Forcefully rooting out a bad hardware driver

Fred langa By Fred Langa

Sometimes you have to rip out a bad driver by its roots in order to install a new and better driver.

A skillful reader tracks down and solves a driver problem before Fred can even reply!

Remove a troublesome driver completely

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So it’s not entirely surprising when a reader solves a problem before I come up with the answer. That’s the case with Bill Anton, who asked about a perplexing CD/DVD issue but then tracked down the answer and fixed the problem himself.
  • “Hi, Fred. I’ve been in this IT racket for 50 years — from mainframes to Macs — and thought I’d seen it all. But this problem has really stumped me.

    “I’m on an HP Pavilion (2007 model) running Vista, all patched and current, with zero problems since install. Last week, the internal CD/DVD drive stopped working. Device Manager showed that little “uh-oh” yellow exclamation point, and the properties told me, ‘Windows cannot load the device driver for this hardware. The driver may be corrupted or missing. (Code 39).’ I tried Update Driver, but Windows said that the current driver was the latest. Hmmm.

    “On a deadline and up against it, I truck on down to the store, buy the latest USB CD/DVD external drive, and plug it in. Same problem. Device Manager lists both drives and shows the same error for both.

    “After a lot of Googlin’ and reading and experimentation, I’m out of ideas. I shudder at the idea, but do you think a full reinstall would help? Or maybe you have a better idea?”
My first thought was, perhaps the driver on Bill’s hard disk was working — just enough to present itself to the system as the correct driver but not well enough to actually run the drives. He’d have to get rid of the old driver before Update Driver would install a new one.

But before I could write and suggest that, a second note arrived from Bill:
  • “Fred, I ran the Vista Automated Fix it in MS Support article 929461. It found the same problem but couldn’t fix it. However, it offered to let me start a $49 chat session with MS for help with the problem. I figured, hey, I’ve put at least 50 bucks into this already, let them have a shot and maybe it’ll save me a trip to the local PC guru (who’ll charge me at least that much and keep my PC for a week).

    “Anyway, long story short, the MS rep had me uninstall the CD/DVD drive (in Device Manager) and then do the Scan for hardware changes command — no reboot. The scan picked up the driver and reinstalled it, and now all works just fine. Magic. I had been doing pretty much the same thing, except that after the uninstall step I was rebooting to let the PC reload the driver — and skipping the scan step.

    “Thanks anyway. Add this to your long list of fixes — I sure have.”
Yes, the Scan for changes option (under Action in the Device Manager toolbar) can help. Also, when you uninstall a device via Device Manager, you’ll often be given the option of saving or deleting the current driver. Deleting the current driver helps make sure you get a clean start when you install a new driver downloaded from the manufacturer’s site.

But clearly, you didn’t need me to tell you that. Nice, nice work, Bill!

Value of a RAID configuration on a desktop?

Karl Barton’s desktop RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) system is broken. There’s a fix, but it raises the question: Why use RAID on a desktop system at all?
  • “I have two hard drives (RAID 0, striped configuration) and am getting an error on one of them when my computer starts up. I was wondering what it could be. The computer seems to be running okay. It properly shows the total size of both drives — as do other places I check (hardware manager, properties, etc.)

    “I have run Windows CHKDSK but found no errors.”
A RAID 0 setup interleafs your data across two drives. As a result, both drives must operate in close sync. (Need help with RAID basics? See About.com’s story, “What is RAID?” or PCGuide’s RAID reference guide.)

My guess is that one of your drives isn’t spinning up fast enough and is being left behind by the other drive at startup. With every other piece of data missing or delayed, the system can’t start normally. However, once the drive has warmed up and is operating at normal speed, it works fine and passes your CHKDSK tests.

Uneven drive performance can happen when the drives’ specs are significantly different or if one of the drives has sustained damage or heavy wear, causing it to behave differently from its twin.

Your note isn’t clear about the age of the drive that’s failing. With wear and time, a drive’s lubricants slowly degrade and may become thickened, either through chemical changes or with tiny particles worn off the bearing surfaces.

