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Windows 7 : Configuring Hardware (part 2) - Installing and Updating Device Drivers & Driver Signing

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3. Installing and Updating Device Drivers

Device drivers are the controlling code actually interfacing the hardware components with the operating system. The commands are specific to each piece of hardware, and there may be different commands, memory locations, or actions even within the same type of hardware. A network interface card (NIC) from one vender may actually have a different set of instructions than a NIC from a different manufacturer.

An operating system or software works best when it can issue a standard command and have the same functionality across the hardware regardless of vendor. This is where drivers come in; the driver takes a standard instruction from the operating system and issues the command to the hardware to perform the desired function.

Drivers need to be updated. For example, a command set for a driver may perform a function incorrectly. This can produce errors and would need to be fixed. The hardware vendor will update the driver to fix the problem. Or new or better functionality may be necessary or wanted, so the hardware vendor would need to change the driver code to add functionality or provide better performance, in turn leading to an update.

Typical first-time installation of drivers today happens automatically with the Plug and Play specification. After the hardware is installed, Windows 7 will recognize it and launch the driver installation program. Let's take, for example, the connection of a digital camera to the USB port of your computer.

Windows 7 will recognize that a device has been plugged in and will gather the information about the USB device. Windows 7 will then install the best driver it knows about (and if it doesn't know about the device, it will ask you how to proceed). Figure 8 shows the message indicating that the operating system found a driver and is installing it automatically.

Figure 8. Automatic driver installation

The installation completes and the device is now available in Device Manager, Figure 9 shows the digital camera as a hardware item you can now access as we did with the network adapter previously.

Figure 9. New device availability in Device Manager

If you need to review the driver details for your newly installed device, the digital camera in this case, you can right-click the device in Device Manager and choose Properties, Figure 10 shows the right-click menu (also known as the context menu); note that the top choice in this menu is a quick launch to update the driver software, if that's what you*re trying to do.

Figure 10. Right-click menu for a device in Device Manager

You may want to verify general information about the driver, like the provider or version. You can see that information in the driver tab of the Properties dialog box. You can also choose to view the driver details, which are the supporting files and associated paths. Figure 11 shows the Properties dialog box of the digital camera after the Driver tab has been selected and the Driver Details button clicked.

Figure 11. Driver details within Device Manager

Sometimes when you're having issues with a hardware device, you will go online and read forums or search engine queries for ideas from other administrators. Someone might mention that they had a problem with a specific driver for the hardware you're researching. They might even mention the exact version of the driver and suggest a fix. Having the ability to view information on drivers and update them is helpful in a situation such as this. Exercise 4 walks you through looking at driver details.

Exercise 4: Viewing Driver Details

Follow these steps to view the details of a device driver:

  1. Choose Start => Control Panel => Hardware And Sound => Device Manager (or type device manager in the integrated search window).

  2. Click the triangle next to the category in which you want to view driver details to expand the item list; you can also double-click the category name. For example, double-click the category Portable Devices to see the portable devices connected to the machine.

  3. Right-click the hardware item (e.g. Cannon PowerShot A550) and select Properties.

  4. Choose the Driver tab.

  5. View the driver version.

  6. Click the Driver Details button to see the files associated with the hardware.


Another task may be updating the drivers. In Exercise 5 we will look at updating a driver.

Exercise 5: Updating a Driver

  1. Choose Start => Control Panel => Hardware And Sound => Device Manager (or type device manager in the integrated search window).

  2. Click the triangle next to category for which you want to update the driver to expand the item list; you can also double-click the category name (e.g., double-click Portable Devices as a category to see the portable devices connected to the machine).

  3. Right-click the hardware item (e.g. Cannon PowerShot A550) and select Properties.

  4. Choose the Driver tab.

  5. Click the Update Driver button; a window launches asking how you want to search for the driver.



  6. Choose Search Automatically For Updated Driver Software to have Windows 7 search for you, or you can choose Browse My Computer For Driver Software if you have the new drivers already.

