Manage Windows 7 hardware with Device Manager

Updating driver components and troubleshooting dicey devices gets easier with Windows 7 Device Manager, which helps solutions providers manage hardware, processors and disk drives.

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Microsoft Windows 7 Device Manager is a window into customers' system device and driver components. Device Manager gives solutions providers a complete view into their customers' system hardware, and it is a great tool for managing Windows 7 hardware. As a key management tool, Device Manager lets solutions providers enable and disable hardware, identify compatibility and operability issues and conduct other Windows 7 hardware maintenance...

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More resources on Microsoft Windows 7 hardware and performance:
Windows 7 migrations and upgrades

FAQ: Windows 7 hardware requirements and compatibility

Optimizing Windows 7 application performance

Troubleshooting Windows 7 problems by determining the root cause

You will see that all hardware -- including processors, disk drives, keyboards, mice, other input devices, peripheral components and drives with removable media -- appear in a conveniently organized view within Device Manager. This article discusses methods for managing your customers' computer hardware using Device Manager.

Note: Users with standard (non-administrative) accounts can only view items in Device Manager. Only those with administrative accounts have the right to save changes.

Devices and Printers is an applet new to Windows 7, and it is a cousin of Device Manager. This applet displays icons of all devices connected to your customer's PC. Devices displayed in the Devices and Printers applet are not internal components of the computer; rather, they are devices that a user can interact with. Bluetooth devices, Universal Serial Bus (USB) devices and multi-function printers are just some of the items that may appear in Devices and Printers. Similar to Device Manager, the Devices and Printers applet lets you view and troubleshoot hardware devices on the computer, but it is restricted to external hardware rather than internal components.

Managing Windows 7 hardware with legacy components

Windows 7 takes great strides to improve compatibility for older hardware and software, but there may be cases in which the system fails to automatically detect older plug-and-play devices. For this reason, whenever you connect or install a hardware component that isn't automatically recognized, Device Manager helps you find the source of any related problems. In the Device Manager window, under the Action item, click Add legacy hardware to start the Add Hardware Wizard. Follow the wizard as it guides you through the process of introducing a legacy component to your customer's Windows 7 system. If the wizard fails to identify any component, you will be presented with a list from which you can choose the next appropriate action.

Updating outdated drivers on Windows 7 hardware

As time passes, or when a new operating system (OS) is released, installing new drivers becomes necessary. Proper driver support helps maintain smoothly operating systems. Bad performance or inconsistent behavior often indicates driver issues. Even when hardware drivers are performing well, program errors or missing features can produce spurious problems. However, identifying and resolving a driver issue through Device Manager is a short and simple procedure. A yellow warning icon with an exclamation point indicates a problematic driver. Just right-click on the device's entry and select Update Driver Software to start a wizard that walks you through the driver update process. You can even instruct the wizard to search the Internet for relevant driver updates or browse your computer to list all of the usable drivers.

Troubleshooting Windows 7 hardware and problematic devices

Not all sources of trouble are immediately apparent; some problems arrive without waving a white flag. A conflict may arise with the system or other components when solutions providers install one or more new components. Unfortunately, Windows doesn't always notify you of a conflict, or the message it produces can be hard to decipher. If you know the source of a performance problem, use Device Manager to disable a suspect component instead of removing it manually. If Windows doesn't do so automatically, you can enable the device in Device Manager once the problem is resolved. Device Manager also gives you the option to uninstall a device when necessary.

Navigating Windows 7 Device Manager

Using Device Manager is simple and straightforward, which makes navigating your customers' hardware subsystem easy as well. Device Manager gives solutions providers several views into the hardware. Under View on the menu bar, you can:

  • Arrange devices by type or connection;
  • View resources by type or connection;
  • Show hidden devices, such as a PS/2 keyboard, when a USB keyboard is present.

You can also select Customize on the View menu to show or hide the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) tree, standard menus (such as Action and View), standard toolbar, status bar, description bar, taskpad navigation tabs and the Action pane. Choosing to view devices by connection type lists devices in a collapsible tree according to their respective connection points. For example, you can open the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface x86-based PC entry and then browse the Peripheral Component Interconnect bus for host controllers, Integrated Drive Electronics controllers and various chipsets.

Identifying Windows 7 mystery components

You may not always know the vendor of a particular product, so its make and model may be a mystery. Whenever you need a shortcut to identify a mystery component, just right-click its entry in Device Manager and select Properties to find the necessary device-specific information. The Properties dialog box not only displays whether the device is functioning properly (shown under Device status), but it also provides driver details and information on the resources it uses. To identify unknown hardware, select the Details tab, open the Property drop-down list and select Hardware IDs. The hardware ID is a string of letters and numbers indicating the vendor and part number (for example: PCI\VEN_10DE&DEV_0141). Search the Internet for the vendor code (10DE) and device number (0141), and you'll have a good shot at determining the make and model of the component.

Device Manager keeps track of additions and changes on your customers' Windows OSes as new hardware is added and old drivers become outdated. As a solutions provider, you can use Device Manager to identify sources of driver-related performance issues and resolve hardware conflicts.

About the expert
Ed Tittel is a full-time freelancer who's written and contributed to more than 100 computing books, including Microsoft Windows 7 In Depth (Que, 2009), and he writes and blogs regularly for numerous websites. Tittel's most recent projects have focused on Windows 7 as the OS nears its general availability release date.


This was first published in December 2009

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