Hardware overview

Hardware includes any device that is connected to your computer and is controlled by your computer's microprocessor. This includes equipment that was connected to your computer when it was manufactured, as well as peripheral equipment that you added later. The following are examples of devices:

Universal Serial bus (USB) 

IEEE 1394 


Disk drives 

CD-ROM drives

Digital video disc (DVD) drives


Network adapters 


Video adapter cards


Game controllers

Devices (Plug and Play and non-Plug and Play) can be connected to your computer in several ways. Some devices, such as network adapters and sound cards, are connected to expansion slots inside your computer. Other devices, such as printers and scanners, are connected to ports on the outside of your computer. Some devices, known as PC Cards, connect only to PC Card slots on a portable computer.

For a device to work properly with Windows, software known as a device driver must be installed on the computer. Each device is supported by one or more device drivers, which are typically supplied by the device manufacturer. However, some device drivers are included with Windows. If the device is Plug and Play, Windows can automatically detect it and install the appropriate device drivers.

If the device is not automatically installed by Windows, the Found New Hardware Wizard will appear and ask you to insert any media (such as compact discs or floppy disks) that were provided with the device. Non-Plug and Play devices are installed using the Add Hardware Wizard in Control Panel. If you want to manually install device drivers, you must use Device Manager Before manually installing device drivers, you should consult the device documentation provided by the manufacturer.


You must be logged on as an administrator or as a member of the Administrators group in order to install or configure a device if:

The device driver does not have the Designed for Windows Logo or a digital signature 

Further action is required to install the device, requiring Windows to display a user interface.

The device driver is not already on your computer.

You need to configure a device using Device Manager.

Your computer is connected to a network; network policy settings may also prevent you from installing hardware.


For the latest updates, including security fixes, service packs, new Help files, and device drivers, see Windows Update in Help and Support Center. 

Installing devices overview

Hardware types overview

Plug and Play overview

Hardware profiles overview

Using Device Manager

Using Internet Explorer

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