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 Post subject: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Fri Dec 04, 2009 5:22 pm 
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Most computer components or devices produced today are based on a chipset, which is a single chip or set of chips that contain virtually all of the circuitry for the device. For example, when an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) decides to make a component like a network card, they normally select a specific network card chipset, and then build a card around it according to the chipset manufacturer's designs and specifications. Many chipset manufacturers offer complete reference designs, which are example designs of products using the chipset that the OEMs are free to copy and use for themselves. The chipset mfr. will also supply Windows and other OS drivers to the OEM, who can either pass them along as-is, modify them, or ignore them and write new drivers from scratch. As you can imagine, most simply pass the drivers along as-is to the end user, with nothing more in most cases than a little re-branding (changing things like logos and labels, but not the code). In addition, while the chipset mfr. may update these drivers relatively frequently, the OEM may or may not pass updated versions along, which generally makes the chipset mfr. the best source for the latest drivers for a given device.

Knowing that cards are based on specific chipsets, and that all cards with a given chipset will usually be functionally identical and use the same drivers, before I purchase a card I like to know which chipset it uses. Unfortunately many manufacturers don't provide this level of detail about their products; however with a little knowledge and technical skill, you can usually find it out for yourself. What follows is a specific example where I put some of this knowledge to work:

When the need for an inexpensive 802.11b/g CardBus Wireless Adapter arose for one of my readers, I recommended the cheapest one NewEgg offered, which at the time was the BELKIN ME1002-NB Wireless G Notebook Card, which they were offering for only $7 with free shipping (that offer has now expired). In any case, they ended up purchasing the BELKIN F5D7010 Wireless G Notebook Card instead, which arrived as a Belkin F5D7010 Ver. 5100.

In order to find out what chipset that card was based on (and therefore what drivers would be compatible), I needed to know the Hardware IDs that Windows uses to match a device with a specific driver. If the device is physically installed in a system, this is relatively easy. Devices installed without a driver will show up in the Device Manager as an "Unknown Device" denoted by a yellow question mark. To find out what it is, you can right click on the Unknown Device, select Properties, click on the Details tab, then select Hardware Ids in the drop down menu. A list of Hardware IDs of varying detail should be displayed in one of the Device Identifier Formats. For example, if the device is a PCI device, the Hardware IDs will appear as:

    PCI\VEN_v(4)&DEV_d(4)

Where:

    v(4) is the four-character PCI SIG-assigned identifier for the vendor (manufacturer).
    d(4) is the four-character vendor-defined identifier for the specific device.

There may be additional information, but the Vendor and Device IDs are generally all you need to know in order to identify a device and find the proper drivers.

Since I didn't actually have the card in my system I could not use the Device Manager, however one can also find Hardware IDs in the driver .INFormation file for a device. So I went to the Belkin support page for that card and downloaded the drivers from Belkin, specifically the one for Version 5xxx cards and XP. I used 7-Zip to open the executable (without running it), extracted the Driver\BLKWGN.INF file, and opened it in notepad to view. Upon viewing, I noted the following important lines:

    DriverVer = 06/01/2005,4.1.2.56
    %DeviceList.DeviceDesc.0001% = NIC_0008.ndi, PCI\VEN_168C&DEV_001A&SUBSYS_701D1799
    DeviceList.DeviceDesc.0001 = "Belkin Wireless G Notebook Card"

The first line indicates the driver date and version, the third indicates what will be displayed in the Device Manager for this device, meaning how it is "branded". The second line is the most important, as it identifies the specific manufacturer (VEN_168C) and model (DEV_001A) of the device (chipset) in this card. To find out what those correspond to, I visited the PCIDatabase.com site and did a search on the 168C Vendor ID, which is identified as Atheros. Then I did a search on the 001A Device ID, which when combined with the Vendor ID specifically identifies the device as an Atheros AR5005G chipset.

Where possible, I prefer to download the latest drivers directly from the chipset manufacturer. Unfortunately unlike many other device manufacturers, Atheros does not provide drivers to end-users, meaning they can't be downloaded from the Atheros site. Atheros does however provide reference card designs (example cards using its chipsets) and drivers to its customers, who are the OEMs who make and sell products using its chips. Since Atheros conveniently provides a single reference driver package to support all Atheros wireless chipsets, I wanted to see if I could find a newer Atheros wireless chipset driver package from an alternate source. Using my incredible mad search skillz <g>, I was able to find an excellent up-to-date collection of the latest Atheros reference drivers.

