Tech – for Everyone

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

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: 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

More on switching back to XP

Many of you are going to acquire a new PC for the Holidays, and most (if not all) of those PCs are going to come with Vista,.. and — judging from the number of ‘hits’ certain articles of mine are getting — many of you are going to want to remove Vista and install XP on the new machine.

There are various reasons people have for wanting to go back to XP, but I would like to point out that most of these reasons are not really valid when Vista is pre-installed on a new machine — all the appropriate device drivers will be installed and there will not be the compatibility issues (like you might face if you upgraded an older [XP] machine to Vista) with the machine’s hardware.. and Vista has been out long enough now that there should be drivers for your attached hardware (printer, scanner, storage, etc.) even if they’re older.
Also, the finalized Vista Service Pack 1 is almost here (the “release candidate” {final Beta} is already available).

At this point in history, the main reason people have for wiping Vista off of a new machine and installing a copy of XP is that they don’t “like” Vista… and they don’t “like” Vista because it is “different” (we fear change).

[Please note: I am talking about new machines with Vista already installed here. This is not the same advice I have for people who have purchased a Vista CD and “upgraded” an older PC.. and not been happy with the results. For those folks, my advice is contained here,]

Tip of the day:It is my humble opinion that it is well worth your time to learn and get comfortable with your new machine and Vista. Yes, it will feel “different”. It’s ‘look’ is more.. modern. But a true Geek will tell you that Vista is not a whole new operating system so much as it is XP Service Pack 3. Everything is still there, pretty much in the same place, but it may have a slightly different name– “My Computer” has become “Computer”, and “All Programs” is now “Programs” for instance.

Here is some of my reasoning:
• Vista is “safer” than XP. It is harder for a distant hacker to attack, and it has better defenses against malware infections.
• Vista is inevitable. XP will fade into memory just as Windows 98 has. Sooner or later the computer you use at your job will be a Vista machine. Sooner or later, Microsoft will stop supporting XP. Sooner or later, you will be faced with a Vista machine.
• Vista has more features built into it than XP (features that most people will appreciate — such as the Media Center, and music library sharing, and slideshow widget) and improves on features already in XP — such as the Search tool and home networking.
• Programs, today, are being written to run on Vista.. not XP. So, while almost every program you buy today will run on either XP or Vista, that will not always be the case. There are already games that require Vista, and soon almost all new releases will (to take advantage of Vista’s new DirectX engine).

If, however, you aren’t feeling inclined to just “get used to it”, and are not swayed by the arguments presented above, and are bound and determined to put XP on your new machine — well, that’s what the “P” in PC stands for: “personal” — and I have some advice for you as well: device drivers.

Your new machine, and the manufacturer’s disks that come with it, will have Vista device drivers– most of which will not work with XP.
When you have finished wiping Vista from the machine, and completed the XP install, the odds are good that the machine will not be fully functional: you might not have sound, or your wireless networking might not work. You can remedy this in Device Manager and following the method for installing device drivers I published herewith this caveat — you will not be looking for the latest driver, but looking for older drivers.. XP drivers. (So, the Update Driver button is the incorrect tool.)

You will (probably) need to find XP drivers in this order:
1) motherboard (sometimes referred to as “chipset”)
2) graphics adapter*
3) network adapter*
4) sound*
*(if not ‘cured’ by the motherboard driver)

The manufacturer will be your best source for finding what you need. First, visit the PC manufacturer’s website and enter the model number of your new PC. You are looking for the “specifications” area, where hopefully you will find the make and model of each component (you may need to call the Tech Support number and ask a live human) you need a driver for.

Then, armed with the model number, you will go to that manufacturer’s website and click on either their “downloads”, or “support” page and look for the XP driver, and click on the download link.
This will (usually) download a self-installing driver package, and all you’ll have to do is double-click on it and an Install wizard will guide you through the process: simply “accept” and click “next”.
If, instead, you do not get a self-installing package, you will have to use the Add New Hardware Wizard and decline the “automatically install” option, and point it at your downloaded driver file (I describe the steps in the article mentioned above).

