The Windows operating system has grown and matured into a powerful yet user-friendly tool that enables more efficient computer use. During this evolutionary process, Windows’ troubleshooting tools have gone from being nearly nonexistent to indispensable. The Windows XP Device Manager is one such tool. It’s an invaluable aid for troubleshooting interrupt conflicts and device driver problems, and you can use it to configure storage devices, too.

Turn to the Device Manager when troubles arise
The Windows XP Device Manager, which is part of the Microsoft Management Console (MMC), gives you an easy-to-view list of all the hardware components that make up the computer system. You can use the Device Manager to update or modify a hardware device’s configuration and troubleshoot related problems.

Opening the Device Manager is easy and straightforward—simply click Start | Control Panel | System, select the Hardware tab, and click the Device Manager button.

When you open the Windows XP Device Manager, you’ll see a window similar to that shown in Figure A. The expandable tree view lists the system name at the top, followed by the various hardware categories and devices. If your system contains no device from a particular category, the Device Manager won’t show that category.

Figure A
The Device Manager lists devices by hardware category.

Device Manager menus are similar to those found in all Windows programs. You can customize the Device Manager view by using the Customize menu choice. Available customization options include adding a console tree navigation view and a status bar.

The Device Manager’s standard toolbar offers many of the same features provided by the Device Manager menus. You can use the toolbar buttons to open the properties window for a device, print the contents of the Device Manager window, open Help, and scan for new hardware changes.

You can use the Windows XP Device Manager to troubleshoot and resolve two primary problems: interrupt conflicts and device driver problems. Let’s take a look at eliminating interrupt conflicts first.

Troubleshoot interrupt conflicts with the Device Manager
When you encounter a resource, or interrupt, conflict, the Device Manager alerts you to the conflict by expanding the category and highlighting the problem device with a yellow exclamation point. For example, Figure B shows a problem with COM2.

Figure B
The Device Manager provides alerts for problems with devices.

To determine the nature of the problem, double-click the device to open its properties sheet. As illustrated in Figure C, the device status reveals that the device can’t find sufficient free resources.

Figure C
A device’s properties sheet often describes the nature of the problem.

To resolve the conflict, click the Resources tab. This will open the resource settings for the device, as shown in Figure D. In order to modify the interrupt settings, you must click the Set Configuration Manually button.

Figure D
Use the Resources tab to manually specify configuration settings for a device.

The resource settings for the device will then be displayed, as illustrated in Figure E.

Figure E
The IRQ in use will be displayed in the Resource Settings window.

In this example, the interrupt, or IRQ, is incorrectly configured for 12 (which is being used by the PS/2 mouse) instead of 3 (traditionally the correct IRQ for COM2). To make the change and correct the resource conflict, highlight the IRQ and click the Change Setting button. Enter the correct IRQ setting.

When you specify a correct setting, the Conflict Information window will confirm that there is no conflict, as shown in Figure F. Of course, after making the correction, you’ll need to reboot your computer to make the change take effect.

Figure F
The Conflict Information window will confirm the provided setting does not conflict with another device.

Resolve driver issues using the Device Manager
You can also use the Device Manager to modify or update device drivers. If Windows XP detects a problem with a device driver, you’ll see the same exclamation point alert in the Device Manager that you saw for an interrupt conflict. To begin troubleshooting your device driver, you must open the device’s properties sheet and click on the Driver tab.

The top half of the Driver properties tab provides you with specific information about the driver’s provider, the date and version of the driver files, and the digital signature for the device driver.

Several buttons appear on the Driver properties tab. The first button is labeled Driver Details. Clicking it opens the Driver File Details window, which specifies the driver file location, among other items.

The second button is labeled Update Driver. Clicking it launches the Update Driver Wizard, which walks you through the process of updating driver files.

If the updated driver files don’t solve your problem, use the third button, which is labeled Roll Back Driver, as shown in Figure G. It will remove the new driver files and revert to the version prior to your attempted upgrade. Clicking Roll Back Driver initiates a wizard that, when finished, requires rebooting to complete.

Figure G
Several buttons are available on the Driver tab, including the Roll Back Driver option.

The final Driver tab button is labeled Uninstall. As is clear from its name, you’d use this button to uninstall a device’s driver files. Clicking this button triggers a warning that the driver files will be uninstalled. Clicking OK removes the driver files. The device will be inoperable until a new driver is installed.

Device Manager storage device options
You can also use the Windows XP Device Manager to specify several configuration settings for IDE hard disks and CD-ROM drives. Of particular importance are write caching and safe removal policies, which are specified on the Policies tab. The disk being used doesn’t allow for Safe Removal since it’s in use, so the Optimize For Quick Removal and Optimize For Performance options aren’t available for it. However, Enable Write Caching On The Disk is selected, which will improve hard drive performance by allowing the drive to cache data and work more efficiently.

Another item on the hard drive properties page is the Volumes tab. If your hard disk has more than one partition, information about the volumes will be provided on this screen. While you can find this information elsewhere in Windows XP, having it all in a single location makes it easier to quickly see how a disk is partitioned.

CD-ROM and DVD-ROM properties
The CD-ROM and DVD drive property pages both have a tab named Properties. This page offers two configuration settings that you should verify when troubleshooting audio playback problems. The CD Player Volume setting is self-explanatory; to change the volume that the device produces, simply move the slider in the appropriate direction.

If your CD device is not producing any audio, you should verify that Enable Digital CD Audio For This CD-ROM device is selected. While this option is set by default when the drive is installed, you should verify that someone hasn’t inadvertently deselected it when troubleshooting a CD device that is not producing audio output.

The DVD-ROM properties page includes a tab labeled DVD Region. Most DVDs are encoded to play only in a specific geographical region. To play a regionalized DVD on your computer, the DVD drive must be configured to play disks from that region. To set the region, highlight the appropriate selection from the list and click OK. The new region will be listed in the New Region box. After you’ve made the change, the new region will be shown in the Current Region box. You can change regions again by following the same procedure. Note, however, that you can only change the region a limited number of times. After you exhaust these changes, you won’t be able to change the region for the DVD drive again, even if you reinstall Windows or move the drive to another computer. This should not be a problem for most people, but if you work for a global organization, you may encounter such an issue.

IDE controller properties
The IDE controller property pages provide several settings that can potentially cause problems if configured incorrectly. As illustrated in  Figure H, these settings are found on the Advanced Settings tab. These settings are configured automatically when the drive is installed and, under normal circumstances, should not be changed.

Figure H
IDE controller properties shouldn’t be changed under normal circumstances.

The multiuse Device Manager
The Windows XP Device Manager is an extremely useful tool that you’ll become very familiar with as you use it to troubleshoot Windows XP problems. Although you’ll most likely use this tool to resolve interrupt conflicts or device driver problems, there are many other issues you can resolve with the Device Manager. To see what Microsoft has to say about the Device Manager and Windows XP, check out the Windows XP Product Documentation Web site.