proprietary laptops
November 2, 2005 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to buy a new laptop. Is there a good way of finding out which laptops have devices on board that are noncompatible with a regular Windows install? Let me explain further, in regard to an annoying HP Omnibook I have...

I have a 4-year old HP Omnibook XE3 that only sees its devices (NIC, video, mouse, etc) if I install the OS from the Win2K factory restore disc it came with. If I try to use my standard Win2K install discs, none of the devices get recognized: the OS has the appearance of Windows running in safe mode, and Device Manager & Hardware Wizard fail to find any devices at all.

Needless to say, I don't want to fall into this trap should I decide to change my OS later! Is there a list of which manufacturers do this to their systems? Is this par for the course with all manufacturers? Or is there some way I can tell what to expect from the specs? Maybe it's a BIOS thing?
posted by shannymara to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
as far as I know, pretty much every major laptop manufacturer does this but more often than not you can find all the drivers you need on their web site. in fact, you can find the drivers for your Omnibook here.
posted by mcsweetie at 3:21 PM on November 2, 2005

Your laptop should have come with a CD that has drivers for all the hardware. All PC laptops that have been made for the past 10 years are Windows compatible, it's a complete non-issue.
posted by knave at 4:15 PM on November 2, 2005

AFAIK, it's not just laptops; every computer I've ever installed Windows on has needed motherboard-specific drivers installed afterwards. They're easily obtained from manufacturers' websites - it's really no big deal.
posted by flabdablet at 4:28 PM on November 2, 2005

All PC laptops that have been made for the past 10 years are Windows compatible, it's a complete non-issue.

This, sadly, is not the case. Just as shannymara mentioned, if you upgrade your operating system to a new category (i.e. going from 98 to 2000, or from 2000 to XP, etc), you may find that that even the drivers supplied with the laptop are incompatible. In fact, the .inf for the drivers may be so incompatible that they may even end up harming your new installation.

To be anecdotal: I've got a 5 year old Dell laptop that was shipped with Windows 2k Pro. I've now got XP Pro on there. Unfortunately, XP Pro, even with the Dell drivers, doesn't recognize the internal modem on the unit. With wireless becoming more and more prevalent, this is less and less of an issue, but since I installed XP Pro on it, it's been an issue more than once.

To respond directly to shannymara, I can only say: Buy big brand name (Dell or HP/Compaq) and hope for the best. I can't tell the future, and neither can Microsoft, unfortunately.
posted by thanotopsis at 4:30 PM on November 2, 2005

In terms of the retroactive "oh crap, I upgraded Windows and I don't know what drivers to start looking for" moment, this answer to this AskMe thread (from early this morning, in fact) suggests the free utility Everest to identify your system's compinenets for easier driver-searching.

I have found in my experience with reinstalling Windows to my Dells that Windows can almost identify the components and pull the right drivers. I have to crack the case or search for my original invoice or some such.
posted by misterbrandt at 5:01 PM on November 2, 2005

dunno about other manufs. but dell, at least, is pretty good about giving you a list of hardware that's in your machine. feed the support page your service tag and choose your OS/language/category and you get a page back with what's relevant. I think HP and IBM do similar things, but I usually only deal with Dells. using a tool like Everest (as mentioned by misterbrandt) is good too though sometimes tracking down some of these manufacturer's drivers is hard to do.

fwiw, this will be an issue on most newer machines - XP et. al. don't automatically know how to support new hardware. some things have failsafe modes (like VGA cards) that can use generic drivers; some devices don't need any special support (like hard drives or most USB controllers); some are new and weird enough that XP won't recognize them. on older laptops, some devices may not even be supported under XP at all. sometimes using a newer install disk (i.e. getting an XP disc that has Service Pack 2 integrated into it) will help.
posted by mrg at 8:38 PM on November 2, 2005

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