that Windows XP was installed while the laptop was in a stand alone configuration. It also indicated that this laptop has never been connected to a docking station. Keep in mind that if your laptop is Plug and Play compliant, the Windows XP operating system will automatically create a Docked Profile when the computer is connected to a docking station.

To begin preparing your laptop for additional hardware profiles, you'll first rename the default profile using a more descriptive name. To do so, simply select the Rename button, type the new name in the Rename Profile dialog box, and click OK. To enable the Hardware Profile Menu—which will appear when you start your computer—and to add the profile to the menu, select the Properties button to display the dialog box, shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Once you create a hardware profile, be sure that you select the check box in the Hardware Profiles Selection panel.

As you can see, the center panel is disabled but that the This Is A Portable Computer and The Computer Is Undocked check boxes are selected. The operating system disables this panel when it detects that the laptop isn't connected to a docking station. When the laptop is connected to a docking station, this panel will be enabled.

To continue with the configuration, select the Always Include This Profile As An Option When Windows Starts check box and click OK.

Working with multiple profiles

You can now use the Copy button to create as many additional hardware profiles as you need. Then, rename each one with a descriptive name related to the location. As you do, be sure to access the properties dialog box of each new hardware profile and select the Always Include This Profile As An Option When Windows Starts check box in order to include each hardware profile on the menu.

At this point, you can configure how the menu operates as well as set up your preferred hardware profile. The preference of the hardware profiles is based on their position in the Available Hardware Profiles list, from top to bottom. The first profile in the list is loaded as the default hardware configuration during startup.

To reorder the list, select a profile and use the arrow buttons on the right to move the selected profile up or down in the list. You can then configure the menu to wait indefinitely for you to choose a profile, or to pause for a set amount of time and then load the default profile once the time expires. Be default, the menu is configured to display for 30 seconds, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

You can choose which hardware profile will be the default by using the arrow buttons to move that profile to the top of the list.

To complete the initial configuration operation, click OK to close the Hardware Profiles dialog box. Then, close the System Properties dialog box.

Once you've created your hardware profiles, restart your system. As the system restarts, you'll see the Hardware Profile/Configuration Recovery Menu, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Once you enable your hardware profiles, you'll see this menu when your computer starts up.

Choose one of the new profiles to make it the current profile. Once the system starts with that profile, you can then launch Device Manager and customize the profile by enabling or disabling devices specific to that location.

For example, you might want to disable the wireless network adapter in the Mobile profile, because in this environment you use your modem to connect to the Internet. To do so, you'd access the wireless network adapter's properties dialog box in Device Manager and select the Do Not Use This Device In The Current Hardware Profile (Disable) setting in the Device Usage drop down, as shown in Figure E. Then, click OK to exit this dialog box and click OK again to exit Device Manager.

Figure E

You'll disable those devices that you don't want to use in a particular hardware profile.

Now, every time you select the Mobile profile, the wireless network card will be disabled by default. You may also want to disable the wireless network adapter in the Office and Remote Office profiles if you use a wired connection in those locations and don't want your laptop attempting to connect to the wireless networks that are available in those locations. You can then enable or disable other devices as well.


Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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