Regardless of any changes you want to make in Vista, if your hardware is not configured properly its capabilities will not be correctly utilised, indeed serious problems may occur.
While this chapter does not go into the complexities of how to build a PC, once you've built a PC or purchased a pre-built machine, you should firstly make sure that the hardware settings in the machine's BIOS are correct, and that the hardware is properly cooled. These topics are covered below.
The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is a program held on a small ROM chip on your motherboard. It provides the instructions for what your PC should do as soon as it turns on. Your BIOS is independent of your Operating System, which means it is not directly affected by the operating system you use, or which driver version you've installed, or what your settings are in Windows for example. The BIOS supersedes all of that, and your drivers and operating system will load after the BIOS has loaded up. The BIOS controls a range of hardware-related features and is the middle-man between your CPU and other devices.
If there is an incorrect setting in your BIOS - that is a setting which is not optimal or correct for your hardware configuration - then you will have problems regardless of what you change in Windows, or which driver versions you install. Importantly, the BIOS is best configured correctly before installing Windows, as this reduces the number of unnecessary services and drivers which Windows may install, and helps reduce the potential for IRQ conflicts which is discussed further below.
As your BIOS starts to load, the first thing it does is the Power-On Self Test (POST), a diagnostic program which quickly checks your components and makes sure everything is present and working OK. The POST sequence is usually extremely fast; you will only really notice it if it stops when encountering an error. POST error messages can be a bit obscure, but usually give you a lead as to where to look in your BIOS settings. A quick general guide to what the startup error beeps mean is this POST Error Codes, but a more accurate description specific to your hardware is usually found in your motherboard's manual.
If you have no POST errors you will then see your PC's startup screen, which shows such information as your BIOS type (e.g. Award BIOS), the key to press to access your BIOS settings (e.g. DEL or ESC), the type of processor and its speed, RAM amount and RAM test results, drive information, etc. Note that if any of this information is incorrect, it may be that your hardware is extremely new and hence not recognized correctly by the BIOS, you've overclocked your PC too far, or you have bad hardware or incorrect BIOS settings.
To access the detailed settings in your BIOS, you typically need to press a particular key (the Delete key for example) repeatedly as your system is booting up. If your BIOS has a password then you'll need to enter it first to access your BIOS settings; if you've forgotten the password, then try this BIOS Password Site. Once in your BIOS screen you will see a multitude of settings. The layout of the BIOS, and the names of the various settings vary greatly depending on the particular motherboard brand and model you own, so I cannot cover them here. It would simply take too much space to cover properly. The best reference source is this Definitive BIOS Optimization Guide - scroll down that page to find the 'Free Access' link to the guide. It
covers all the common BIOS settings in detail, and combined with your motherboard's manual it allows you to undertake the very important task of optimizing your BIOS settings before doing any Windows tweaking.
I cannot stress the importance of making sure all the ma jor settings in your BIOS are correct for your particular hardware setup and that you've disabled unnecessary devices and options. It may take some time and some research, but it ensures maximum performance and stability, and no amount of software tweaking can overcome a badly set up BIOS or resolve BIOS-related problems.
The BIOS is actually written on a rewriteable ROM chip, which means that it can be updated (or 'flashed') with new information. Motherboard manufacturers often release new BIOS versions that can improve performance, stability and compatibility, add new features or modify existing features, and fix known bugs.
These new BIOS versions are available for download on the manufacturer's website. I can't list all the manufacturer websites here, as there are far too many however if you have a look through your motherboard manual you should see a relevant link to the appropriate website. Download the latest BIOS for your exact motherboard brand and model number and follow the instructions on the site to Flash (reprogram) the BIOS chip on your motherboard with this new BIOS version. A word of warning: flashing the BIOS is not to be taken lightly. If something does go wrong then your PC may not boot up and you may have to ta ke your motherboard to a dealer to have the memory chip replaced. While this is rare, when updating your BIOS make sure you follow the instructions provided to the letter.
Read more: Digital Audio and Your Computer.FIRMWARE UPDATES.
Your motherboard is not the only device which has a BIOS. Many components, indeed most ma jor electronic equipment like TVs and DVD players have their own inbuilt BIOS chips. The software on these chips is typically referred to as Firmware, and all firmware can be updated using the correct equipment and software. For consumer electronic equipment this is usually done by a qualified technician, but for PC components, it can be upgraded in much the same way as flashing your BIOS. You will need to check your manufacturer's website for more recent versions of the BIOS/firmware you require, and any specific instructions or software necessary. The most common firmware updates are for CD/DVD drives. If you want to find out more about these updates, see this Firmware Page. A firmware upgrade can help resolve problems like difficulties reading from a particular disk type, 'disk not detected' errors, and other issues. Just
like BIOS flashing it involves an element of risk, so please read any instructions carefully before proceeding.
