Howto: Find drivers for XP on new laptops

This is increasingly becoming a common situation: You’ve got a brand new laptop, it’s got Vista, it runs like a dog, and you want XP on it instead. You’ve got a spare copy of XP – for one reason or another – and you’d like to install it.

Here’s the catch: Tons of new hardware is being brought out without drivers being written for Windows XP, and laptops are just full of it.

Case in point: an HP dv6836TX, which a customer recently brought in to have XP loaded on it. HP do not provide XP drivers for all of its hardware, only some of it, and it took me a good half a day to find everything. Software for the card reader – a Ricoh R5C822  – came from a similarly-specced Dell Inspiron 1525. The onboard LAN pretended to be a Realtek 8139, which XP has drivers for, but those drivers actually hung the system; it’s actually an RTL8102E, or something like that.

The simplest way to identify hardware in a computer is to run a program that looks at all the individual devices, matches them up to a big list of vendor and device IDs, and tells you who made each thing and roughly what it’s supposed to do. 99% of the time at work, we use Everest for that, which isn’t a free program but the trial version is perfectly capable of IDing hardware.

The graphics gave me the biggest headache by a long shot. NVidia do host drivers for laptop chipsets now, but because HP (and practically every other laptop maker…) subtlely customise their hardware, NV’s software for the 8400M GS failed to see any compatible hardware, and flat refused to install.

It’s the most frustrating kind of incompatibility: it comes down to one little text file missing one little line with some numbers in it, the result of which is that you’re completely dependent on your computer manufacturer for software updates.

Or, to put it another way: You’re not. I mention in passing on my driver guide, but today they deserve some serious recognition. These guys collect those little lines from all the laptops they and their friends can find, and put them all in one big text file – the .inf file, which lists all the hardware a driver is compatible with – so that NVidia’s own drivers will recognise NVidia’s own hardware.

It’s a bit tricky to do – their site is a little confusing in places, and financially supported by well-placed driver-promising ads where necessary – but their forum is run by human beings, and anybody even slightly technically minded ought to be able to figure it out.

I managed to, and that 6836TX went home running XP like a champ.

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