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DriverGuide Beginner's Guide

Step 1: Getting Started

Getting Started

Finding the right device driver or update can be a very tricky, and confusing endeavor. Thus we created this guide to step you through the process. If you are very knowledgeable about drivers and the capabilities of this site, you can skip this guide. For everyone else, we do strongly recommend that you read and understand the information provided here. Please note that this guide assumes you are using a version of the Windows operating system (Windows 98 or later). But many of the concepts presented apply to all operating systems.

This guide consists of the following steps:

  • Step 1: Getting Started
  • Step 2: Collect Info
  • Step 3: Search
  • Step 4: Download & Install
  • Step 5: Troubleshooting

What is a Device?

In computer terminology all the electronic devices like Mouse, Floppy Drive, CD-ROM, Monitors etc. that are attached to the CPU (Central Processing Unit) are called "Peripheral Devices" or Simply "Devices." Each of these devices has a special "Protocol" to interact with the Operating System. You can see the list of devices by right-clicking the "My Computer" icon, selecting Properties, and click the Device Manager tab.

What is a Device Driver?

A device driver is a program that controls a device. Every device, a printer, disk drive, keyboard, etc. must have a driver program, to interact with the Operating System. The driver is a piece of software that lets the PC talk to peripherals, components, and other hardware. It interprets Operating System commands to the specific needs of the device.

How Does the Driver Work?

A driver acts like a translator between the device that it controls and programs that use the device. For example, a mouse driver translates the "actions" of the mouse to something more understandable by the Operating System. Each device has its own set of specialized commands that only its driver knows. The driver, therefore, accepts special commands from a program and then translates them into specialized commands for the device.

Do I Need a Driver?

You MAY need a driver or update under the following conditions :

  • You acquired a device which does not have a device driver disk or CD.
  • You have just upgraded to a new operating system.
  • You have a device that is not recognized or working properly (there could be other reasons for that).
  • You have a device that is not working up to its full potential, or is missing features.
  • You are using a beta (test) version of the driver, but an official version may now be available.
  • You have lost drivers due to a disk crash or virus.

You MAY NOT need a driver under the following conditions:

  • Often, core devices such as mice, keyboards, and monitors can work fine with drivers that are generic, or built-in to the Windows operating system.
  • Some peripheral devices, such as printers, scanners, cards, modems, etc. may have device drivers included in the Windows operating system. During device installation (after the new found hardware window), Windows will usually search to find compatible drivers it may have. If none can be found, Windows will tell you so. In that case, you'll need to find a driver.
  • If your device is a USB or FireWire device, and you are using Windows XP, 2000, or Me, then typically no device driver is required. Just attach the new hardware via the USB or FireWire port, and Windows should do the rest.
  • If your device is working fine, we recommend that you DO NOT upgrade the driver! Examine the details of the driver update on the company's website to determine whether there is a compelling enough reason to upgrade.

Step 2: Collect Info

Collecting Information About Your Device

Just knowing the model number and device type of your device (component) is sometimes good enough to find the right driver. But the more information you have about your device, the easier it will be to find your driver. We recommend that you collect the following information before you get started on your driver hunt.

1. Company Name

It is extremely helpful if you know the name of the company who makes your device.
How do I determine the company? Sometimes the company listed on the component is not the manufacturer who built the component. If you are having trouble determining the company, and you can visually inspect the device, then look for the FCC ID number. It usually says "FCCID:" right on the component. Once you have it, you can go to our FCCID Search form to determine the company name. If the device has been installed, or detected by the Windows operating system when you plug it in, then the company name might be listed in the Windows Device Manager. You might also be able to determine the company name by searching our Driver Archive using only the model number, and see what Company appears in the results.

2. Device Type

What type of component/peripheral do you have? i.e. BIOS, CD-ROM/CDR, Digital Camera, DVD, FireWire, Hard Drive, IDE Controller, Input Device (like a mouse), Modem, Monitor, Network Card, Notebook, Printer, Plotter, Removable Storage, SCSI Adapter, Scanner, Sound Card, Tape Backup, USB Device, Video Card, etc. Note that USB and FireWire devices usually don't require drivers (Windows ME and later).

3. Product Model Number

Knowing the model number of your component is often the most important thing to know in finding the right driver. Just knowing the model number and device type is often good enough to find the right driver! Please note that the model numbers listed in our Driver Archive might be slightly different than yours (a dash instead of a space, maybe some extra characters, etc). Therefore, when searching our archive, it's often best to enter only part of your model number in the search form, or just leave it blank (if you know the company).

How do I determine the model number? The model number should be listed in the documentation for the component. If the device has been installed, or detected by the Windows operating system when you plug it in, then it might be listed in Windows Device Manager. Sometimes you are able to tell the model number of the device from the name it is listed under.

If you have a video/graphics card: The very first text you get flashed on the screen when you put the power on, is the make/model of your video card. You will need to be quick. It lasts only a second or two. In some cases (especially when the video is integrated on the motherboard) the name/model number of the video adapter is a bit cryptic. It helps if you have a rough idea of what the number should look like. Refer to your documentation or search our Driver Archive and look at the names/numbers of the graphic cards listed.

4. Operating System

It is always important to know which operating system and version you are using. Common versions are Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 98, Windows 98SE, Windows ME, and Windows 2000.

Step 3: Search

Searching for Drivers

To find the best device driver for your component, we suggest that you follow these steps, in order:

1. Try the website of the company that makes your device

The company website is usually the best place to find the latest driver update. If you know the company that makes your device, then go to the appropriate Company Info Page. Once there, try the company links (on the left) to visit the company website(s). See if they have the driver available that you need.

