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Video: Find and delete hidden Windows Vista and XP device drivers

Windows Vista and XP often retain old drivers even if you upgrade or change hardware. Unfortunately, these old, and sometimes hidden, drivers can cause hardware conflicts or make your system behave erratically. Bill Detwiler shows you how to find those old drivers and root them out once and for all.

Sorting out device driver problems in Windows, can be a bit tricky. Windows Vista and XP often retain old drivers even if you upgrade or change hardware. Unfortunately, these old, and sometimes hidden, drivers can cause hardware conflicts or make your system behave erratically -- even if you're no longer using them. In this IT Dojo video, I'll show you how to find those old drivers and root them out of your system once and for all.

For those of you who prefer text to video, you can click the Transcript link that appears below the video player window or you can also read Greg Shultz's article, "Get rid of old device drivers hidden in Vista," on which this video is based.

You can also sign up to receive the latest IT Dojo lessons through one or more of the following methods:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

90 comments
gypkap
gypkap

Only problem I ever had was two years ago with a defective Intel motherboard driver that was pushed to my Toshiba laptop. Some apparently smart code in the laptop detected the blue screen and rolled back the driver to the previous version. The correct updated driver was pushed a few days later. I have no idea whether to thank Toshiba or Intel for the apparent self-fix.

emeutia
emeutia

I have problem with my wi fi modem driver.

mikem
mikem

I always have problems with the odd device settings such as System drivers, Universal Serial Bus Controllers and the like. Sometimes errors appear in these odd sections and who's suppose to know how to fix them if your not sure what they control? See my point.

tgramm
tgramm

depending on which USB port I connect my canon to, it either starts downloading my photos or, in the other USB, it asks whether i want to use the wizard, which i don't because it messes up the file name (img_###.jpg). Why is that happening?

blu_lau_vip
blu_lau_vip

while doing this i found this driver.. parport.sys with yellow exclamation sign.. what should i do with this? uninstall or what? and then in the SCSI and RAID controllers i found "D347PRT SCSI controller" hidden.. the name sounds fierce, so im not sure what should i do..

tommyjin the usa
tommyjin the usa

my dell xps 3.2 has had constant problems from crashing drives hanging up software and now my monitor is blinking off then on then off then on what the dell is that? is this a software problem (microsoft) or is it just a junk machine? One year later: I purchased a Mac a G5 and then I purchased two more Mac's,,,my windows machine got tossed out the window it's junk a dell from hell, second rate components and very poor workmanship. Don't buy a dell you'll be sorry.

peter.stephens
peter.stephens

Hi Bill, thanks for a really useful video. Environment variables are a magical thing! cheers Peter

JCitizen
JCitizen

It would figure the device with the most trouble would be a Microsoft hardware device! Still haven't solved the interference with my Bluetooth module/router inside the system unit. Can't figure out if it is more the radio interference or the driver which is the more likely root cause.

clarity1
clarity1

thats' a cracker as the Irish apparently say. I would like to add that I find 'show hidden device drivers' menu invaluable when removing annoying antivirus software. Some manufacturers are worse than others but all have some hidden bits.

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

These are the most problematic device drivers, notably those for accelerated buses. Generally USB devices have much less problems: you just need to unplug and replug them to fix any issue that could occur the first time you install them. On the opposite, the system bus drivers and drivers for very large disks can cause severe issues, as they don't alwyas interact very well with the supported options in the BIOS boot-time setting. Similar issues are with the hibernation and energy-saving options: devices do not always shut down or wake up gracefully (for example, on a notebook, you should leave the screen open while booting, because otherwise the flat panel will not be detected, and some system services for managing multiple monitors will not be loaded, and the display on the external monitor will not be properly initialized (this is a known bug in Vista since very long, acknowledged by Microsoft). There are very similar issues with display adapters with multiple cores, or with multiple display adapters in the same machine (problems located in the drivers managing their interconnection, or when they attempt to negociate their access priority to the system bus). Other issues are related to CPU throttling (many versions of CPUs by Intel or AMD have such issues, that can't be predicted only by looking at their model number). Finally the most problematic problems come with motherboard devices (especially on desktops): devices on it are not recognized or will conflict with other devices connected to a PCI(e) slot. Video boards are also well known for their various issues with many motherboards, notably when they cannot synhcronize their clock settings with the motherboard, or when they take too much energy from the system bus (even their specific power connector can be insufficient). Finally the remaining problems are those with webcams (notably those connected via USB): they use too much bandwidth or the system cannot cope with the needed bandwidth. Some USB-WiFi adapters also come with crappy configuration tools that are full of bugs. consider not using these tools, and just use the default "Zero Config" running mode (the one integrated within Windows). Trying to use these WiFi adapters for running an "ad hoc" connection or driving an hot spot is still very problematic (there is still no good standard, the terminalogy used changes in each model, nothing is explained, and the default configuration almost never work: consider using an external hotspot router instead connected to your Ethernet hub or switch, or use the builtin WiFi hotspot from the "Internet box" provided by your DSL or cable ISP) The least problematic drivers are those for: - external USB storages - keyboards (the generic driver works lamost lawys with them, no specific driver is needed and no BIOS setting is required) - Ethernet LAN adapters (integrated or on a plugged extension board): most generic drivers work with any problem. - generic SATA (or PATA) hard drives (not the ATA adapter itself on the motherboard, which have its own issues along with the BIOS) - processor driver (but the processor itself may have issues in some series for the same displayed model number...)

