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Updating and Uninstalling Drivers

If you're having a hardware problem that you suspect is caused by a device driver, your first stop should be Device Manager. Open the properties dialog box for the device, and use the following buttons on the Driver tab to perform maintenance tasks:

  • Update Driver:
    This choice opens the Update Driver Software dialog box, which we describe in the next section.
  • Roll Back Driver:
    This option uninstalls the most recently updated driver and rolls back your system configuration to the previously installed driver. This option is available from Safe Mode if you need to remove a driver that is causing blue-screen (Stop) errors. Unlike System Restore, this option affects only the selected device. If you have never updated the selected driver, this option is unavailable.
  • Uninstall:
    This button completely removes driver files and registry settings for the selected device and, if you select the appropriate option, completely removes the associated driver files as well. Use this capability to remove a driver that you suspect was incorrectly installed and then reinstall the original driver or install an updated driver.

Create a safety net before tinkering with drivers

When you install a new hardware driver, Windows automatically attempts to create a new System Restore checkpoint. That doesn't mean it will be successful, especially if a problem with your System Restore settings has caused this utility to suspend operations temporarily. To make certain that you can roll back your changes if necessary, set a new System Restore checkpoint manually before making any kind of hardware configuration change.

Disabling automatic driver updates

Microsoft uses the Windows Update mechanism to deliver drivers for many devices. This feature allows you to plug in a new device with relative confidence that it will work without extra effort on your part. It also allows you to automatically receive updated drivers, which typically fix reliability, stability, and compatibility problems.

The dark side of driver updates is that they can occasionally cause a previously functional device to act up or even shut down. For that reason, some cautious Windows users prefer to disable automatic driver updates. To find this well-hidden option, type device installation in the search box and click the top result, Change Device Installation Settings. That opens the dialog box shown, which is set by default to Yes, Do This Automatically. When you change the setting to No, a group of additional options, previously hidden, appears.

Selecting the Never Install Driver Software From Windows Update offers some assurance that an unexpected driver update won't clobber your working setup. It does, of course, impose an additional maintenance burden, as you have to manually monitor devices for driver updates and apply them using the techniques we describe in the remainder of this section.

The final option in the dialog box, which is selected by default, allows Windows Update to retrieve icons and support information for devices, allowing a more accurate depiction of installed devices in the Devices And Printers window, which we describe in the next section.

Updating a device driver manually

Microsoft and third-party device manufacturers frequently issue upgrades to device drivers. In some cases, the updates enable new features; in other cases, the newer version swats a bug that might or might not affect you. New Microsoft-signed drivers are often (but not always) delivered through Windows Update. Other drivers are available only by downloading them from the device manufacturer's website. Kernel-mode drivers must still be digitally signed before they can be installed.

If the new driver includes a setup program, run it first so that the proper files are copied to your system. Then start the update process from Device Manager by selecting the entry for the device you want to upgrade and clicking the Update Driver button on the toolbar or the Update Driver option on the right-click shortcut menu. (You can also click Update Driver on the Driver tab of the properties dialog box for the device.)

Click Search Automatically For Updated Driver Software if you want to look in local removable media and check Windows Update. Click Browse My Computer For Driver Software if you want to enter the location of a downloaded driver package or choose from a list of available drivers in the driver store. Clicking the latter option opens a dialog box, with two options for manually selecting a driver.

If you've downloaded the driver files to a known location or copied them to removable storage, click Browse to select that location, and then click Next to continue.

(If you have a copy of the FileRepository folder from a previous Windows installation on the same hardware, you can choose that location.) With the Include Subfolders option selected, as it is by default, the driver update software will do a thorough search of the specified location, looking for a Setup Information file for the selected device; if it finds a match, it installs the specified driver software automatically.

Use the second option, Let Me Pick From A List Of Device Drivers On My Computer, if you know the driver software you need is already in the local driver store. In general, choosing this option presents a single driver for you to choose. If you need to install an alternative driver version that isn't listed, clear the Show Compatible Hardware check box and then choose a driver from an expanded list of all matching devices in the device category.

Make sure that update is really an update:
How do you know whether a downloaded version is newer than the currently installed driver on your system? A good set of release notes should provide this information and is the preferred option for determining version information. In the absence of documentation, file dates offer some clues, but they are not always reliable. A better indicator is to inspect the properties of the driver files themselves. After unzipping the downloaded driver files to a folder on a local or network drive, right-click any file with a .dll or .sys extension and choose Properties. On the Version tab, you should be able to find details about the specific driver version, which you can compare with the driver details shown in Device Manager.

Rolling back to a previous driver version

Unfortunately, updated drivers can sometimes cause new problems that are worse than the woes they were intended to fix. This is especially true if you're experimenting with prerelease versions of new drivers. If your troubleshooting leads you to suspect that a newly installed driver is the cause of recent crashes or system instability, consider removing that driver and rolling your system configuration back to the previously installed driver.