Or.. you could just get used to Vista. I think you’ll like it if you give it a try.

Today’s free link: today’s link is a repeat, but it is relevant to today’s discussion because it will help you identify the Make/Model of the components inside your PC, which is a necessary first step in getting the proper device drivers installed. Sandra Lite is a free benchmarking tool which (among other useful things) scans your computer for installed hardware and software.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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December 19, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, device drivers, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , | 8 Comments

How to test and repair your multimedia

Windows uses a system of software for handling multimedia that it calls “DirectX”. DirectX is responsible for how video is displayed, 3D graphics are drawn, and how music is played. Because of this, it is responsible for how your computer games appear on your screen (as well as other things). If you are experiencing sluggish performance, oddly drawn shapes (or bizarre colors), or other ‘glitches’ when using media files, a good place to start troubleshooting is to run the DirectX Diagnostic Tool — a built in feature most folks are not aware of.

Tip of the day: Use the DirectX Diagnostic Tool to optimize your computer’s multimedia functionality. To access the tool, open a Run dialogue window by clicking Start >Run (Vista users may have to click Start >Programs, and scroll down to find Run). Now type in “dxdiag” (no quotes).
Then click OK. You will next see a dialogue window which asks if you want to allow Windows to go online so it can compare your installed device drivers with Microsoft Labs’ Hardware Quality approval list (known as the WHQL).

(This screenshot is from a Vista machine, older versions look different.) Unless you have gone out and downloaded special device drivers — that may not be on the WHQL yet — I recommend answering “Yes”.
Click on OK, as necessary, to proceed.

As you can see, the DirectX Diagnostic tool provides a lot of information and has many sub-areas where you can run tests and apply ‘tweaks’. It lists your hardware configuration, the DirectX files installed, and has separate tabs for Display, Sound, Music, and Input (devices).
Pick the tab appropriate to the area you are experiencing the odd behavior in… for my example, I’m going to test/troubleshoot the 3D rendering ability of my graphics (adapter). I’ve clicked on the Display tab. Now I look in the bottom window, labeled “Notes”. As my screenshot shows, there is no glaring problem the tool has noted (such as a missing file), but to really test the system I need to run a diagnostic — this is done by clicking a “test the xxxx” button.
Since I’m troubleshooting 3D rendering, I click on the “Test Direct3D” button. Now the DirectX Diagnostic Tool will run actual performance tests (on my display, in this case) and ask you about the results after each one.
In the case of 3D, the display will blink out, and then a green cube will spin around, and afterwards I am asked, “did I see a spinning green cube? Yes / No?” (Your tests may be different, depending on which aspect you are troubleshooting, but the process is the same.)

Hopefully, the tests will run and you will be able to answer “Yes” to each one (though, this may lead to further troubleshooting, using different tools) and you will know that your multimedia foundation — DirectX — is working as it should.

If you answer “No” to any test, make a note of the “Error code” number displayed in the “Notes” window. This error code can be a key for problem resolution. Now click on the “More Help” tab.


Now click on the button appropriate to your trouble: “Troubleshoot” for graphics, and “Sound” for music and sound-effects.
Now the Windows Help and Support tool will open to the relevant troubleshooting page, and it will walk you through a series of questions that will point you to the proper action to take. {Note: the Help and Support service must be enabled, and “Started” in your Services. For steps on how to enable or disable Services, click here.}
In my hypothetical 3D graphics scenario, I would select the fifth radio button and click “Next”. Continue answering the H&S questions, and follow its suggestions. You will be surprised how often this will resolve your troubles.

Today’s free link: If you’re like me and have a hard time remembering all the things on your “to do” list, sign up at the online “life organizer” site Remember the Milk and access your to do list from practically anywhere… and never forget the milk again.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 12, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, device drivers, Gaming, hardware, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , | Leave a comment