  7. Windows 7 searches for and update the drivers or reports back that you have the most current version.


Not only will you update drivers because of a failure or hardware issue—you will install new drivers for new or updated functionality. But there will be times when a hardware driver gets updated and the update breaks a piece of functioning hardware or doesn't solve a problem. You will want to go back to the previous version, or "roll back" the driver. In Exercise 6, you will learn how to do a driver rollback.

Exercise 6: Rolling Back a Driver

  1. Choose Start => Control Panel => Hardware And Sound => Device Manager (or type device manager in the integrated search window).

  2. Click the triangle next to the category for which you want to roll back the driver to expand the item list; you can also double-click the category name (e.g., double-click Portable Devices as a category to see the portable devices connected to the machine).

  3. Right-click the hardware item (e.g., Cannon PowerShot A550 as an item) and select Properties.

  4. Choose the Driver tab.

  5. Click the Roll Back Driver button. Note that if the Roll Back Driver button is grayed out, there isn't a previous version of the driver available.

  6. The previous driver will be installed and the hardware will return to its previous state of functionality.


The Driver tab for a piece of installed hardware in Device Manager also provides functionality for disabling and uninstalling a driver. Why would you want to disable a driver? There are several possibilities, but troubleshooting is one of the most common reasons.

Disabling the driver effectively disables the hardware; it will no longer function as designed. Uninstalling the device driver also has a similar effect, but if the hardware is still installed, you can uninstall and perform a scan to ensure that the hardware is stilt recognized and induce a reinstallation.

I have often disabled a device from Device Manager to eliminate one part of an issue I am having with a system. If I'm confident that the problem is with the hardware, I will uninstall the driver and let the operating system reinstall it as part of the troubleshooting procedure. This works much of the time and is a good place to start. In Exercise 7, you will disable and enable a device driver.

Exercise 7: Disabling and Enabling a Device in Device Manager

  1. Choose Start => Control Panel => Hardware And Sound => Device Manager (or type device manager in the integrated search window).

  2. Click the triangle next to the appropriate category to expand the item list; you can also double-click the category name (e.g., double-click Portable Devices to see the portable devices connected to the machine).

  3. Right-click the hardware item (e.g. Cannon PowerShot A550) and select Properties. Note that you can select Disable directly from the context menu if desired.

  4. Choose the Driver tab.

  5. Click the Disable button. (This is a toggle button; it will be labeled Disable if the device is enabled and Enable if the device is disabled.)

  6. The device driver and hence the device will be disabled and will no longer function. There will be a down arrow on the item in Device Manager and the General tab will show the device disabled. Close the properties dialog box for that device.

  7. Right-click the hardware item (e.g. Cannon PowerShot A550) and select Properties.

  8. Choose the Driver tab.

  9. Click the Enable button. (This is a toggle button; it will say Enable if the device is disabled, or Disable if the device is enabled.)

  10. The device driver will become enabled and the hardware will work as designed (barring any other issues). Close Device Manager.


It may be beneficial at times to uninstall and reinstall a device driver. Many times when you uninstall and reinstall a device driver, the default configuration parameters will be reset to their original specifications.

Any changes you have made will need to be reconfigured, but if the device driver worked previously and has stopped for some unknown reason (if you knew the reason, you'd simply fix it, eh?), uninstalling and reinstalling is worth a try. You may also consider using a different device driver than Windows 7 is set up to use via Plug and Play.

Uninstalling the device driver and manually installing a different version may be a solution as well. It should be noted here that uninstalling a device driver does not delete the driver files from the machine; uninstalling the device drivers removes the operating system configuration for the hardware.

You may want or need to find the files and delete them manually in some cases. Remember, you can find the files (and thus the filenames) from Driver Details found within the Driver tab of the Properties dialog box of the hardware from Device Manager.

If you have determined that the device driver for your misbehaving hardware is potentially causing the problem you are having, you can decide to uninstall and reinstall (automatically) the drivers. In Exercise 8, you will uninstall and then reinstall a device driver.

