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Managing Hardware in Windows 7 (part 2) - Managing BIOS & Managing Devices

5/23/2011 11:34:12 AM

3. Managing BIOS

Every PC today has a basic input/output system (BIOS). It's built into the motherboard and usually as some type of erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM).

BIOS is needed to help the processor locate the basic components of a system and find the hard drive. Once the hard drive is located, a Windows 7 system will use the BCD store to start the boot process and ultimately load Windows 7.

The BIOS program includes many different settings that can be manipulated to modify how some of the hardware is used. A common reason to go into the BIOS is to change the boot order or enable the system to boot from different components. For example, a system may not be configured to boot from the DVD drive, a USB drive, or the NIC. The BIOS would include settings that can enable these selections and to change the boot order.

Just as any other program can be upgraded, the BIOS can be upgraded too. If an update is available for your BIOS, you can download the update from the manufacturer and apply it to your system. This is commonly referred to as flashing the BIOS.

The common reason to flash your BIOS is that a capability is not available in the current program. For example, a processor may have the virtualization capability available, but the BIOS may not have the ability to enable virtualization. If a newer version of the BIOS is available, you can download it, flash your BIOS, and you'll have the capability.

4. Managing Devices

Beyond memory and the disks, you may need to manage and troubleshoot issues with other devices installed on a system. The process of installing devices is often automated using the driver store, but if you need to do any manual intervention, the primary tool you'll use is Device Manager.

Devices are installed in two steps: staging and installation.

Staging During the staging step, all of the driver files are staged in the driver store. Drivers can be staged at any time (even if the device is not present in the system). The driver store is located at %systemroot%\ system32\DriverStore.

Installation The Plug and Play (PnP) process detects the new device and installs the driver from the driver store. If the driver is not in the store, Windows Update is checked and the driver is downloaded, staged, and then installed. If PnP detects the device but can't find a driver, the Add New Hardware Wizard will launch.

When installing drivers from third-party sources (such as the installation CD provided with the hardware), the drivers will be added to the driver store and then installed.

Although Windows 7 will check Windows Update for drivers not in the driver store by default, this can be modified. Figure 5 shows the default Device Installation Settings page. You can get to this page by right-clicking Computer, selecting Properties, selecting the Hardware tab, and clicking the Device Installation Settings button.

Figure 5. Automating driver downloads

This feature also downloads icons of your hardware devices that you see in the Devices And Printers page. Although this setting will allow drivers to be downloaded automatically when a new device is initially added to your system, it will not update the drivers for installed devices if drivers later become available.

The primary tool you'll use to manage devices and device drivers, including updating drivers for existing devices, is the Device Manager tool.

4.1. Using Device Manager

You can easily use Device Manager to check on the status of devices installed on the system and for updating device drivers. In this section, you'll learn about Device Manager, rolling back drivers, and signed or trusted drivers.

You can access Device Manager using several different methods. For example, you can click Start => Control Panel and enter Devices in the Control Panel search text box. Several links will appear. Click any of them labeled Device Manager.

Figure 6 shows Device Manager with the Realtek PCIe network interface card in the Network Adapters section disabled. This shows how easy it is to identify problems with Device Manager. If there are issues with any devices in Device Manager, the related sections will be expanded and the devices will have an extra icon.

Figure 6. Viewing Device Manager

In the figure, the Realtek NIC has a small down-arrow icon to indicate it is disabled. When the device is disabled, the Disable choice changes to Enable, and it can be enabled again by right-clicking it and selecting Enable.

If you suspect a device is causing problems in your system, you can use Device Manager to disable it. This ensures it isn't using any resources.

Device Manager will display a warning icon if there are any issues with the device. A common problem with devices is related to the driver, and a warning icon usually indicates the driver should be reinstalled.

4.1.1. Understanding Signed Drivers

Microsoft has a process in place that verifies device drivers. Drivers are submitted by manufacturers to the Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL). WHQL performs a series of compatibility tests on the driver, and if the driver passes the tests, the driver is signed and is referred to as a signed driver or a trusted driver.