Eventually, it shows up as reduced performance, especially at startup when the drives are cold — which is when you say your problem occurs.

Replacing the problematic drive(s) with exactly matching new drives will probably solve the startup problem.

But before you go that route, I suggest that you rethink your use of RAID. Most of the original impetus for RAID is now passé on desktop systems.

Invented in 1987, RAID is now considered ancient computer tech. The basic idea was simply to gang together several small, somewhat less-expensive drives as a way to overcome the high cost and low performance and reliability of the larger drives, then available.

For example, in 1987 a 10MB drive cost about $900, or a whopping $90 per megabyte.

But today, hard-drive storage cost has dropped by a factor of 10,000 (!) to around $0.09 per megabyte. (For example, you can buy a 1TB drive for about $90.) So saving money fails as a rational argument in favor of RAID.

RAID 0 striping was specifically invented to work around the throughput bottlenecks of the slow-spinning, slow-acting drives of the day. But today’s top-notch, 10,000 RPM SATA drives are screamingly fast. With enormous throughput already available from a single drive, a RAID 0 setup really adds nothing to a desktop system except needless complexity.

There are a few special cases — especially in mission-critical server setups — where some varieties of RAID can provide highly effective fault tolerance and data redundancy. But, again, I think RAID is needless overkill on most desktop systems.

It’s something to think about, Karl. A simpler setup may serve you better.

Are two image/backup tools better than one?

Don Cauble wants to be completely sure he can back up his system.
  • “Is it not a good idea to have two drive-image programs, such as Acronis True Image and Macrium Reflect Free, to back up your system?”
I’m not sure what you’d gain by using two different backup methods, Don. If you have a good backup method and know it works (you’ve tested it to ensure you can restore the backed-up images and files), there’s no reason to think that the software in question will suddenly stop working.

One problem you may encounter with backup tools occurs when a vendor goes out of business. With new versions of Windows, the old, abandoned backup software may eventually stop working. But this isn’t something that happens suddenly or without warning.

I suggest you find a tool that you like, that’s easy to use, and that you know works well with your current setup. Use it religiously and you’ll be all set.

Download and share MSE definition files

Terry Rothwell is using Microsoft Security Essentials and wants to manually download antivirus definitions, then install the saved file on many different PCs.
  • “I have installed Microsoft Security essentials on many machines and inquire whether it is possible to import or copy the definitions from one machine to another without having to do individual updates, which takes quite a long time on each machine. If so, from where do I copy the data and what data do I copy?”
You’ll be glad to hear that you can download a single .exe file that contains the latest MSE definitions, and you can move that file to as many different PCs as needed.

Go to Microsoft’s Malware Protection Center site. (You may be asked for a Windows Live login; it’s free, if you don’t already have one.) Click Get the latest definitions in the menu bar and select Microsoft Security Essentials from the drop-down menu. (See Figure 1.)

Microsoft's malware protection center portal
Figure 1. Microsoft’s Malware Protection Center portal is the place to download MSE virus definitions as standalone, sharable, executable files.

When you get to the MSE definition-installation page, scroll down to the paragraph labeled Step One and click on the download the latest definition updates link. When the download dialog opens, choose Save (as shown in Figure 2).

Save the definition file
Figure 2. You can save the definition file to any convenient location and later share it by any means you wish.

Once saved, you can then move the definitions file from PC to PC via network, thumb drive, or whatever. Double-click on the file to run it; it will update the MSE definitions on whatever machine it’s on.

Piece o’ cake, Terry, and another example of how good MSE really is — and for free!

Feedback welcome: Have a question or comment about this story? Post your thoughts, praises, or constructive criticisms in the WS Columns forum.

Reader Bill Anton will receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of his choice for sending the tip we printed above. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

Fred Langa is a senior editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He was formerly editor of Byte Magazine (1987–91), editorial director of CMP Media (1991–97), and editor of the LangaList e-mail newsletter from its origin in 1997 until its merger with Windows Secrets in November 2006.
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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.