Exercise 8: Uninstalling and Reinstalling a Device Driver

  1. Choose Start => Control Panel => Hardware And Sound => Device Manager (or type device manager in the integrated search window).

  2. Click the triangle next to category for the device you want to uninstall to expand the item list; you can also double-click the category name (e.g., double-click Portable Devices to see the portable devices connected to the machine).

  3. Right-click the hardware item (e.g. Cannon PowerShot A550) and select Properties, Note that you can select Uninstall directly from the context menu.

  4. Choose the Driver tab.

  5. Click the Uninstall button.

  6. Click OK in the Confirm Device Uninstall dialog box. A progress box appears as the device driver is uninstalled. Once the driver is uninstalled. Device Manager will no longer show it.

  7. From Device Manager, choose the Action menu item and select Scan For Hardware Changes; alternatively, you can right-click the machine name in Device Manager and select Scan For Hardware Changes from the context menu.



  8. Windows 7 will initiate the process of discovering the Plug and Play device and will reinstall the device driver configuration into the operating system. The hardware will be available again within Device Manager.


A lot of hardware manufacturers would like you to install the driver files and some software for their device before the operating system has a chance to discover it. This may be just so the software program controlling some of the hardware functionality will be installed first so its configuration file can accurately reference the installed drivers, or it could be to add the driver files to the driver configuration directories of the operating system before the operating system discovers the device.

This is usually done by inserting and running a setup program from a provided CD or DVD. I will say the hardware vendors know what's best. As an Admin, it's sometimes hard not to just install the hardware and go from there, but following the vendor's recommendations will most often produce a better result.

There are also situations we run into requiring a manual installation of hardware. This may be for legacy hardware you are using, for drivers not supplied in the operating system distribution files, or drivers which may perform different functions from the default drivers available. You can also do this within Windows 7, from Device Manager through the Add Hardware Wizard.

In the manual installation process, you can have Windows 7 go out to the internet to find a current driver, or you can specify a location of your choosing locally. From Device Manager you launch the Add Hardware Wizard by choosing Add Legacy Hardware from either the Action menu or the context menu of the machine as shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12. Add Hardware Wizard initial window

The next step is to tell Windows 7 where to look for the driver. This is the next page of the Add Hardware Wizard, as Figure 13 shows.

Figure 13. Driver file location choices

To choose a piece of hardware from a list of supplied drivers or, more importantly* to choose a specific path, select the option Install The Hardware That I Manually Select For A List (Advanced) and choose Next. This allows you select a device or choose Show Ail Devices (Figure 14); the Show All Devices choice and Next will give you the ability to choose a location.

Figure 14. Add Hardware Device Wizard select hardware window

If you have a disk or have the appropriate drivers stored in an accessible location, click the Have Disk button (as seen in Figure 15) and browse to the driver files you need to install. If all goes as planned, the hardware device drivers will be installed and Device Manager will display the newly installed hardware.

Figure 15. Add Hardware Device Wizard, Have Disk

4. Driver Signing

In this world of hackers and viruses, one issue that needs to be addressed is the possibility that drivers that are downloaded have viruses or worms.

To help combat this problem, drivers that are created from reputable companies (like Dell, Compaq, etc.) assign a digital file certificate to the driver to show its validity.

One way to verify that all the drivers on your machine are verified is to run the Sigverif.exe from the Search Programs and Files box on the Start menu. When you run the Sigverif.exe program, the program will verify that all drivers on the machine are verified.

Exercise 9 walks you through the steps of verifying the drivers on your machine.

Exercise 9: Verifying Signed Drivers

  1. Run the Sigverif.exe program by clicking Start and typing Sigverif.exe in the Search Programs And Files box and then pressing Enter.

  2. The File Signature Verification box appears. Click Start.



  3. You will notice that the system scan begins. When the system is finished verifying the drivers, a message will appear. Click OK.



  4. If there are any programs with unsigned drivers, they will be displayed at this time. Click Close to close the Sigverif.exe program.


Knowing how to properly install and configure drivers is an important part of an IT professional's job. Another task that we must perform is managing input/output devices.

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