XP HOME: Using hardware profiles

Hardware profiles were introduced with Windows 95 to improve the way Windows worked on notebook computers. Most notebooks are used in a variety of locations, and hardware profiles allow you to change which devices your computer uses when you move from place to place.

Many notebooks come with docking stations, which enable you to use them as a replacement for a desktop PC. Docking your computer can involve connecting to an external monitor, hooking into the corporate network, and gaining the use of additional components such as CD writers, printers and scanners.

By configuring Windows XP to use hard­ware profiles, you can specify different hardware configurations for when your notebook is connected to the docking station and for when it's used in other locations. You may have one profile named ‘Office' for when you connect your notebook to its docking station at work. Another profile may be named ‘Home', which you can use when you take your notebook home and plug it into your home network as well as your printer and scanner. Finally, you can have a ‘Mobile' profile that does not include any additional components but does enable the notebook's inbuilt modem, which was not needed in the other locations.

The main reasons for using hardware profiles on a notebook computer is to reduce boot times, ensure that system resources are properly distributed, and prevent conflicts occurring between devices that are used in one location and those that are used elsewhere.

When Windows XP loads, it expects to find the same hardware installed as when it previously booted, and will attempt to load the drivers for those components, whether they are connected or not. In many cases, attempting to load drivers for hardware that's been temporarily removed from the system can lead to long delays in the Windows boot process and can sometimes cause the system to become unstable or unresponsive.

Creating hardware profiles

When you load Windows XP for the first time, a default hardware profile will be created. It will be called Profile 1 on desktop computers, and on notebooks it will be called Docked Profile or Undocked Profile.

You can create additional hardware profiles and then configure them by selecting the profile when Windows loads. Then you enable and disable devices in the Device Manager (open System from the Control Panel, click the Hardware tab and then the Device Manager button. You can also have a device enabled in separate hardware profiles but with different settings.

To create a new hardware profile, open System from the Control Panel and select the Hardware tab. Click the Hardware Profiles button at the bottom of the window to bring up the profiles window. Select the current profile from the available hardware profiles and click the Copy button. Type a name for the new hardware profile and click OK.

Make sure that your new profile is highlighted, and click the Properties button. You can specify if this configuration is for a docked or undocked configuration, and can also choose to always include this profile as an option when Windows starts by enabling the checkbox at the bottom.

During startup, Windows will load only the device drivers for hardware that is enabled in the profile you select. The profile at the top of the list is the default profile, so use the arrow buttons to change the order of your profiles if necessary. If you want the default hardware profile to load automatically without showing you the list during startup, specify 0 seconds under ‘Hardware profiles selection'. If you decide later to select a different hardware profile, press the during startup and choose a profile from the list.

Hardware profiles on desktop PCs

Chopping and changing hardware does not occur as frequently on desktop computers as it does with notebooks, but there are still times when hardware profiles can be used.

In a desktop computer, most items of hardware tend to stay connected all of the time. On occasion, though, you may turn on your computer to perform a specific task such as editing a piece of video, recording a CD or playing a game. Using hardware profiles, you can cut down on the number of unused drivers left in memory when Windows loads and narrow it down to a set of hardware profiles designed for performing specific tasks. You will have to play around with the device manager and see which configuration works best for your needs.

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Kieran McNamee

PC World
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