n.champaigne
n.champaigne

I thought I was not supposed to think. It was my Vista driver that gave me the most problems. It was driving me deep up my %^&%& and it was very uncomfortable. Irronically one of the main problems Vista has is now available for xp, a ^@^$ up search index system.

d.g.buckley
d.g.buckley

I do not recommend this process. I found and deleted a large number of supposedly non-present devices from the branches in the device manager in my Vista machine. I now have an incredibly sluggish computer full of bugs. One of the HDDs is reporting as "failing". A system restore to the day before I deleted the non present devices made only a slight improvement. I'm absolutely certain that I did not delete anything that was not greyed out. Luckliy I've been able to copy my data files to an external disc, but I think that I may have to reload Vista to get my computer into a usable state again. Does anyone have any ideas? David Buckley David Buckley

ronbo256
ronbo256

Excellent tip, thanks for helping me speed up my system! Pretty technical stuff, even for a geek like me!

bernalillo
bernalillo

Thanks Bill, As someone who is continually testing products and software, troubleshooting and trying diffent configurations my PCs wind up with tons of old crap on them. I may even have solved a recurring problme with my mouse. We'll see. Keepem coming!

bud6642
bud6642

Following the advice provided, how can one save those device drivers if needed? I'm using WinXP-SP3. Discovered a whole bunch of "faded out" device drivers after scrolling through all of them. Noting that there isn't a "save" button, I wondered if any/all of these devices that are uninstalled are eventually reinstalled when one re-boots their system?

hughes.ctr
hughes.ctr

The biggest headaches I've had with VISTA is drivers for USB devices. Here is the list: USB driver for Garmin GPS USB driver for Polar IR dongle (for HR monitor) USB driver for serial to USB cable USB driver for Apple iTouch USB driver for RIO MP3 player USB driver for SmartCard reader These devices all worked with XP SP3, most were plug and play. After a lot of searching and loading/unloading drivers most of these devices are now working. Still having problems with the iTouch and the RIO MP3 player, good thing I have another box with XP.

lizzz
lizzz

I have had many problems caused by hidden Non-Plug and Play drivers, especially residual antivirus drivers left by faulty uninstallers.

waltrutka
waltrutka

to view hidden devices on windows vista computer-properties-advanced environment variables system variable new devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices 1 ( below this ) and save then go into computer - manage - divice mgr - pulldown show hidden devices why HIDE? why not right off the bat????????????? committing unnecesary brain cells need dr and or the 2 year wonder out of u of m there there or there not!

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

I did a fresh install for Vists 64bit with SP2 integrated. With SP1 done previously, the ACPI drivers from ASUIS worked. with SP2, they don't. WEhen Vista checks for a fix, it thinks they are midi drivers. But the info from the missing drivers say it's ACPI. BTW, like the bloopers. BTW, a .REG file would of shortened the video to maybe 2 minutes. ;-)

groufskd
groufskd

Awesome guidance, thanks. Amazing how many you find, especially if you have had problems and have tried installing several different drivers to fix them! :-)

Onno@Ecma-International.org
Onno@Ecma-International.org

On my thinkpad X61s, I had to remove the old Microsoft driver and install the new Thinkpad one + patches etc. To get an earphone, gps and business phone (for emergency GPRS connections) working all together took my (in my recollection the best part of a day)....

dbryce
dbryce

I have not read any comment on this so someone else might provide this same things... If you find that you're working on a lot of machines that is a lot of steps to go thought; instead create a batch file with the following in it: "set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 devmgmt.msc" save it to your thumb drive or other location that can be access from multiple machines. Run the batch file; once the device manager open you still need to show the hidden devices. Works great..

