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Establishing multiple hardware profiles in Windows XP

Administrators can use hardware profiles in Windows XP to enable or disable hardware devices. Microsoft MVP Brien Posey explains how to create and configure hardware profiles in a Windows environment.

Brien M. Posey
Hardware profiles have been around for a long time. Microsoft originally designed them to allow Windows to tell the difference between a laptop that was attached to a docking station and one that was not. Since few people use docking stations anymore, hardware profiles have taken on a different role. They now allow people to enable or disable hardware devices according to their needs.

For example, I tend to stay on the go a lot. Because I do a lot of work on airplanes, I have two different hardware profiles on my laptop. One profile has all of the hardware devices enabled. The other profile has only the essential devices enabled. I do this as a way of helping to conserve battery power during those long flights. This isn't the only use for hardware profiles, though. I have also heard of gamers using hardware profiles to disable a secondary monitor so they can get the maximum possible performance out of their graphics adapter.

Before I show you how to create a hardware profile, I want to quickly mention that the procedures outlined in this article assume that you are using Windows XP. Unfortunately, Microsoft did away with hardware profiles with Windows Vista.

Creating Windows XP hardware profiles

To create a hardware profile, right click the My Computer icon and choose the Properties command from the resulting shortcut menu. Windows will then display the System Properties sheet. Select the Hardware tab, shown in Figure A, and click the Hardware Profiles button.

Figure A

At this point, you will see a list of the available hardware profiles. In Figure B, there is a built-in profile called Profile 1 that Windows XP uses by default. You might also notice in the figure that the word "Current" appears in parentheses just after Profile 1. In this particular case, the word "Current" is meaningless, but on machines with multiple hardware profiles, this feature tells you which profile Windows XP is currently using.

Figure B

Before I move on, I'd like to point out the Hardware Profile Selection section at the bottom of the screen. If only one hardware profile exists, then Windows XP doesn't bother asking you to choose a profile -- it just boots using the only one available. If your machine has multiple profiles, though, the default behavior is to display a list of profiles when the machine is booted and to give the user 30 seconds to choose a profile. If the user doesn't make a choice within the allotted time, then Windows XP loads the default profile.

As you can see in Figure B, you have the option of changing this behavior. You can increase or decrease the amount of time that Windows XP waits for the user to make a profile selection, or you can tell Windows to always wait until a profile is chosen before booting.

Creating a new hardware profile is simple; simply select Profile 1 and click the Copy button. Windows will then prompt you to enter a name for the new profile that you are creating. You can call the new profile anything you want, and you can always change the profile's name later on by selecting it and clicking the Rename button that's shown in Figure B. You can also rename the default profile in this way if you like.

Once a profile is created, it might seem that the next logical step would be to select the profile and click the Properties button to configure it. However, if you click the Properties button you will see the screen shown in Figure C. This screen only allows you to tell Windows XP whether the computer will be docked or undocked when the profile is in use. For all practical purposes, this is an obsolete option, and you are usually better off not even using it.

Figure C

The primary way to configure a hardware profile is by using the Windows XP Device Manager. All of the Device Manager's settings are linked to the hardware profile. Therefore, to configure a profile, just boot the machine, select the profile that you want to configure and then use the Device Manager to enable or disable devices at will.

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award four times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities, and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox. You can visit his personal Web site at

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