Working with Device Manager

When it comes to managing hardware on an XP system, one tool that you’ll need to be careful not to overlook is Device Manager. Device Manager is accessible by clicking the button baring its name on the System applet Hardware tad, and acts as the central facility for enabling, disabling, and managing system hardware settings.

When Device Manager is first opened, it displays a list of different categories according to device type, for example Display adapters. Clicking on the plus (+) sign next to a type of device will display all instances of that device type installed on your system. In cases where a yellow exclamation point appears over a device icon it means that the device is not functioning correctly, often the result of an incorrect driver having been installed. When a red X appears on the icon it means that the device has been specifically disabled, so it’s worth opening Device Manager for no other reason than to obtain a quick snapshot of whether your hardware is configured and functioning correctly.

At the most basic level, Device Manager can be used to selectively enable or disable individual devices. To do so, right-click on a specific hardware component and select Enable or Disable, depending on what you’re trying to do. Devices are often disabled when different hardware profiles are used, so that the drivers used by unnecessary devices are not loaded when not required. If a particular device ever appears not to be working, open Device Manager to be sure that it hasn’t been explicitly disabled as a first troubleshooting step.

Digging a little deeper, Device Manager is also the primary tool used to configure and troubleshoot existing system hardware. By right-clicking on a particular device and selective Properties, a few different tabs will appear, allowing you to configure everything from drivers to resource settings (like IRQs and I/O ports) to power management settings, although it will vary from device to device.

Of the available tabs in the properties of a device, the two most commonly accessed are the Driver and Resources tab. The Driver tab allows you to view the details of the current driver for a device, roll back to a previous driver version in case an updated driver fails or causes errors, allows you to upgrade drivers, and even allows you to uninstall a driver if necessary. The Resources tab is a little more complex, but not by much. This tab is designed to allow you to check which resources a particular hardware device is using, and make modifications if necessary. For example, you might choose to change the IRQ of an old modem to a new value, or the I/O range it uses. You should be aware that many of these settings cannot be changed, a direct result of Windows automatically assigning resources to hardware via Plug and Play. However, configuration of older hardware (such as a legacy ISA modem) will still allow you to change these settings; just be careful, as incorrect resource settings may cause conflicts.

While the Driver and Resources tabs are the two most popular, two that you shouldn’t overlook are the Power Management and Advanced tabs if either is available. The Power Management tab allows you to selectively enable or disable power management settings for a device, and when an Advanced tab is presented you can often get at additional configurable settings for a device. For example, the Advanced tab in the properties of your network adapter may allow you to manually configure it to use full- or half-duplex communication.

Regardless of your reason, exploring Device Manager is an important part of understanding your system and maintaining XP hardware. Take a little time to browse this tool, digging a little deeper into the configuration of your system – it will make troubleshooting problems that may arise much simpler in the future.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.