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

In Vista, particularly basic, I have had problems with all the drivers on your list except the CD/DVD drive and monitor, but that is probably because the maker "fixed" it before me. I have also had to drag bits and pieces out of XP and other applications and or operating systems to add to Vista. These programs that Microsoft was too cheap to include or trying to squeeze users to buy their more higly over prices version. Linux is looking better and better. I don't mind the minor teething problems, God knows I have put up with more Microsoft crap in the past two decades. At least the programmers will return my email with solutions, trying to get any tech support from Microsoft is a lost cause. They have exchanged their forever on hold to circular queries.

microface
microface

All the Device Driver Problems I have Experienced have been with VISTA. XP is solid as a rock, but Vista Drivers when they are available for the old devices are totally unreliable !!!

viajero4
viajero4

Under "Other," I have had trouble with digital cameras in XP (haven't tried Vista yet). One day they appear to be 'best friends' with XP, the next, they hardly know each other. Some days, have to go steal a buddy's card reader. (Canon and Kodak models tried, so far.)

johnlindemann
johnlindemann

My HP Deskjet 5150 driver is a nightmare on Vista. It installed and worked perfectly before installing Vista SP1, ever since it's extremely unstable. I've tried to remove/re-install multiple times, tried removing the DOT4 USB interface, reinstalling the drivers provided by HP, etc..all with no luck. With this tip, I may find the right voodoo incantation to get my printer working like it did pre-SP1! Thanks

e_caroline
e_caroline

I don't watch these videos. They are a pain and are simply a way to pad out and flash-ify information that would fit in a paragraph or two. This gimmick is of no use to a real tech pro who has little time to waste with it. How about you aim your work at a literate audience instead of short-attention-span cases upon whom tech info is wasted anyway?

rkramer
rkramer

Pretty cool. Some of the "hidden" drivers are for devices I regularly use but are not currently connected, which is OK. However, I sometimes see multiple entries for the exact same driver (versions and dates match), but with different Device Instance IDs. Could you discuss this, please?

JCitizen
JCitizen

Yes uninstalling is fine, in fact it might reinstall correctly the next time you boot. That is usually the problem anyway. As far as SCSI it would depend on whether you actually had a SCSI drive in your PC. If you are not sure, I'd leave it alone.

JCitizen
JCitizen

could have made that a whole 'nother article! Thanks for the input!

actonlab
actonlab

DB, RE: the "failing" HDD message. I have come across plenty of slow/sluggish/buggy PCs that really do have a failing HDD. Check out event viewer for messages from ATAPI and/or DISK. I've used disk cloning software to move the image over to a new HDD. System runs like a champ after the move to the new HDD. In a word, check out that event viewer to see the HDD health. Regards ARD

alliancemillsoft
alliancemillsoft

This is a god tip but it can get you into some trouble by uninstalling drivers that are not being used at the time. Therefore I would say that you should NOT delete ANY USB drive drivers, and that you should plug in all your hardware items such as PDAs scanners, etc, before removing drivers. This will minimize the chances that you'll uninstall something that you really need.

JCitizen
JCitizen

it was a Microsoft hardware product! Still waiting on them to come up with a new driver! They just want me to disable all the other devices, instead of simply fixing theirs. Well none of the other two devices has any conflict with each other, or any wireless G problems either. Seems funny they always blame someone else!