The BIOS is a critical component of the PC which is often overlooked, so I urge you to take the time to become more familiar with your own BIOS, and to configure it correctly. Of course if you are not sure what a setting in the BIOS does, do not change it from its default.
It is important to properly maintain your hardware, to ensure it remains in good operation. The information below will help you understand how to handle, clean and keep your components operating smoothly.If you have to physically handle the hardware components in your system at any time, such as removing or installing a component, checking component connections, or cleaning the components, you should make sure you follow these tips to prevent any permanent damage to the components through mishandling:
Before opening your case and/or handling any of your components, always shut down your PC and turn off the power directly at the wall socket - the electricity in your PC can kill or injure you, especially the dangerous voltages contained in your Power Supply. Even when switched off at the wall, the PSU can retain a lethal charge for quite some time, so on no account should you ever open your PSU or insert any metal objects into its casing.
Once you've turned off your system at the wall, press and hold the PC power button for several seconds to discharge any residual energy in the motherboard's capacitors.
While handling computer components, make sure you regularly diskharge any static electricity in your body by touching any 'earthed' object - that is any object that can harmlessly dissipate static electricity.
Typically if you leave your Power Supply Unit plugged into the wall socket (but switched off) then periodically touching the side of the metal PSU case will harmlessly diskharge any static electricity.
You can also purchase an anti-static wrist strap if you handle components regularly. If you are going to handle components try to minimize how much artificial fabrics and materials you are wearing as these can help to build up a significant electrostatic charge in your body. An electrostatic diskharge from your body can damage or kill an electronic component, so do not take this lightly as it can actually happen.
Do not use a vacuum cleaner to clean the inside of your computer and its components, precisely because vacuum cleaner nozzles can discharge static electricity and zap your components. Use a clean barely damp lint-free cloth to wipe dust from most surfaces, making sure you don't rub or scrape the Printed Circuit Board (PCB). Don't use any detergents on the cloth and most certainly don't spray any onto the components. Ideally if it is available to you, use a can of compressed air (or an air compressor) to blow dust from hard-to-reach or sensitive surfaces as this is much safer and fa r more effective.
Do not force any plugs, cables or components into sockets that do not appear to be accepting them. Even if the two ends appear to be matched, the pin arrangements may be slightly different or out of alignment and hence forcing a fit ma y actually bend some of the pins and make the connection useless or permanently damaged. Computer hardware interfaces are designed to fit together with firm but not excessive force. This includes components like the CPU chip which fits into the appropriate socket on the motherboard - align all the pins perfectly and press evenly but not too hard and they will mate safely.
Force the fit and you may just end up permanently ruining your CPU.
Most devices in your PC require a source of power, however the voltage they require is very specific. If you connect the wrong plug to the component (which is hard to do), or forget to attach a power connector then the component will appear to be dead or may malfunction. You will have to check your component documentation and especially the motherboard manual to ensure that all components are plugged in correctly and firmly to receive sufficient power.
Most hardware components are sensitive to physica l impact and strong vibrations. Avoid situations which result in the bumping or banging of these components, or for example mounting heavy fans onto them insecurely which can pass vibrations to these components or warp them under the weight.
Do not handle liquids around electronic components. Any spillage can result in disastrous short-
circuiting. This also includes any thermal or adhesive compounds which can conduct electricity and hence cause a short-circuit - apply them cautiously and don't just assume tha t any excess will dry up and disappear; remove all excess thermal compounds thoroughly with a cloth.
Do not place excessive weights on PCBs as this can crack or warp them such that they will be
permanently damaged. Don't even rest a large object temporarily on the motherboard or a component for example, put them on another surface until you need to use them.
Most importantly, make sure you are using a good quality Surge Protector for your PC and all your other sensitive electronic devices. Aside from letting you plug in multiple devices into one outlet, surge protectors serve an important function: they prevent spikes in voltage which can occur for a range of reasons from harming your components. Voltage surges needn't be sudden or catastrophic; even minor increases in voltage can reduce your component's lifespan over a period of time. Note that most surge protectors will not protect your equipment from the surge generated by a direct lightning strike on or near your house, so during thunderstorms it is strongly recommended that you turn off your PC and any other expensive electronic products and disconnect their power plugs from the walls. This also includes any phone lines used for ADSL for example.
