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Working with Windows XP Plug and Play

Ever since the introduction of Windows 95 and Plug and Play, Microsoft has been working with hardware manufacturers to improve the way that computer hardware is installed and configured. Windows 95's initial implementation of Plug and Play left much to be desired. However, Microsoft has continued to refine it. You'll find that the Windows XP implementation of this technology is very effective.

Plug and Play is both a software and hardware specification. It is designed to provide an operating system with the ability to automatically detect and configure new hardware. For Plug and Play to work and properly install your hardware, your Windows XP computer will need the following components.

  • A plug-and-play system BIOS

  • A plug-and-play operating system

  • Plug-and-play hardware

  • Plug-and-play software drivers

Plug-and-Play BIOS

BIOS is software stored in read-only memory on your computer's motherboard or main circuit board. The plug-and-play BIOS is automatically loaded when your computer is first turned on and is responsible for a number of functions including:

  • Performing a Power On Self Test (POST)

  • Performing a check of system resources

  • Detecting new hardware

  • Managing hardware configuration

Any computer with enough CPU and horsepower to run Windows XP should have a plug-and-play BIOS. BIOS information is usually displayed at system startup and you will see a message stating that your system's BIOS is plug-and-play compatible. For example, you may see statements such as "Initialization of Plug and Play loads" or "PNP Init Complete."

Plug-and-Play Hardware Detection

Windows XP Plug and Play looks for new hardware on a number of occasions, including

  • During the initial installation of Windows XP

  • Each time you start Windows XP

  • Whenever you run the Add New Hardware Wizard

  • Whenever a PC card or USB device is inserted

Purchasing plug-and-play network adapters will make the setup of your home network a lot easier. Fortunately just about every network card sold today is plug-and-play compatible. All that you have to do to install a plug-and-play device, such as a network adapter, is physically connect the device to your computer. If you are using a PCI card, it should be detected the next time you turn on your computer. PC Cards and USB devices should be recognized as soon as they are inserted, thus launching Windows XP Plug and Play. When everything works like it is supposed to, the only thing that you should have to do is provide either the diskette or CD-ROM that contains the device's software driver.

Unless you are trying to use old hardware, you shouldn't have any trouble with the software portion of network setup. As part of Windows XP's Plug and Play detection and hardware configuration of your network adapter, you'll find that Windows XP will automatically install a default set of networking software for you and even help configure it. So if you're ready, let's get started.

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