Configuring Windows 7 NIC Devices (part 1) - Configuring a Network Adapter & Troubleshooting a Network Adapter

6/30/2011 4:03:56 PM
A network interface card (NIC) is a hardware component used to connect computers or other devices to the network. NICs are responsible for providing the physical connection that recognizes the physical address of the device where they are installed.


The Open System Interconnect (OSI) model defines the encapsulation technique that builds the basic data structure for data transport across an internetwork. The OSI model provides interoperability between hardware vendors, network protocols, and applications. The physical address is the OSI model layer 2 address, or for Ethernet technologies, the MAC address (Media Access Control address). This is not the IP address, which is the OSI layer 3 or Network layer address, also generically defined as the logical address.

The most common place you see network adapters installed are computers, but you also see NICs installed in network printers and specialized devices such as Intrusion Detection Systems (IDSs) and firewalls. We generically call the interface between our network devices and the software components of the machines network adapters. Network adapters do not need to be separate cards; they can be built in, as in the case of most PCs today or other network-ready devices such as network cameras or network media players. These adapters (and all other hardware devices) need a driver to communicate with the Windows 7 operating system.

Before you physically install a NIC or network adapter, it's important to read the vendor's instructions that come with the hardware. Most network adapters you get today should be self-configuring, using Plug And Play capabilities. After you install a network adapter that supports Plug And Play, it should work following the installation procedure (which should be automated if the vendor says it is). You might have to restart, but our operating systems are getting much better with this, and you might just get lucky and be all right immediately.

If you happen to have a network adapter that is not Plug And Play, the operating system should detect the new piece of hardware and start a wizard that leads you through the process of loading the adapter's driver and setting initial configuration parameters. You can see your network connection and manage the network connection properties through the Network and Sharing Center.

1. Configuring a Network Adapter

After you have installed the network adapter, you configure it through its Properties dialog box. There are several ways to get to the network adapter property pages, one being the Network and Sharing Center, another through Computer Management, and yet a third directly through Device Manager.

Let's use the Device Manager applet for the network adapter configuration here. To access the Properties dialog box, choose Start and type Device Manager in the Windows 7 search box. This launches Device Manager. You can also right-click Computer from the Start menu and choose Manage from the context menu to get to the Computer Management Microsoft Management Console (MMC) or applet that lets you access Device Manager, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Device Manager from the Computer Management MMC

Figure 1 shows the Network Adapters item expanded, and the adapter is installed in my machine. Having Computer Management open is a great way to open Device Manager, as this particular MMC has numerous other installed plug-ins available to administrators that might be helpful as we work with our machines.

Accessing the network adapter properties allows us to view and change configuration parameters of the adapter (yes, its properties). You do this by right-clicking the adapter in Device Manager and selecting Properties from the context menu. Figure 2 shows the Properties page and the tabs available for my network adapter. Depending on the hardware manufacturer, you will see various tabbed pages available.

Figure 2. Network Adapter Properties page

Network Adapter Properties: General Tab

The General tab of the network adapter Properties dialog box shows the name of the adapter, the device type, the manufacturer, and the location. The Device Status box reports whether the device is working properly or not. In the case of the latter ("not"), the Device Status box gives you an error code and a brief description of what Windows 7 identifies as the issue. You can perform an Internet search for the error code(s> if the text is not sufficient. The other tabs provide the following information:

Advanced Tab The contents of the Advanced tab of a network adapter's Properties dialog box vary depending on the network adapter and driver that you are using. Figure 3 shows an example of the Advanced tab for my Fast Ethernet adapter. There are several properties available in the Property list box, with the value configured in the Value box. To configure options in this dialog box, choose the property you want to modify in the Property list box and specify the desired value for the property in the Value box on the right. I have selected the Connection Type property and opened the drop-down list box to show you the options for my network adapter.

Figure 3. Advanced tab of the Network Adapters Properties page

Driver Tab The Driver tab of the network adapter Properties dialog box provides the following information about your driver:

  • The driver provider

  • The date the driver was released

  • The driver version (useful in determining whether you have the latest driver installed)

  • The digital signer (the company that provides the digital signature for driver signing)

  • The Driver tab for my adapter is shown in Figure 4. The information here varies from driver to driver and even from vendor to vendor.

