SolutionBase: Troubleshoot Windows XP driver problems with the File Signature Verification Utility

This logo ensures that the software and drivers for hardware products are digitally signed by Microsoft

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In a recent discussion about moving Windows Vista's graphics subsystem out of the operating system kernel and into its own area, called the Windows Presentation Foundation, the Windows Vista infrastructure architects revealed that in the new operating system most drivers, including graphics, will run in user mode rather that in kernel mode. According to Microsoft, the main reason for the move to user mode is that when a driver runs at the kernel level, it can basically do anything it wants--including overwriting memory that doesn't belong to it. The result of such an action is more often than not a system crash. In fact, it was revealed that about 90 percent of all system crashes in Windows XP are caused by problems with drivers--namely unsigned drivers.

As such, when you're troubleshooting strange behavior with a Windows XP system, the first things you should put under the microscope are the drivers currently installed on the system. To do so, you can use the File Signature Verification Utility and configure it to search for and identify any unsigned drivers currently installed in the operating system.

In this article, I'll show you how to use the File Signature Verification Utility as troubleshooting aid. As I do, I'll go into more detail on the significance of signed verses unsigned drivers in Windows XP.

Signed drivers

As you know, all of the system files and device driver files provided on the Windows XP CD and added to the system by Windows Update have an official Microsoft digital signature attached to them. This digital signature indicates that the files are original, unaltered system and driver files from Microsoft or that they are third-party driver files that have been approved by Microsoft for use with Windows XP.

You probably also know that software and drivers for hardware products that carry the Designed for Microsoft Windows XP logo, shown above, have a digital signature from Microsoft, indicating that the product was tested for compatibility with the Windows XP operating system using official testing procedures provided by Microsoft.

By Greg Shultz

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.