Electronic components these days are quite hardy, and can withstand some abuse, but given how valuable they are I suggest that you don't take any risks when handling them and in their general usage, so the tips above are best observed if you want to maintain your PC and your electronic components in good condition.
One of the most common reasons for problems in Windows is actually the hardware-related phenomenon of overheating. Overheating hardware can cause all sorts of strange errors and problems, and is often misdiagnosed as being a software problem. Most compu ter hardware generates heat due to the power they consume, and this heat needs to be dissipated somewhere. A typical computer case is designed such that it traps heat, and hence as heat builds up in a PC, it will cause components to malfunction and even become permanently damaged over time. Overheating can occur in both stock systems and overclocked systems; it all depends on a range of factors we look at below.
Your CPU and motherboard both have built-in diodes that measure the temperature for these components.
The CPU temperature monitor is a reasonably accurate measure of the temperature at or near the core of the CPU, while the motherboard temperature monitor is a good measure of the general system (or case) temperature - the ambient temperature of the air in the immediate vicinity of the motherboard. Most recent graphics cards also come with built-in temperature diodes as well, allowing measurement of the temperature near the core of the graphics card. Many other components do not come with temperature measurement devices, and so you can only tell their heat by touching them, or by using specialized equipment such as an electronic thermometer.
To actually see the temperature readings from your components, you can check them in your BIOS typically under a 'Hardware Monitor' section or similar. This gives you the CPU and motherboard temperatures, perhaps also the PSU temperatures as well. Clearly you need an additional method of checking temperatures under Windows, especially when running system intensive applications or games. Most motherboards already come with such a software utility, so you should check your motherboard manual and driver CD, or the motherboard manufacturer's website for an appropriate monitoring utility. If you still cannot find one, you can use one of these generic utilities which read the sensors on your motherboard and CPU:
Monitoring your graphics card's temperature is possible through your graphics card control panel, generally accessed via Control Panel>Personalization>Display Settings>Advanced Settings. You can also use third party tools to view your graphics card temperatures - see my ATI Ca talyst Tweak Guide, or my Nvidia Forceware Tweak Guide. Remember however that only if your graphics card is equipped with a temperature sensor can you monitor its temperatures in this way. If it is not so equipped, the only possible course of action is to buy an electronic thermometer and attempt to measure the temperatures near the GPU of the
card. Also remember that the GPU temperature shown is not the same as the Video RAM temperature which may be much higher.
Once you have the appropriate utility, monitor both your idle temperatures and your temperatures when your system is under load. If particular components reach high or excessive temperatures when under load, then it is likely that those components will malfunction while undertaking more strenuous activities on your PC, such as playing games. However even when idle, your PC may begin to malfunction if heat steadily builds up in your PC case and is not cleared fast enough. Most people will want to know what the 'safe' temperature is for particular components on their system. The answer is different based on different hardware architectures, as some are designed to run hotter than others, but you can ascertain what a safe temperature under full load is by searching on Google using the specific brand and model of component to see if any user feedback or reviews of your hardware states what temperature ranges are normal.
If you are experiencing problems with heat in your system, or if you just want to ensure that you remain problem-free, the following basic cooling tips should be observed. This applies equally to overclocked and non-overclocked systems:
Remove any obstructions from around your case. For example don't obscure any of your case grills/air holes, such as having them pressed against a wall, blocked by dust etc. Insufficient flow of air into and out of the case is the number one cause of heat buildup and heat-related problems. No ma tter how much cooling you have inside a case, if air can't easily get into and out of the case then your system will overheat.
If you have few or no major case fans drawing in cool air and expelling hot air, remove the sides of your case so that the fans on the CPU, graphics card and Power Supply can get a fresh supply of cooler air, and can expel hot air outside the case.
If you do have several case fans, arrange them so that some are to the front and low in the case, sucking air into the case (as the air near the floor is cooler) and some are to the rear and/or the top of the case, blowing hot air out of the case (where the hot air expelled will rise away from the case). In this situation make sure to keep the sides of your case closed so that the fans have more pressure to suck/blow air through the case's contents like a wind tunnel.
Don't position a sucking and a blowing fan(s) too close together as they will 'short circuit' each other - that is they will pass air through the shortest line between the two, bypassing your components and hence not cooling them as efficiently. As mentioned above, fans sucking air into your case should be low and on the furthest side of the case from the blowing fans that expel heat from the case.
If one component is shedding a lot of heat, pay attention to perhaps providing greater cooling to the components immediately around it. Often the excess heat from one component can actually cause another nearby component to overheat.
