Windows Setup Guide: Drivers
Once you get your operating system installed you will need to install device drivers. The concept of a device driver seems sort of silly, and I personally agree. The basic concept is that your computer needs a device driver to allow your operating system to understand the language (features) of an installed device. You would think that every device on a computer would speak the same language and that using software as a bridge would be slow and buggy, and I am sorry to say that it is totally true and most crashes are because of a driver.
1. Device Drivers Explanation
2. Driver Types
1. Device Drivers Explanation
Drivers are a very important part of a modern day computer. Drivers are simple programs that provide an interface bridge between your hardware and your software applications (normally your operating system which then bridges other software). Some of these drivers come pre-equipped in Windows XP so your devices will automatically work after installing, and some devices are so common they can use standard drivers for most functionality but require updated drivers for additional features. However, many newer or less common hardware devices require to be installed with drivers to be recognized or to work properly. And like all programs there are bugs that are often fixed by driver revisions that you must obtain, normally by downloading them.
There are many different types of drivers and they vary by what type of device they are for. I have decided to break these up into audio, chipset, communication, input, printer, video and visual groups. However, there is no standardized groupings for these, so elsewhere these groups may appear along different grouping lines.
Most drivers can be obtained from the manufacturer of a device. So in the case of an HP Deskjet printer you would go to HP's website and download these. If you didn't know HP's website then you could easily do a quick search on Google for "Hewlett Packard" to find their home. Some devices are made by very small companies that do not always have an intelligently named or well known website, and sometimes these sites are not in English. And there is always the chance that your device does not have freely downloadable drivers available on the Internet, or that there weren't drivers released for your device for your operating system, or your drivers must be obtained from a 3rd party.
For big name computer distributors like Dell, HP/Compaq, Sony, etc. you can normally find all the drivers for your computer at their page instead of going to the company that manufactured the actual hardware. Companies such as these are called resellers or sometimes value added resellers (VARs) since they resell bundled technology made by others at a higher price (since they added value by bundling it under their name). An example of this is that Dell uses Intel processors in their computers. Intel would be called the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for the processor, and Dell would be considered a VAR because they resell that technology under their own name.
This affects driver downloads because you have to know where to obtain your drivers. A good example of this was with the video card industry. Most video card companies purchase the core technologies for their video cards from other companies, usually either from nVidia or ATI. They sometimes modify the video cards a little bit, but end up changing little else than their colors. Sometimes they will alter core or memory speeds or add different cooling systems on, but the differences are usually minor. So you could buy a video card from a company called Sapphire that resold ATI technology, but you could usually download drivers for both of them. Often the drivers provided by the retail company, in this case Sapphire, would be a little more compatible, but the drivers provided by the OEM or reference company, in this case ATI, would be updated more frequently and more standard. This issue has lessened a great deal in the video card industry and now most drivers are made by the OEMs, but in some markets you could find this same situation.
Before you install Windows it is normally a good idea to have your drivers available for installation without having to download them. So prepare a burned CD with the latest versions of the drivers made for your computer and this will save you a lot of hassle. Most computers come with a CD or CDs with drivers for all of their devices. And most people install these first and then update them to the latest revisions after the fact. I do not suggest doing this as installing a newer driver on top of an older driver could potentially cause problems, but this is a blanket warning so it depends a lot on your computer.
Once you have your drivers installed it is a well understood practice that you should update your drivers fairly frequently. Some drivers need to be updated more often than others, and generally speaking the video card drivers are the most picky. So if you find yourself playing a lot of new games, then keeping your video drivers updated will solve a lot of issues (such as locking up your computer). Most companies warn about updating your drivers as there is a chance that updating a driver could cause an incompatibility that could force you to reinstall Windows. So they suggest you only update if you experience a problem. However, drivers often increase performance or add additional features so most people feel it is worth any small risk.
In section (2) I have broken the drivers down into groups. It should be noted that these are categories that I have devised and by no means are they officially. These have been separated just to better organize the vast amount of different drivers.
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2. Driver Types
There are several categories that I have broken drivers up into. Most drivers now-a-days are easy to find thanks to the Internet (before the Internet it wasn't so easy). Remember that Google is your friend and this can help you find most devices. Also, Windows XP has a great built-in database of drivers so it is possible that some of your devices will be supported without any type of searching, but I always recommend using the latest drivers instead of those built in. In theory Windows Update can install drivers, but I've had it work for many 5 devices in my life (and I install a lot of stuff).
Audio drivers are used in producing sound signals that are sent to your speakers from a sound card. The sound card drivers are usually rather simplistic as the sound cards themselves are not very complex. And most sound card drivers come with installers that provide sound editors, volume mixers, etc.. This usually bloats the driver installs a great deal, from what should be a few kilobytes to many megabytes. There aren't very many sound card manufacturers on the market and really you only have a choice between Creative Labs and Turtle Beach Connected Audio. There are various other sound card producers, but most of them just rehash AC97 sound chips or cmedia chips.
