IRQ Conflicts

One of the more common IRQ conflicts is the potential one between the integrated COM2: port found in most modern motherboards and an internal (card-based) ISA modem.

The problem stems from the fact that true PC card–based modems (not the so-called WinModems, which are software based) incorporate a serial port as part of the card's circuitry. This serial port is set as COM2: by default. Your PC sees this as having two COM2: ports, each using the same IRQ and I/O port address resources.

The solution to this problem is easy: Enter the system BIOS Setup and disable the built-in COM2: port in the system. While you are there, you might think about disabling the COM1: port too because you are unlikely to use it. Disabling unused COMx: ports is one of the best ways to free up a couple of IRQs for other devices to use.

Another common IRQ conflict also involves serial (COM) ports. You might have noticed in the preceding two sections that two IRQs are set aside for two COM ports. IRQ 3 is used for COM2:, and IRQ 4 is used for COM1:. The problem occurs when you have more than two serial ports in a system.

When people add COM3: and COM4: ports, they often don't set them to nonconflicting interrupts, which results in a conflict and the ports not working. Contributing to the problem are poorly designed COM port boards that do not allow IRQ settings other than 3 or 4. What happens is that they end up setting COM3: to IRQ 4 (sharing it with COM1:), and COM4: to IRQ 3 (sharing it with COM2:).

This is not acceptable because it prevents you from using the two COM ports on any one of the interrupt channels simultaneously. This was somewhat acceptable under plain DOS because single-tasking (running only one program at a time) was the order of the day, but it is totally unacceptable with Windows and OS/2.

If you must share IRQs, you can usually get away with sharing devices on the same IRQ as long as they use different COM ports. For instance, a scanner and an internal modem could share an IRQ, but if the two devices are used simultaneously, a conflict results.

If you need to use serial ports, the best solution is to purchase a multiport serial I/O card that allows nonconflicting interrupt settings or an intelligent card with its own processor that can handle the multiple ports onboard and use only one interrupt in the system.

Some older multiport serial cards used the ISA slot, but PCI-slot cards are more common today and have the additional advantages of faster speed and a sharable interrupt. If a device listed in the table is not present, such as the motherboard mouse port (IRQ 12) or parallel port 2 (IRQ 5), you can consider those interrupts as available.

For example, a second parallel port is a rarity, and most systems have a sound card installed and set for IRQ 5 (if it is used to emulate a SoundBlaster Pro or 16). Also, on most systems IRQ 15 is assigned to a secondary IDE controller. If you do not have a second IDE hard or optical drive, you could disable the secondary IDE controller to free up that IRQ for another device.

Note that an easy way to check your interrupt settings is to use the Device Manager in Windows 95/98, Windows NT, or Windows 2000/XP. By double-clicking the Computer Properties icon in the Device Manager, you can get concise lists of all used system resources.

Microsoft has also included a program called HWDIAG on Windows 95B; Windows 98 and above feature the System Information program. HWDIAG and System Information do an excellent job of reporting system resource usage, as well as details about device drivers and Windows Registry entries for each hardware component. If you are running Windows XP, a program called MSinfo32 will also give you a report of detailed system information.