Figure 4. Driver tab of the Network Adapters Properties page

Clicking the Driver Details button on the Driver tab brings up the Driver File Details dialog box that provides the following details about the driver:

  • The location of the driver file (useful for troubleshooting)

  • The original provider of the driver

  • The file version (useful for troubleshooting)

  • Copyright information about the driver

  • The digital signer for the driver

The Update Driver button starts a wizard to step you through upgrading the driver for an existing device.

The Roll Back Driver button allows you to roll back to the previously installed driver if you update your network driver and encounter problems. In Figure 7.6, the Roll Back Driver button is gray (not available) because we have not updated the driver or a previous driver is not available.

The Disable button is used to disable the device. After you disable the device, the Disable button changes into an Enable button, which you can use to enable the device.

The Uninstall button removes the driver from your computer's configuration. You would uninstall the driver if you were going to remove the device from your system or if you want to completely remove the driver configuration from your system so you can reinstall it from scratch either automatically or manually.

Details Tab The Details tab of the network adapter's Properties dialog box lists the resource settings for your network adapter. Information found on the Details tab varies by hardware device. I have include the Details tab information from my adapter in Figure 5, with the Property drop-down list box expanded to show the options for my hardware.

Figure 5. Details tab of the Network Adapter Properties page

Resources Tab The Resources tab of the network adapter's Properties dialog box lists the resource settings for your network adapter. Resources include interrupt request (IRQ), memory, and input/output (I/O) resources. This information can be important for troubleshooting if other devices are trying to use the same resource settings. This is not normally the case as Windows 7 and the Plug And Play specification should set up nonconflicting parameters. If there are issues, the Conflicting Device list box at the bottom of the Resources tab shows the conflicts.

When installing the NIC device, you may encounter some problems or errors. Let's take a look at some NIC troubleshooting.

2. Troubleshooting a Network Adapter

If your network adapter is not working, the problem might be with the hardware, the driver software, or the network protocols.

Network Adapter Not on the HCL If the device is not on the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL), use your Internet resources to see if others have discovered a solution, or contact the hardware vendor for advice.

Outdated Driver Make sure that you have the most current driver for your adapter. You can have Windows 7 check for an updated driver from the Driver tab of the Properties page for the adapter by clicking the Update Driver button and having Windows search for a better driver, or check for the latest driver on the hardware vendor's website.

Network Adapter Not Recognized by Windows 7 Check Device Manager to see whether Windows 7 recognizes the adapter. If you don't see your adapter, you can try to manually install it.

Improperly Configured Network Card Verify that the settings for the network card are correct for the parameters known within your network and for the hardware device the machine is connected to.

Cabling Problem Make sure that all network cables are functioning and are the correct type. This includes making sure that the connector is properly seated, the cable is straight or crossed depending on where it's plugged into, and the cable is not broken. This is usually done by looking at the Little Green Light (LGL) for link and activity on the NIC. This does not guarantee a good connection even if the LGLs are illuminated. A single conductor failure in a cable can still have a link light on, but data is not passing.

Bad Network Connection Device Verify that all network connectivity hardware is properly working. For example, on a Fast Ethernet network, make sure the switch and port being used are functioning properly.

Another NIC device that has become increasingly popular is the wireless NIC device. In the next section, you will look at how to configure your wireless adapters.

  •  Windows 7 : Configuring Network Connectivity - Understanding Networking
  •  Preparing to Install Windows 7 (part 2) - New Install or Upgrade
  •  Preparing to Install Windows 7 (part 1) - Different Versions of Windows 7 & Hardware Requirements
  •  Maintaining Windows 7 with Backup and Restore (part 2) - Using Advanced Backup Options & Using System Protection
  •  Maintaining Windows 7 with Backup and Restore (part 1) - Creating a Backup & Restoring Files from a Backup
  •  Windows 7 : Configuring Backups and Recovery - Using Advanced Boot Options
  •  Windows Server 2003 : Implementing a GPO (part 2) - Modifying a GPO
  •  Windows Server 2003 : Implementing a GPO (part 1)
  •  Windows 7 : Using Windows Live Calendar (part 3) - Scheduling Appointments and Meetings & Viewing Agendas and Creating To-Do Lists
  •  Windows 7 : Using Windows Live Calendar (part 2) - Sharing Your Calendars with Others & Synchronizing Google Calendar with Windows Live Calendar
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