I downloaded the latest driver for XP, opened it with 7-Zip, extracted the netathw.inf file, and opened it in notepad to view. Upon viewing, I noted the following important lines:

    DriverVer = 09/30/2009,7.7.0.406
    %ATHER.DeviceDesc.001A% = ATHER_DEV_001A.ndi, PCI\VEN_168C&DEV_001A
    ATHER.DeviceDesc.001A = "Atheros AR5005G Wireless Network Adapter"

This was the latest I could find for XP at the time of this writing, and is obviously much more recent than the one provided by Belkin. Note that when this driver is installed, the card will now appear as an "Atheros AR5005G Wireless Network Adapter" in the Device Manager, which is really what it is under the skin after all. This is the electronic equivalent of peeling the "Belkin" sticker off the card. <g>

Now let's go back to my original recommendation. Out of all of the 802.11b/g CardBus Wireless Adapters listed on NewEgg, I had recommended the cheapest one, which at that time was the BELKIN ME1002-NB Wireless G Notebook Card. To find out what chipset this card uses, I visited the Belkin support site for that card and downloaded the latest driver from Belkin. I opened the file with 7-Zip, extracted the Driver\ME1002NB.INF file, and opened it in notepad to view. Upon viewing, I noted the following important lines:

    DriverVer = 08/04/2006,4.1.2.133
    %DeviceList.DeviceDesc.0001% = NIC_0008.ndi, PCI\VEN_168C&DEV_001A&SUBSYS_701D1799
    DeviceList.DeviceDesc.0001 = "My Essential G Notebook Card"

The second line tells me that the BELKIN ME1002-NB also uses the AR5005G chipset, and is in fact absolutely the same as the BELKIN F5D7010 card. The Belkin-supplied driver is also the same, except that it is slightly newer and branded with a different name. Of course this card would also use the latest Atheros reference drivers I had found.

Bottom line: A little device and driver detective work uncovered several facts: The two Belkin cards referenced in this post are functionally if not literally identical, utilizing the exact same chipset and drivers. After determining the specific chipset used, I was able to locate and download the latest drivers produced by the chipset manufacturer, even including drivers for Windows 7 x64 (not available from Belkin).

Using the knowledge and examples presented here, you should be well on your way to becoming an expert device and driver Detective! Scott.


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Fri Dec 04, 2009 11:05 pm 
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Good advice, thanks for putting this together!


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Sat Dec 05, 2009 7:12 am 
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The 5005g chipset is also sometimes used in internal Mini-PCI adaptors :)


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 Post subject: A lesson in safe computing
 Post Posted: Sat Dec 05, 2009 9:31 am 
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Of course it is. In fact you can see the chip in a reference Mini PCI card design in the Atheros AR5005G Chipset Product Bulletin (from one of the links in my article). If you read that, you can see that the chip has integrated Mini PCI, PC Card (CardBus), and PCI interfaces. Scott.


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Sat Dec 05, 2009 4:28 pm 
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Quote:
The 5005g chipset is also sometimes used in internal Mini-PCI adaptors :)

Some people have a talent for stating the obvious. <g>

Mike


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2009 7:48 am 
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Scott, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions in such detail. It's greatly appreciated!

So using the methodology you describe in this topic, I believe I've found a more recent driver for my Realtek RTL8169/8110 Family Gigabit Ethernet NIC which is integrated into my motherboard. My current version is 5.659.1012.2006 and I am running Windows XP. The device ID is as follows: PCI\VEN_10EC&DEV_8167&SUBSYS_094C1462&REV_10\3&13C0B0C5&0&68, which would make the Vendor/Device code VEN_10EC & DEV_8167. PCI Database (http://pcidatabase.com/vendor_details.php?id=622) shows three possible chip numbers for this device. I assume since my device is listed as the 8169/8110 family, that I have the RTL8169 chip. One thing that is a little confusing here is that according to MSI's website (http://tinyurl.com/yhpz9ry), my motherboard has RTL8110SB (which is not listed as one of the chips on the PCI Database). The Realtek website (http://tinyurl.com/yg4udw) shows a newer Windows XP driver (November 20th, 5.719) for the RTL8110SB(L) and RTL 8169. (I don't know why Realtek lists "(L)" after "RTL8110SB.")

Assuming I have figured this out correctly, is it worth upgrading a driver such as this when everything seems to be working just fine?

Thanks,
Brad


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2009 9:21 am 
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Quote:
I assume since my device is listed as the 8169/8110 family, that I have the RTL8169 chip.

That would be technically incorrect, but also irrelevant with respect to the driver.

Quote:
One thing that is a little confusing here is that according to MSI's website (http://tinyurl.com/yhpz9ry), my motherboard has RTL8110SB...

They are correct, it does.

Quote:
...(which is not listed as one of the chips on the PCI Database).

That's funny, it is for me. <g> Still, you should know that the PCIDatabase.com database may sometimes require a little second guessing and interpretation, since it "...is entirely user-supported; all the data has been, and continues to be, furnished by those working in the PCI market." OK, while it isn't perfect, it is still a very helpful resource.

Quote:
The Realtek website (http://tinyurl.com/yg4udw) shows a newer Windows XP driver (November 20th, 5.719) for the RTL8110SB(L) and RTL 8169.

