Windows XP / Beginners

Installing New Hardware

If you have a USB device - a printer, hard drive, scanner, camera, flash memory card, foot massager, water desalination plant, or demolition machine for a new intergalactic highway - just plug the device into a USB port, and you're ready to go.

Two fundamentally different approaches to installing new hardware exist. It amazes me that some people never even consider the possibility of doing it themselves, whereas other people wouldn't have the store install new hardware for them on a bet!

Have the store do it

When you buy a new hard drive or video card, or anything else that goes inside your computer, why sweat the installation? For a few extra bucks, most stores will install what they sell. This is the easy, safe way! Instead of messing around with unfamiliar gadgets, which may be complicated and delicate, let somebody experienced do the work for you.

Different types of hardware present different levels of difficulty. It may make plenty of sense for you to install one type of device but not another.

At one end of the scale, installing a new video card or hard drive can be rather difficult and is best done by an expert. At the other end, speakers don't need any installation; you just plug them in and they work. The store can show you where the connectors go, but you have to plug them in yourself when you get home.

Here are some guidelines to help you judge how difficult an installation is likely to be:

  • Any device that goes inside your computer is best left to the store unless you have experience with that specific kind of computer hardware.
  • Any device that has a SCSI interface is best left to the store.
  • A device with a USB interface is usually easy; nine times out of ten, you just plug it in and it works.
  • A device with a serial or parallel interface is likely to be in between.
  • Most wireless networking systems nowadays go in with nary a hiccup.

A cable modem should be installed by the communication carrier's technician if at all possible. DSL modems are easier to install, but you have to know whether your phone line is ready. The modem just plugs in, but the telephone line or cable may require configuration or rewiring to deliver the signal properly.

If you're unsure whether to install something yourself, ask the store what's involved. If you decide to try it, but the instructions confuse you or scare you when you read them, don't be embarrassed to go back and ask for help.

Do it yourself

If you decide to install a device yourself, the job is more likely to go smoothly if you observe these guidelines:

  • Don't just dive in - read the instructions first! Pay attention to any warnings they give. Look for steps where you may have trouble. Are any of the instructions unclear? Does the procedure require any software or parts that appear to be missing? Try to resolve these potential problems ahead of time.
  • Back up your system before you start. It's unlikely that your attempt to install a new device will disturb your system if it fails, but a backup is a good insurance policy in case something bad happens. You need to back up your data files. Windows XP will create a system checkpoint and back up all the internal stuff.
  • Write down everything you do in case you need to undo it or ask for help. This is particularly important if you're opening up your computer to install an internal device!
  • If the device comes with a Windows XP driver, check the manufacturer's Web site to see if you have the latest version. A company usually keeps drivers in one or more Web pages that you can find by clicking a link for Drivers, Downloads, or Support. If you discover a version that is newer than the one packaged with the device, download it and install it instead.

If you can't tell whether the version on the Web site is newer because you can't tell what version came with the device, you have two choices:

  • Download and install the Web site's version just in case. It's unlikely to be older than the one that came with the device!
  • Install the one that came with the device. Then check its date and version number. (See the "Checking a driver's version" section, coming up next.) If the one on the Web site proves to be newer, download the newer one and install it. Read the instructions; you may need to uninstall the original driver first.

Checking a driver's version

To check the version number of a driver, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Start → Control Panel.
  2. Click System.
    Windows XP opens the System Properties dialog box.
  3. Click the Hardware tab.
  4. Click the Device Manager button.
    Windows XP opens the Device Manager window.
  5. Click the plus sign next to the heading that contains the device you want to check.
    Windows XP expands that heading to show its devices.
    You may have to try several headings to find the right one. If you guess wrong, just click again to collapse the heading you expanded.
  6. Double-click the device to open the Device Properties dialog box.
  7. Click the Driver tab to display details about the driver.
    You should be able to identify the latest driver by its date, its version number, or both.

If anything goes wrong

If your installation is unsuccessful, try these things in any order that makes sense to you:

  • Review the instructions. Look for a section with a title such as "Troubleshooting" for suggestions on how to proceed.
  • Call or e-mail the manufacturer's technical support service for help. The manual or the Web site will tell you how.
  • Call the store, or pack everything up and take it in. If you happen to have a seven-foot-tall friend named Guido who drags his hairy knuckles on the ground, take him along with you. Moral support, eh?

If your computer no longer works correctly, restart Windows XP with the last known good configuration. (See the instructions in the next section.)

[Previous] [Contents] [Next]