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Locating Incompatible Hardware to Get Better PC Performance

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 6/13/2009

If your Windows XP PC crashes randomly, hangs, freezes, or shuts itself down automatically, you may have incompatible hardware. You can discover what hardware is likely causing the problem with XP’s System Compatibility tool.

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    Finding and Fixing Hardware Compatibility Problems

    You might at first feel helpless if you are having recurring and unexplainable problems with your computer, problems such as those listed here:

    Your system crashes randomly.

    Programs that you use regularly lock up without warning.

    Your computer freezes up when performing tasks like printing files.

    A new device you’ve recently connected to your computer, such as a scanner or a printer, is causing your computer to lock up and exhibit other strange behavior.

    You’ve probably tried a number of things to solve these problems, including asking everyone you know who knows anything at all about Windows. You’ve also probably tried to play detective and duplicate the cause of the problems yourself. Often in situations like this, the problems might not be with your computer or the operating system files. They might be created by the hardware that you’ve added to your computer.

    Before panicking and reinstalling the entire system, you should run a compatibility check. If such a check finds anything that’s not compatible, it’ll tell you right away. Uninstalling the problem device or locating a new driver for it might solve all of your problems.

    Here’s how to check system compatibility:

    1. Put the Windows XP CD in the CD-ROM drive. It should start automatically. If you don’t have an XP CD, you might try the disk that came with your computer. If you can’t find your XP CD or if you don’t have one, you’re out of luck here, unless you can borrow one from a friend.

    Tip: If you know your product ID number (also called your product key) but can’t find your own XP CD, you can borrow a CD from a friend or colleague for repairing or reinstalling Windows. This only works if you can produce your own product ID, though.

    2. From the choices on the What Do You Want To Do? page, select Check System Compatibility. On the next page, select Check My System Automatically.

    3. If prompted, choose to let XP get updated system files from Microsoft’s Web site.

    4. Once the process is complete, you’ll receive a report about any incompatible hardware or software.

    The compatibility report offers quite a bit of information if incompatible hardware or software is found. For instance, it will list the name of the incompatible device or program and allow you to view details regarding it. If you find out that you have some hardware that is not compatible with Windows XP, read the details to see what can be done to remedy the situation. Incompatible drivers are a common issue. Therefore, you’ll generally search for a newer driver first, before scrapping the hardware altogether. If you can’t find a signed one, seriously consider uninstalling the device and removing it from your system. (If that ever happens, look around--there may be a similar device from another manufacturer that Is compatible with XP and also Includes a signed driver.) From my experience, an incompatible device can cause major problems, but once it’s removed, the system will generally perform normally.