From what I’ve experienced so far, I honestly believe that Windows XP is the best workstation version of Windows that Microsoft has produced. Even so, I’ve run into a pesky driver problem over the course of my many PC upgrades. The problem hasn’t been too major, but it did prompt me to examine some of the new troubleshooting features Windows XP offers. In this Daily Feature, I’ll explain how a couple of these new features, Network Connections and Network Diagnostics, can help you troubleshoot any XP system.

Driver drama

Figure A
A red X on the icon indicates that a particular network connection is broken.

The problem I ran into during my upgrades was that my laptop couldn’t connect to my wireless network. I initially suspected that the network card’s driver wasn’t compatible with Windows XP. To check on the driver, I opened the Control Panel and clicked on the Network And Internet Connections icon. On the resulting screen, I clicked on the Network Connections icon, which displayed all of the system’s network connections. Although my screen capture is from a different workstation, you’ll notice in Figure A which network connections are and aren’t working.

Details pane information
Notice in Figure A that one of my network connections is selected. Windows XP displays a summary of the selected connection in the Details pane. This summary includes the type of connection, adapter information, and the connection’s IP address. Had I selected the malfunctioning connection, Windows would try to give me information designed to help fix the problem.

Driver properties dialog box
Now that you’ve seen the Network Connections screen, let’s get back to the business of troubleshooting a malfunctioning network connection. When working on my laptop, I was 90 percent sure that the network card driver was the problem (which turned out to be true), so I jumped directly into the process of testing the driver. I could have done many other things to test the network connection using the new Windows XP troubleshooting tools, but because immediately looking for the driver problem is so common, I’ll show you that process first.

To correct the network card driver problem, I right-clicked on the malfunctioning connection and selected the Properties command from the resulting context menu to display the network connection’s properties sheet. I clicked the Configure button beneath my network adapter to access the adapter’s properties sheet.

The first thing to check is the Device Status on the adapter properties sheet’s General tab. If the device is having problems, you’ll find a description of the trouble right here. In my situation, though, I was receiving a message stating that the device was working properly and to click the Troubleshooting button if I was having a problem with the device.

I recommend skipping the Troubleshooting button option as it provides little help. Instead, verify that the Device Usage section at the bottom of the General tab is set to Use This Device (Enable). Next, select the Resources tab and verify that no conflicts exist. In newer systems, the likelihood of a hardware conflict is slim unless you’ve been manually configuring hardware devices. Even so, it’s a good idea to check.

The Driver tab

Figure B
Pay close attention to the driver’s provider, date, version, and digital signer.

Once you’ve verified that no conflicts exist, select the Driver tab. If you’ve used the Device Manager’s Driver tab in other versions of Windows, you’ll probably notice that the Windows XP Driver tab is a little different. When you’re checking out the driver, look at the driver’s provider, date, version, and who signed the driver. As shown in Figure B, Microsoft provided this particular device driver, even though the driver is for an Intel network card. The fact that the driver was signed by Microsoft Windows XP Publisher is a dead giveaway that the driver was updated by the operating system when I upgraded to Windows XP. As I’ve upgraded my workstations, I’ve found the Windows XP Setup program replaces the existing drivers with its own drivers. Most of the time, the stock Windows XP drivers seem to work fine, although I’ve had problems with more specialized hardware, such as my wireless network card. I also had problems with a high-end video card that I use for multimonitor support. In both cases, I was able to fix the problem by replacing the Windows XP driver with a standard Windows 2000 driver from the hardware manufacturer’s Web site.

To replace an invalid driver, simply click the Update Driver button. Windows will launch a wizard that will allow you to either specify the location of the new driver or let Windows search for the driver automatically. Since Windows XP is so new, it’s better to manually specify the location of the driver. If you tell Windows to search for a new driver automatically, Windows may ignore your drivers if they aren’t digitally signed or if they have a date that’s older than that of the existing driver. Even when I manually updated the drivers, the date and lack of a digital signature were an issue. Although Windows didn’t prevent me from installing my drivers, it asked me several times whether I was completely sure I knew what I was doing.

Normal network troubleshooting
In the situation I’ve been describing, I immediately updated my network driver because I knew that the driver had to be the cause of the problem. You won’t always have the luxury of knowing the history of every machine you work on. At times, you may need to fix a network connection without any previous information about the nature of the problem. In these instances, you may want to take advantage of the Windows XP network diagnostics tools.

In Figure A, you may have noticed the Network Tasks window. This window gives you options pertaining to the selected network connection. For example, you can repair, rename, or disable the connection. As handy as these options are, they’re just the beginning. To see the other available options, open the Control Panel and select the Network And Internet Connections option. You’ll see the Network And Internet Connections window. On the lower left portion of this window, you’ll see a section called Troubleshooters, which contains troubleshooters for networking, Internet Explorer, and network diagnostics.

Figure C
You can tell Windows XP which tests to run against your network.

Figure D
Enable the Verbose option to get a much more detailed report.

Each of these options is designed to help you through the troubleshooting process. For example, if you choose the Network Diagnostics option, you’ll see a screen that gives you a choice between scanning your system and setting the scanning options. As you can see in Figure C, setting the scanning options involves selecting which types of tests Windows XP should run against the network connection. When you’ve made your selections, go ahead and scan your system. Windows will perform all of the selected tests and display a report similar to the one shown in Figure D.

Troubleshooting my driver problem was a snap in XP. With Windows XP, you get so many tools to troubleshoot PC problems—Network Connections and Network Diagnostics are just the beginning. My driver trouble is typical of problems you’ll probably encounter. However, you can use XP’s troubleshooting tools to quickly locate and correct just about anything; from a badly connected device to a problem network connection, these tools will save you tons of troubleshooting time.