Tidy the internal components of your case. This means all ribbon cables, power cables, etc. should be clipped or twisty-tied to be as neatly arranged as possible, primarily to avoid blocking the flow of free air around components, especially the CPU and graphics card which are the two hottest components in most cases. Secured cabling and snug plug connections also means you can be sure nothing becomes accidentally unplugged or short-circuited over time and hence causes hardware-based errors that will confuse you in the future.
If using additional internal cooling like larger heatsinks or fans, make sure they are not too heavy for the surface they are mounted on. For example, using extremely large heatsinks on a graphics card can result in the ca rd actually bending under the weight and hence becoming permanently damaged. Even a large heatsink mounted on a motherboard can cause it to warp or crack, once again damaging the motherboard PCB beyond repair. If you feel you require such hefty cooling you should consider instead buying a larger case that has better airflow properties.
Make sure your hard drive(s) are not smothered by cabling or crammed into a stuffy area of the case with no nearby cooling or fresh air. Higher speed hard drives in particular (i.e. 7,200RPM or 10,000 RPM drives) can heat up quite a bit - one touch of their metal casing will tell you just how hot. Hard drives are often overlooked in cooling, and yet they are a vital system component, and as such you should make sure they receive plenty of fresh cool air.
Make sure that any heatsinks on the motherboard itself are not covered or blocked by other components or cables, or covered in dust. There is a reason why these heatsinks are there: because motherboard memory controller chips for example require cooling otherwise they can malfunction due to excessive heat just like any other major component. Don't assume a heatsink without a fan implies the component requires minimal cooling, as sometimes manufacturers skimp on putting a fan on these heatsinks, which simply means the heatsinks have to do more work, so keep them well exposed to cool air. You may even consider installing a small fan on them if you wish, and this ca n aid in system stability.
The most simple of all of these tips which anyone can undertake is to provide greater access to fresh cool air for the case's contents and regularly clean the case to remove dust buildup. Dust in particular can reduce airflow significantly, so keep your case dust-free by using a damp cloth or compressed air. The next time you go to upgrade your PC, consider buying a larger case with greater ventilation as the single best investment in general cooling.
Once you have set up your hardware and BIOS correctly, the Device Manager in Windows is the central location for viewing and configuring connected hardware on your system. To access Device Manager, you can find it under the Control Panel, or go to Start>Search Box and type "device manager" (without quotes) and press Enter. The main Device Manager window lists all your detected hardware grouped by category, and you can expand particular categories to see individual devices. Double-click on any particular device to see more details of it.
Devices with a question ma rk or exclamation mark next to them will need further troubleshooting to correctly identify and install, as by default Windows is unable to use the Plug and Play system to identify what they are. Until Windows can identify a device properly, it cannot be used even if it is correctly connected to your system and identified by your BIOS for example. You can use the Add Hardware component of the Control Panel to add older devices which don't support Plug and Play (See the Add Hardware section of the Control Panel chapter) and/or you may have to install the appropriate device drivers for Windows to use the device properly - see the Windows Drivers chapter.
ACPI RESOURCE ALLOCATION.
ACPI is the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface standard, and is an important part of the way Windows Vista and drivers communicate with your hardware. In previous versions of Windows you could run ha rdware which didn't support ACPI, or even disable ACPI if you wanted to attempt manual resource allocation. However this is no longer possible in Windows Vista - Vista requires ACPI for it to function. That means that you cannot disable ACPI, and older hardware which is not properly ACPI-Compliant will not run Vista. In fact Vista only supports systems ba sed on motherboards whose BIOS is ACPI Compliant and dated 1 January 1999 or newer. If you're running older hardware that means you should update to the latest available BIOS for your motherboard and also ensure that any ACPI options are enabled for Vista to install and run without problems.
Windows Vista does not fundamentally change the way resources are handled compared to Windows XP.
Since Vista only accepts ACPI-compliant systems, and because most recent hardware supports Plug and Play functionality, resource allocation is handled quite efficiently and should not be a major issue. While ACPI is automated and does not require any intervention or alteration, one practical aspects of ACPI is covered below.
INTERRUPT REQUESTS (IRQS).
Interrupt Requests (IRQs) are the way in which all of your major system devices get the CPU's attention for instructions/interaction as often as necessary. There are usually 16 - 24 main hardware IRQs in a modern PC.
To view your current IRQ allocation go to Control Panel>Device Manager and under the View menu select 'View Resources by Type', then expand the 'Interrupt Request (IRQ)' item. You will see all the devices currently active on your PC arranged by IRQ number, starting at 0 [System Timer]. Under Vista you may see IRQs numbered up to 190 or more, but all of the IRQ numbers above 24 appear to be for legacy Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) or non-Plug and Play devices, not for your main system hardware.
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