2. Try Microsoft's Windows Update site

If you are not able to find a working driver on the company website and you are running Windows 98SE or later, then we recommend you try windowsupdate.com. This is Microsoft's official site for driver distribution. Their site will scan your system and attempt to find driver updates. Their site may not have the latest drivers. And unfortunately a lot of companies still do not send their drivers to Microsoft for distribution.

3. Try searching our Driver Archive

We have an extensive archive of device drivers. Our archive is the best place for finding hard to find, and older drivers. You can search our archive from the from the Driver Archive Search Page, or from any Company Info Page. Be sure to read all comments and member feedback about the driver before downloading. Also, please add your comments once you have tried a driver!

4. Post a request on DriverGuide

If you still can't find the driver you need, try posting a request on our Driver Request Board. Our staff or one of our knowledgeable members will try to assist.

Step 4: Downloading & Installing Drivers

Downloading

To download a driver from DriverGuide, click on the driver link with your left mouse button. If that doesn't work, click on the driver link with your right mouse button, and then click on "Save Target As" or "Save Link As". A menu should come up giving you the option of saving the file. You should save the file somewhere on your hard disk. We recommend you create a folder for the file.

Extracting

For PC Users: Many compressed driver files are self-extracting files and will have .exe in the file extension. You can uncompress them on your system just by double-clicking on the file name. Many others will have a .zip in the file extension. In order to extract files with a .zip extension, you will need "Zip" software such as Winzip or TurboZip.

For Mac Users: Most driver files are compressed in bin hex format. Your Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers should be pre-configured to un-compress these files on download. However, if you have problems uncompressing them, you will need Stuffit Expander.

Installing

Don't have a setup or install file to install the drivers?

Chances are that you have an "inf" file i.e. a file with the "inf" extension. Installation from an inf file is slightly different. It involves going into the control panel, choosing to add new hardware, NOT using the !autodetect but choosing manual installation, and then using the "browse" button to direct the installation routine to the directory where you have the "inf" file.

An important step before installing:
Visit the control panel to see if that device is already listed with a yellow exclamation mark or a red cross. If it is, then you have to delete that listing before attempting any new installation. This is especially true of soundcards and modems which also tended to show up under the wrong category (usually "other devices").

The installation asks for a file that you don't have?

Sometimes, halfway through the installation process, you may see a screen saying that a certain file is required and/or that it can't be found. Very often the file required is in the Windows CD, compressed in one of the CAB files. On other occasions it may be elsewhere on the driver package, or on your hard drive. Don't panic if you don't know exactly where it is. Don't hit the cancel button just yet. Right click on your start button and choose "find" from the menu. Type in the name of the file you are looking for, choose your drive, and click on "find now". Make sure that the "include subfolders" box is ticked. Haven't found it on the C: drive? Repeat the process with the driver package and the Windows CD as well.

You did everything right but still can't get your modem working?
Modems are sometimes a lot more difficult to install than other cards. You may need to know what Com Port and IRQ the modem is set up to use (as some modems have jumpers or switches that allow you to select the Com Port and IRQ). It is sometimes necessary to go into the BIOS and disable an onboard Com Port before adding a new one in Windows that you are going to install the modem on. Sound very confusing? There are several good sites and forums on the net devoted to modem installation.

You tried an installation and now your computer won't go into Windows?
Maybe the installation wasn't done properly, or you installed the wrong drivers. You can usually start Windows up in safe mode (hold down the Control key at Startup and you'll get a menu offering to start Windows in safe mode). You can then disable or remove the driver for the faulty item from the Device Manager.

Step 5: Troubleshooting

Device conflicts

Sometimes two pieces of hardware, such as a CD-RW drive and a joystick, try to grab the same computer resources. The resulting conflict often immobilizes one or both pieces of hardware; they simply won't work. Use the Windows System Information Tool to check for conflicts. In Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP, click Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information. Next, click the plus sign next to Hardware Resources and select Conflicts/Sharing. You'll see a list of devices that share the same computer resources; look for the driver that corresponds to your crashing device. Two or more plug-and-play devices may be able to share without problems, as Figure 3 shows, but legacy devices, or hardware that's significantly older than your PC, may clash or crash. If you suspect such a conflict, check with the hardware manufacturer to see how to resolve it.

USB devices

Has a USB device suddenly stopped working or reported a missing driver? If you have a full plug-and-play system, try this first: Disconnect the device's USB cable and the device's power supply but leave your computer running. Wait a few moments, then plug in the device's power and USB cable. Your computer may now automatically recognize the device and start working again.

Other driver problems

Sometimes when a device fails to work, the driver itself is innocent. Always check your hardware and make sure that your drivers aren't displaying error messages. If you've updated the drivers and still can't figure out the problem, here's how to troubleshoot: Go to Device Manager and look at the bad device's properties. Instead of telling you that the device is working properly, the manager may display an error message that includes a numeric code and one or more suggested fixes. Code 3 means that you have a bad driver and should replace it. Code 7 means that you'll have to reinstall the driver. Code 6 indicates a resource conflict that an updated driver may or may not fix. Microsoft maintains a Web page that lists the 33 separate error codes for the Windows XP Device Manager and lets you know what they mean and potentially how to solve those problems.

Getting Help

If something has gone wrong with your installation, or you have questions concerning your hardware or system configuration, try searching or posting your question in the DriverGuide Support Forums.









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