Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It*

There is something wonderful in this simple philosophy. It certainly is an aggravation saver, and I believe it is a good, honest, tip for a happier life. It is applicable in all aspects of our daily lives — including our tech gadgets.

Some people (me), though, have some malformed gene, or mis-wired section in their brain which renders them constitutionally incapable of keeping their mischievous little fingers off of a perfectly functioning device. These people have a strange compulsion to try to “make it better”. They just have to open it up and look at what’s inside…
A highly Scientific Study (that I just made up) has proven that a full 9-out-of-10 of these personality-types not only fail to “improve” the device, they fail to get all the piecesTim the Toolman back inside, much less back in their proper places.

The modern name for these people is “tweaker”. The most ‘famous’ tweaker was probably Tim [“the tool man”] Taylor, a character made famous by Tim Allen on Home Improvement. (I loved it when he “improved” the kitchen garbage disposal by powering it with a chainsaw engine.) His motto: More power!

Yes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a very good Rule. For that 90% of tweakers who only succeed in disassembling the object of their interest, it ought to be a Law. However (you, Dear Reader, were expecting a “however”, right?), tweaking can be a good thing. Tweaking sometimes leads to Invention. Successful and repeatable tweaks are called “optimizing”. And who can argue against optimizing? Not me. A great deal of Tech–for Everyone is about optimizing your PC.. such as today’s tip.

Tip of the day: Optimize your computer with the latest device drivers. Most of my readers should be aware of the existence of the small programs that allow the software on our machines (primarily the OS) to interact with the hardware, which are called “device drivers”. If you’ve ever added a new device, you (typically) had to put in a CD and install the “driver” to get it operational. My readers probably also know that, like other programs, drivers get “updated”, and improved, occasionally. Did you also know that by seeking out, and installing the latest drivers, you can have a faster machine? Or, that your device may suddenly have more “features” and capabilities? Today I’m going to show you a method to use that I consider the first step, and tomorrow I’ll describe the more aggressive and effective approach, as well as how to “undo” a driver update if things should go wrong.

The first step is to create a System Restore point, to give yourself a fallback position. I reco doing this whenever you make significant changes to your machine. (To see my series on the System Restore tool, click here.)

Then you need to access your Device Manager tool. There are a couple of ways to do this, but I use Start >right-click My Computer >Properties >Hardware tab >Device Manager. Now you will see a list of the components on your machine, as shown in the example below.
devmgr.jpg
Some, in fact most, of these items you do not need to worry about updating. The items that typically will give you the most improvement are: graphics, sound, printer, network (or modem) adapter, and (sometimes) monitor.

Begin by selecting the device you want to update the driver for — I am going to use for demonstration the sound on a laptop computer — and ‘expand’ the hardware list by clicking on the “+” sign next to the proper category, in my example that will be the “Sound, video, and game controllers” category.

Next, double-click on the device name to open its Properties dialogue window. In my case that’s “ESS Maestro PCI Audio”, and then click on the Drivers tab, which will now open a window that looks like this.
snddrvr.jpg
Now click on the Update driver button, which launches an automated process called the “Hardware Update Wizard”. Accept the default radio button setting (“Automatically”) and click “next”.

Now Windows will go out and “search” for a “better” driver than the current version, and when it finds one, will help you install it via a couple of “Next” clicks. Do this for all the devices (device types) that I listed above.
Unfortunately, the  most common result of the search returns this window.
cannot.jpg
This is because Microsoft has built into the search parameters a complex formula of what constitutes “better”. To them, better does not just mean “newer” (ie, a more recent version number), but whether or not the driver has been tested and approved in the Microsoft labs (for a fee), and whether or not the driver’s author has shelled out the dough to buy a digital “certificate” (for another fee).
Since this is a simple driver, and not a new miracle accounting program, or other retail piece of code, most authors skip these expensive steps… and so the Update search will disregard these drivers as if they didn’t exist. Tomorrows post will deal with this issue.

But doing this process can and does produce results, and it is the method I reco as the first step in a faster/better PC. New drivers are released all the time, so I do this every so often.

To read Part 2, click here.

Today’s free link: I have reco’d the popular Mozilla Firefox web browser here before, and I think it’s only fair to tell you of another — Avant uses the IE 7 rendering engine, but advertises itself as the “fastest browser on earth”. I like it for its built-in security features, such as tracks erasing, and its rss reader. Take a look at the Avant homepage, and then give it a try.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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October 17, 2008 Posted by | add device, advice, computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, Plug and Play, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Vista Plug and Play issues*

It has been  a while since I’ve done a “reader questions answered” segment (and reminded you, Dear Reader, that you can post questions to me), but I’m hoping that you’ll remember the “Q’s and their A’s” format.

Q: Vista won’t recognize my new device. What’s wrong with my PnP?
A: Vista is actually quite good (in my opinion, the best yet) at automatically installing new devices with the use of PnP (Plug and Play). That said, a fair portion of the calls I receive at my online Tech Support business are troubleshooting PnP failures.
There are standard procedures for getting devices installed, when it doesn’t happen automatically for one reason or another, which I have outlined here before. Review the How To’s by clicking on this link: https://techpaul.wordpress.com/2007/07/11/adding-a-device-when-plug-and-play-doesnt-work-pt-1/. I advise reading all three parts, and the Comments as well (and read about USB Host controllers).
If you have tried these methods without success, there may be some “ClassID framework” missing which needs to get installed before Vista can ‘see’ your device, and you will need the help of Tech Support– I would not be averse to getting it direct from Microsoft.

You can avoid some headaches by making sure the device you want to buy is “Vista Compatible”. Vista is rather recalcitrant at accepting 3rd-party drivers that have not received Microsoft’s stamp of approval (not undergone Microsoft laboratory testing). This is to ensure that the webcam (for example) you want is going to work, and not “mess up your machine”. Visit the Vista Hardware Compatibility List, and sort by category to find approved (tested) makes and models, and purchase one from the list.

Q: I bought a gateway with Vista Home Premium, but need to convert back to XP Pro. I have a friend who is technically sound, but (they) said it would be hard to get all the drivers loaded to work right. Do you know where I can get all the drivers to make XP work on my Gateway that is less than a year old?
A: If you “must” convert back to XP Pro, you will indeed need to acquire some “for XP” drivers for some of your hardware/devices (XP will have some drivers already). Make a list of all your devices (Device Manager is a good place to start) and look on the Internet to make sure there’s XP drivers available. Make a system state backup of your current configuration. Then Install XP.

Once XP is installed, use Device Manager to find which devices need drivers (look for yellow ?’s, and red Xs).
You will then go to the device manufacturer’s website and download the XP driver. (You should not use the “Update driver” feature, as XP drivers are ‘old’.) Again, I refer you to the article link above.
A tool like Sandra Lite can help determine the make/model of your devices if you’re unsure of the manufacturer (such as the motherboard chipset).
You will have to do this on a case-by-case basis (there is no driver ‘one-stop-shop’) for those devices not covered by the XP install itself…but that shouldn’t be too, too many.

When you’re done, make a good backup… preferably with a “disk imaging” program.

Today’s free link: I use Sandra Lite quite a bit when troubleshooting distant machines. The benchmarking tool gives a very complete system profile, including the make/model of installed devices. It is often the only way I can determine the motherboard chipset. A word of caution: do not elect to make the scan results public, or “share them for further analysis”.

* Original post date: 02/14/08

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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April 18, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, PC, Plug and Play, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment