Due to their low prices, we often buy “unbranded” or “generic” cards, especially when dealing with modems, sound cards, video cards and network cards. But the attractive bargain ends up by a giving us a headache when we try to find drivers, handbooks or further information on such “unbranded” merchandise.
Actually all IT products are branded. When vendors label an item as “generic” or unbranded”, it is simply because they do not know its make.
A widespread confusion comes from thinking that the product’s brand is the name printed on one of the card’s integrated circuits, such as Motorola, Rockwell, Conexant, Yamaha, Crystal, ESS, PCTel, CMI (C-Media), Avance Logic (ALS) and Realtek, just to mention the most commonly found brands of chips used in “generic” sound boards and modems. But the named manufacturers only make the chip, not the card itself, which is made by some other company and the latter not the former firm’s website will provide you information on the card.
Most times the solution will be to download drivers from the chip manufacturer’s website (and not from the card manufacturer’s website). The disadvantage of doing this is that chip manufacturer drivers are “generic” drivers, in other words, theoretically intended to work with any card using the given chip. It happens, however, that many chip makers do not offer downloaded generic downloaded drivers, plus the fact that generic drivers may not provide the most appropriate for your card, may not offer all the resources your card includes or may not provide the best performance for your card.
When looking for specific information on the card – a list of all its features and its manual – it will not be found on the chipmaker’s website, but only on the card maker’s website. The chipmaker’s website actually provides information on the chip (its characteristics) that may be useful, but it will not be a complete list providing all the resources of your card.
How can we discover the make of an “unbranded” or “generic” product then?
For motherboards, all motherboard has an unique “serial number” which is the BIOS serial number. This serial number provides, among other things, which is the motherboard manufacturer. We have already written a full tutorial on how to understand the BIOS serial number. You can also run a software, such as Sandra, Hwinfo, and AIDA64 to detect your motherboard manufacturer. What these programs do is to read the BIOS serial number and to decode it for you, comparing the serial number with a manufacturer database, giving you the motherboard manufacturer name.
As for other products, every electronics product has a code called FCC ID, which is its Federal Communications Commission identity code. This number allows us to identify the card’s maker by simply entering it in a tool that can search the FCC database. When dealing with computer cards, this ID will usually be stamped on a label stuck to the card.
Figure 1: Example of a FCC ID code on a networking card.
Interesting enough, this code applies to all electronic equiment, so you can use this technique to find out the manufacturer for other electonic devices as well, not only computer parts.
A practical example of this procedure would be identifying a sound card FCC ID coded IPLS32-S23. Searching the FCC databank, we find that it is made by a company called AESL Technology Inc. This does not seem to be a great help, seeing the manufacturer is unknown. A quick search on Google, however, lists several sites providing information and drivers for this sound card.
Some cards do not bear a FCC ID code but have a code called FCC REG, differing from the above-described one. There are two solutions in such cases: using a generic driver or searching for the existing FCC REG via Google to get more information on the card.
After discovering the board manufacturer, you will have to find (mainly using Google) and install the drivers. Some websites devoted to drivers for “unbranded” cards are www.modem-drivers.com (for modems), www.network-drivers.com (for network cards) and www.video-drivers.com (for video cards).