The term chipset is a rather generic term, but the way I am using it is for any motherboard specific device. The motherboard on a computer is the foundation of a computer and allows other devices to be "plugged" into it. In the old days you used to plug daughterboards into the motherboard, but now we just refer to these as internal peripheral devices or add-in cards. The motherboard has several important parts that require drivers, such as the northbridge and the southbridge. These drivers are usually released by the VARs, but can also be obtained from the OEMs. Most chipset drivers are made by Intel, VIA, SiS, AMD and nVidia. These drivers usually have horrible names (a bunch of meaningless hard to remember numbers) and in the case of Intel is buried within thousands of other unrelated pages. So in the case of Intel I will help you out and tell you that they call their chipset drivers "Intel INF Update".
I consider communication devices anything that allows interaction with other computers. This brings up a few gray areas, but generally this includes modems, ethernet cards, and wireless cards. In case you are wondering, the gray areas could be things such as Bluetooth or Firewire, which can be used for interacting between computers but mostly are used for other purposes (they're usually include in chipset driver bundles anyhow).
In the case of dial-up modems you can often use standard Windows drivers at the loss of some features (usually the drivers make the connection more stable, which means less hangups). But, if you use a dial-up modem to connect to the Internet then I highly suggest having this on hand before installing Windows. In you have a broadband modem (DSL or cable) then the drivers aren't usually important because they normally go through Ethernet. Cable modems are typically far less picky and they normally allow you to plug right into the modem and browse as if it were a normal LAN connection. DSL modems require PPPoE software, but that functionality is built into Windows. That's an entirely different topic though. Some people use USB on their cable modems though, and this requires special drivers.
As for Ethernet cards there are only a few major companies that produce most ethernet cards and they are Intel, 3Com, Broadcom, Linksys, Netgear, SMC, and D-Link and nVidia. There are several others but they are far less common, and luckily most network drivers will work right off the bat with Windows XP. Before installing Windows you should be certain to have your network drivers on hand as it is hard to download drivers if you can't connect to the Internet. If you don't use ethernet to connect to the Internet then this isn't a problem of course.
Wireless cards a bit more tricky than ethernet cards and modems. The wireless market exploded and everyone wanted to get in on the action, including Microsoft. A lot of times the wireless drivers will be included with your chipset driver bundle, but this depends if your wireless is onboard or if it's an add-in card or if it's PCMCIA (laptop PC card). The lucky part of this though is that all the companies are very well known and mark their products with pride, so you can easily look them up on Google.
These are the devices that allow you to control your computer, and these include your keyboard, your mouse, joysticks, gamepads, tablets, and other such devices. Most mice and keyboards will work without additional drivers, but it is recommend you download them and install them anyhow as they will improve sensitivity and add more features.
Most keyboards and mice are made by Microsoft, Logitech and Kensington. Bluetooth or other wireless mice and keyboard sometimes require drivers, and may require using a wired keyboard or mouse before you install the wireless drivers.
Joysticks and Gamepads almost always require outside drivers, unless you are using Microsoft Sidewinder products, and even then newer drivers work better. The other companies that make these Logitech, Kensington, Gravis, and Mad Catz.
For other various input devices I would suggest using Google to figure out where to get the drivers for them.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of printer drivers come with Windows XP to support most printers. However, these drivers are mostly written by Microsoft so they don't offer all the functionality that an OEM driver would. Which means if your printer has duplexing options, then you won't get it from the standard driver, and that's just a single example. For new printers you will need to, of course, download the drivers for the printers. But, generally speaking newer printer drivers fix very little so it's not as critical to update your drivers unless you experience some type of problem. There are quite a few printer companies, but the main ones are HP, Lexmark, and Canon. Other than that, it is pretty easy to tell what company makes your printer so a quick Google search should find you the place to get the drivers for your printer.
Video drivers are perhaps the most important drivers on your computer to have the latest versions of. At least if you play games with them. There are really only a few different companies that make video cards, and only two of these make highend ones. The two main ones are ATI and nVidia. Then there are several other companies such as Matrox, S3 and Intel that make either less mainstream cards or lowend chipsets. Most of the drivers from each of these companies comes bundled in one large driver pack that supports most of their current graphics cards, and in the case of Intel you can download their Intel INF update chipset bundle to retrieve their graphics drivers. In the past there used to be a great deal of graphics companies, but most have either rolled up into ATI or nVidia, or have hid under a rock from the freight train momentum that ATI and nVIdia have created.
Visual drivers range from such things as webcams, to things such as scanners, to other things such as your monitor. I would suggest looking at the label for these things and finding the drivers yourself for these. In the case of monitors though it isn't a very important matter to obtain drivers. All they do for your monitor is provide allowed resolutions and refresh rates, and without these you can just test different modes to see if they work. So if you have a problem finding a monitor driver, then don't worry about it.
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