The Device Manager in Windows XP is a handy tool for troubleshooting and system maintenance. It contains detailed information about every device that’s part of your computer (both internal and external devices) and any PC user who considers themselves tech-savvy should be at least passingly familiar with it.
The easiest way to access the Device Manager is through My Computer. Right-click on the My Computer icon and select Properties. Under the Hardware tab, Device Manager is the first option.
You can also get to it through the Control Panel. Double-click Administrative Tools, then Computer Management, and from the list on the left side of the window, select Device Manager.
Once you are in the Device Manager, you will see a list of every piece of hardware in your computer, organized by category. Any device that is disconnected or not working at all with be marked with a red “X,” and any device that is currently experiencing a problem or a conflict of resources will be marked with a yellow triangle.
Double-clicking on the device will bring up its properties. In the center of the window will be a box marked “Device status,” and if there is a problem with the device, it will be briefly described here. Otherwise, the message will be, “This device is working properly.”
Beneath that box is a button marked Troubleshoot. Depending on the problem your device is experiencing, the Windows troubleshooter may or may not help resolve it. Many times when there is a problem, it is caused by a conflict of resources (two or more devices trying to make use of the same system resources at the same time). Under the Resources tab in the Properties window, you can see all of the resources (I/O addresses, IRQs, memory addresses, and DMA channels) assigned to this device.
System Information is another Windows tool similar to Device Manager. It will show you exactly what devices are conflicting and what resources they are trying to use. To access System Information, go to Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information. (You can also get to System Information by running msconfig and going to the Tools tab.)
In addition to locating and resolving device conflicts, the Device Manager also keeps detailed information about each device’s driver. You can view the current driver version, as well as try to search the Web for a newer version, or roll back to an older version. When you update a driver, Windows saves a copy (in most cases) of the older driver in case there is a problem with the new one.
If there is a device causing problems, or a device that you think is the source of a problem, you can disable it through the Device Manager to see if the problem goes away. Simply right-click on the device in question and select Uninstall. The device will be marked with a red “X” and you will not be able to use it until you reinstall it.
To view or delete specific software drivers, use the Add/Remove Programs application in the Control Panel. This application shows you every program you have installed, including device drivers. When you upgrade devices (such as buying a new printer) the drivers for the old device are not always deleted, and they can cause problems (most notably, hogging memory) even though their devices are no longer present. If you uninstall a device through Device Manager and do not plan to reinstall it, check Add/Remove Programs to be sure the driver has been deleted.
Device Manager is somewhat customizable (under the View menu, select Customize) and it comes with its own help section (under the Help menu). You can add the Administrative Tools folder to your Start Menu in order to make Device Manager easier to access, or create a shortcut to the Computer Management console.