WHQL issues a certificate and associates the certificate with the driver. The certificate provides the signature for the driver and assures you that it has been tested and verified by Microsoft. Signed drivers are then made available via the Windows Update site.

Hardware developers can sign their drivers without submitting them to WHQL. A certificate is purchased from a Certificate Authority (CA) and associated with the driver. If the CA is trusted by the end user, the driver is considered trusted. This provides proof that the driver being installed has not been corrupted with malware.

Although signed drivers will help ensure a more stable system, unsigned drivers can also be used in a system. An unsigned driver could have been created by a reputable company, but it could also have been created or modified by an attacker who wants to infect a system. Only members of the Local Administrators group can install an unsigned or untrusted driver.

NOTE

If the driver lacks a valid signature or the driver has been altered, Windows 7 displays a warning prompt indicating that the file does not have a valid digital signature, and an administrator must approve the installation. Only administrators can approve the installation of an untrusted driver.

In versions of Windows before Windows Vista, you could configure a driver-signing policy to block the installation of unsigned drivers, warn that the driver is unsigned, or ignore the warning. Windows 7 supports only the Warn option, so each time an unsigned driver is being installed, Windows will always warn that it is untrusted.

The File Signature Verification tool (sigverif.exe) can be used to scan your system and identify any unsigned drivers in it. You can start it by clicking Start, typing sigverif in the Search box, and pressing Enter. Click Start, and it will scan the drivers in your system.

Figure 7 shows the results of running the File Signature Verification tool. It identified four unsigned files on this system. These are nVidia graphics files. Again, just because a file is not signed doesn't mean it isn't valid, but only that it doesn't include a digital signature from a trusted certificate authority.

Figure 7. Running the File Signature Verification tool

NOTE

Signed driver files are also prevented from being infected. If the driver becomes infected with malware, it will no longer match the data in the certificate, and the signature will be recognized as invalid.

If there aren't any unsigned drivers, sigverif will return a dialog box that indicates that all your files have been scanned and verified as digitally signed. Sigverif will also create a log located in your Documents folder named sigverif.txt that you can review at any time. It lists all the files that have been scanned.

4.1.2. Updating a Driver

Drivers are often updated by the manufacturer because of bugs or to add capabilities. Manufacturers then submit them to WHQL for verification, and ultimately they are released on the Windows Update site.

You can update the drivers from Windows Update using the following steps:

  1. Right-click the device in Device Manager, and select Update Driver Software.

  2. Select Search Automatically For Updated Driver Software.

  3. The Windows Update site will be contacted. If an updated driver is available, it will be downloaded, and you'll be led through the process to update it.

If the driver has not completed the WHQL process, you can download it from the manufacturer. Often, a manufacturer will include a self-extracting executable that you can launch to complete the installation.

Other times, you'll download the driver and extract it to location on your system. You can then update drivers using Device Manager with the following steps:

  1. Right-click the device in Device Manager, and select Update Driver Software.

  2. Select Browse My Computer For Driver Software.

  3. Click Browse to browse to where you extracted the driver files, and click Next.

  4. The wizard will locate the driver and lead you through the process of installing it.

If the driver is not signed, you'll see a warning dialog box indicating it isn't signed and asking if you want to continue.

4.1.3. Rolling Back a Driver in Device Manager

If you've updated a driver and found that it's an incorrect driver or that it's causing problems on the system, you can roll back the driver. This will uninstall the current driver and reinstall the previous driver.

You can roll back only to the previous driver. If you update driver 1 to driver 2 and then update driver 2 to driver 3, the best you can do is roll back to driver 2. You cannot roll back two versions of a driver. As a best practice, if you install a driver that isn't what you want, you should roll it back before installing another one. This allows you always to get back to the original driver.


Figure 8 shows the properties of a driver that has been updated. You can access this page by right-clicking the device in Device Manager and selecting Properties. If a driver hasn't been updated, the Roll Back Driver button is dimmed and cannot be selected.

Figure 8. Viewing the driver properties

To roll back the driver, click the Roll Back Driver button. You'll be prompted with an Are You Sure dialog box, and when you click Yes, the current driver will be removed and the previous driver will be installed.

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