Note that the RTL8110SB(L) is a "Single-Chip Gigabit LOM Ethernet Controller", where LOM stands for Lan On Motherboard. On the other hand, the RTL8169SB(L) is a "Single-Chip Gigabit NIC Ethernet Controller", where NIC stands for Network Interface Card. Other than their intended applications (LOM vs. NIC), they are identical in features, and use the same driver.

Quote:
...I don't know why Realtek lists "(L)" after "RTL8110SB."

The RTL8110SB comes in a 128-pin QFP (Quad Flat Pack) package, while the RTL8110SBL comes in a smaller and thinner 128-pin LQFP (Low-profile QFP) package. Here is a nice document showing an overview of IC packages.

Quote:
Assuming I have figured this out correctly, is it worth upgrading a driver such as this when everything seems to be working just fine?

Some would say that it is never a good idea to waste time messing with something that "seems to be working just fine", but that usually wouldn't be me. <g> I like messing with stuff in general (and wasting time too!), and I seem to have fewer problems overall by always using the latest drivers. Since you've already spent the time finding the latest driver direct from the chipset mfr. of your device, I'd say "go for it." <g> Scott.


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:28 pm 
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When I said that the PCI Database didn't list the RTL8110SB, I meant that it does not list it as one of the "chip numbers." While the "chip description" is listed as "Realtek RTL8169/8110 Family Gigabit Ethernet NIC," if you click on this link http://pcidatabase.com/vendor_details.php?id=622 and scroll down to device ID 0x8167, it lists the chip numbers as RTL8169/RTL8111B/RTL8111C. This is the reason I was assuming that I have chip number RTL8169 (since RTL8110SB is not listed as a chip number) and is also the part that is confusing me.


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2009 2:34 pm 
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Devices and drivers are confusing to a lot of people, mainly because of all of the rebranding that goes on in the industry, combined with the lack of good technical documents and specifications.

Also confusing to many are the multiple chipset designations, for example the Atheros AR5005G chipset includes a single chip, the AR2413 Single-Chip CMOS MAC/Baseband/Radio, so some might refer to it by that designation instead. Likewise, it can be confusing when a chipset "family" can consist of multiple different specific part numbers and variations, many of which use the same Device IDs and drivers.

Hopefully this thread has cleared things up a bit. Removing the veil and clearing up this confusion is the primary motivation behind my books, videos and this forum, after all! Scott.

PS: This Tip spawned a related one here: A lesson in safe computing


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Wed Dec 26, 2012 4:44 pm 
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Scott have you had trouble with the Intel driver install program?

Particularly the Chipset Device Software (INF Update Utility)

http://downloadcenter.intel.com/SearchR ... amilyId=42

I tried to use the program on an X58 chipset PC with Windows XP, the installer whizzed though the process too fast and no drivers were installed, despite the drivers being out of date 2010 ones.

However I was able to install the drivers from the zip file download, but it was very boring having to do each driver in devmgmt.msc separately.

I ask because the autoinf program has whizzed though on a few PC's now and I'd like to fix it


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Wed Dec 26, 2012 5:41 pm 
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I covered the chipset INF "drivers" here: viewtopic.php?t=628

From what you describe, everything seems to be working normally. Since all the INF utility does is make entries in the registry enabling Windows to identify the devices in the system, if there are no unidentified devices then further updates are usually not necessary. In other words, if the appropriate entries already exist in the registry the INF utility won't do anything. As you describe you can manually force those entries to be re-made, but all that will normally do is change the date and possibly the text description of the device as listed in the Device Manager. Scott.


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Thu Dec 27, 2012 4:51 pm 
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Thank You Scott, so I understand then that normally the chipset drivers are only normally released once per chipset, and that for the X58 (first gen i7 CPU) that the 2010 drivers are still the latest despite bug fixes etc?

I updated the drivers as good practise, but if they only release one verion for each chipset then I only need the driver installer that came out with the chipset on each Motherboard?


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Thu Dec 27, 2012 9:23 pm 
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The INF files aren't really "drivers", they are more like description files. You generally need to install/update them only if certain system devices show up as unknown in the Device Manager. There are generally no changes to them for a particular device once they are released to describe that particular device. You do however want to install the latest SATA/AHCI and Graphics drivers as those are part of the processor and/or chipset, and those are actual drivers. Scott.


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2012 12:30 am 
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Thanks Scott, I did update the Intel ICH10R drivers (running Raid 5) at the same time, glad I did, also new subject what books do you have upcoming?


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 Post subject: Re: Becoming an expert device and driver Detective
 Post Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:06 am 
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My latest (Sept. 2012) is the CompTIA A+ 220-701 and 220-702 Cert Guide, 3rd Edition. I only have a few copies of this book available myself, see my book offers for more information. Thanks, Scott.


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