To do this, open Device Manager and double-click the entry for the device you want to roll back. Then go to the Driver tab and click Roll Back Driver. The procedure that follows is straightforward and self-explanatory.

Uninstalling a driver

There are at least three circumstances under which you might want to completely remove a device driver from your system:

  • You're no longer using the device, and you want to prevent the previously installed drivers from loading or using any resources.
  • You've determined that the drivers available for the device are not stable enough to use on your system.
  • The currently installed driver is not working correctly, and you want to reinstall it from scratch.
Manage Plug and Play drivers:
Removing and reinstalling the driver for a Plug and Play device requires a little extra effort. Because these drivers are loaded and unloaded dynamically, you can remove the driver only if the device in question is plugged in. Use the Uninstall button to remove the driver before unplugging the device. To reinstall the device driver without unplugging the device, open Device Manager and choose Action, Scan For Hardware Changes.

To remove a driver permanently, open Device Manager, right-click the entry for the device in question, and click Uninstall. (If the entry for the device in question is already open, click the Driver tab and click Uninstall.) Click OK when prompted to confirm that you want to remove the driver, and Windows removes the files and registry settings completely. You can now unplug the device.

If you installed the driver files from a downloaded file, the Confirm Device Uninstall dialog box includes a check box that allows you to remove the files from the driver store as well. This prevents a troublesome driver from being inadvertently reinstalled when you reinsert the device or restart the computer.

Note that you can't delete driver software that is included with Windows 10.

When your computer acts unpredictably, chances are good that defective hardware or a buggy device driver is at fault.
In those circumstances, using a powerful troubleshooting tool called Driver Verifier Manager (Verifier.exe) is a terrific way to identify flawed device drivers. Instead of your computer locking up at a most inopportune time with a misleading Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), Driver Verifier stops your computer predictably at startup with a BSOD that accurately explains the true problem. Although this doesn't sound like a huge improvement (your system still won't work, after all), Driver Verifier Manager performs a critical troubleshooting step: identifying the problem. You can then correct the problem by removing or replacing the offending driver. (If you're satisfied that the driver really is okay despite Driver Verifier Manager's warning, you can turn off Driver Verifier for all drivers or for a specific driver. Any driver that Driver Verifier chokes on should be regarded with suspicion, but some legitimate drivers bend the rules without causing problems.)
Driver Verifier works at startup to thoroughly exercise each driver. It performs many of the same tests that are run as part of the Windows certification and signing process, such as checking for the way the driver accesses memory.
Beware: If Driver Verifier Manager finds a nonconforming driver-even one that doesn't seem to be causing any problems-it will prevent your system from starting. Use Driver Verifier only if you're having problems. In other words, if it ain't broke . . .
To begin working with Driver Verifier Manager, open an elevated Command Prompt window and type verifier. In the Driver Verifier Manager dialog box, select Create Standard Settings. (If you want to assess current conditions before proceeding, select the last option, Display Information About The Currently Verified Drivers.)
When you click Next, you get a list of all currently installed drivers that match the conditions you specified. Note that the list might contain a mix of hardware drivers and some file-system filter drivers, such as those used by antivirus programs, CD-burning software, and other low-level system utilities.
At this point, you have two choices:
  • Go through the list and make a note of all drivers identified and then click Cancel. No changes are made to your system configuration; all you've done is gather a list of suspicious drivers, which you can then try to remove or disable manually.
  • Click Finish to complete the wizard and restart your computer. Don't choose this option unless you're prepared to deal with the consequences, as explained in the remainder of this sidebar.
If your computer stops with a blue screen when you next sign in, you've identified a problem driver. The error message includes the name of the offending driver and an error code.
Driver Verifier has been included with every version of Windows since Windows 2000 and is included with Windows 10. For information about using Verifier, see the Microsoft Support article 244617, "Using Driver Verifier to identify issues with Windows drivers for advanced users," at support.microsoft.com/kb/244617. To resolve the problem, boot into Safe Mode (press F8 during startup) and disable or uninstall the problem driver. You'll then want to check with the device vendor to get a working driver that you can install.
To disable Driver Verifier so that it no longer performs verification checks at startup, run Driver Verifier Manager again and select Delete Existing Settings in the initial dialog box. Alternatively, at a command prompt, type verifier /reset. (If you haven't yet solved the driver problem, of course, you'll be stopped at a BSOD, unable to disable Driver Verifier. In that case, boot into Safe Mode and then disable Driver Verifier.)
You can configure Driver Verifier so that it checks only certain drivers. To do that, open Driver Verifier Manager, select Create Standard Settings, click Next, and select the last option, Select Driver Names From A List. This option lets you exempt a particular driver from Driver Verifier's scrutiny-such as one that Driver Verifier flags but you are certain is not the cause of your problem.