joeller
joeller

I agree that these days Microsoft's Tech Support is really poor. However that was not always the case. In addition, I have seen their tech support stay on a problem for weeks and months to try and help you solve the issue even if they themselves did not have the knowledge required. They have even done this with products that they no longer support. (Win 98, Classic ASP page objects.) In most of my cases the call to tech support and the checks that they have performed had caused me to see the issue that was causing the problem and fixing it. However for two things in particular they have been of real help. When I was first installing XP there was a required reboot of the machine after which the new OS would start up. When this did not happen I was at a loss, and I could not look it up on the internet, because I had no computer. It took several calls but the tech I finally got hold of knew exactly what the problem was and I have had no problems with XP ever since. The other issue their tech reps are good with is SMTP. We were having a bear of a time because our server was sending emails to the Navy, but would not send them to people inhouse. They were able to address that with the third call. (There was nothing on the internet describing a similar issue.) They were also able to address an issue with SMTP and our Web app after we upgraded our server to Windows Server 2003. This was before there was much in the way of troubleshooting on the web for this product. Turns out our issue was due to the tasks of the ASPNet user now being carried out by the Network Service user. Since the ASPNet user was still extent, this is something we would have never suspected at that point in the documentation of issues. (Now there is plenty of documentation about that.) So MS Support does have its place. My main issue with Linux is the various flavors of it available. I do not know how compatible they are with each other or whether the code used to do something on one system is compatible with another. Having seen similar issues with the different flavors of SQL for different RDBMS, I am reluctant to test the waters unless or until someone has come up with a Linux standard like ANSI SQL or the W3C.

earthrat
earthrat

Its a shame we are not all as smart as you think you are! If you are so good that this information does not help you, then why are you here?

bernalillo
bernalillo

Go find a "real" forum where you "real techs pros" can go do discuss in whatever fashion "real techs pros" do. Unless, of course, you would rather stick around here sounding suspiciously sanctimonious and trying to present yourself as superior. Nitwit.

joeller
joeller

I don't watch the videos either because the DoD site at which I am located does not allow it. What I do instead is read the transcript of the presentation. If it is of value, great. If not, oh well. If it is sufficiently intensive that you need the video to understand, then I will make the effort to view it at home. But in many cases you need the video to get the point of what is being discussed. ESRI has put the transcripts of many of their presentations on powerpoint. However when they demostrate the programming techniques that they are discussing, then there is merely a slide showing "DEMO". Because of this you then lose the whole point of the presentations. Maybe for hardware people it is enough merely to discuss solutions, but programmers want to see the code and the application in action. Sites like Code Project and C Sharp corner get around this by giving the code to download so you can compile it and run it for yourself. But given the propensity of programmers to poorly document their work (and I am no exception), it is sometimes hard to figure out why something was done a particular way. That is when a video would be helpful. Maybe you are one of those geniuses that can obtain a complete understanding of a system by merely glancing at it. However that is no reason to denigrate the efforts of people to pass on their knowledge to the rest of us apes.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

In the past 10 years, TechRepublic has published at least 20,000 pieces of text content--articles, downloads, blog posts, and so forth. That doesn't even include the more than 15,000 discussion posts made each month. We've never stopped being a site committed to a "literate audience." Yet your characterization of who does and who does not qualify as a "real tech pro" is dead wrong. As dvl44 wrote in response to your post, individuals have different learning styles. For visual learners, video or how to galleries may work best. For some, face-to-face classroom instruction is the way to go. Others may prefer text. One's preference for or dislike of video content has no bearing on their intelligence or level of technical expertise. If you prefer text to video, feel free to download the video's transcript, read Greg Shultz's associated article, or download Greg's article as a PDF. Those options are clearly spelled out in the text-based blog post that contains the video.

dvl44
dvl44

Some of us (no less techy, btw) are visual learners, so the videos are great for us. Others are more verbal; for you the text version works best. So what's the beef?

mmahan
mmahan

I think these videos are very helpful. Maybe you could use a vacation...or therapy.

isdkm
isdkm

This is also useable on Win2k and win2k3 server. Works great cleaning up servers that have ben P2Ved into VMware. Also can be done via the command line to temporaly allow access to nonpresent devices: c:\> set devmgmr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 c:\> start devmgmt.msc

K_Green
K_Green

Perhaps what you are seeing is the effect of plugging your USB device(s) into a variety of USB ports? As the device is plugged into each port, a new Instance ID is generated and linked to the already-installed driver? Disclaimer: I am not a device driver guru. This explanation just seems rational.

d.g.buckley
d.g.buckley

ARD Thanks for your advice. I'll give your suggestions a try. Regards

JCitizen
JCitizen

was with a client that downloaded a bad registry "mechanic". It did a lot of damage and I got him part of the way recovered; but surprisingly Microsoft took the problem from Level 3 support all the way to the Labs in Redmond!! Must have piqued their interest or something; but they never blamed the client for not backing up critical hardware or being so dumb to download questionable utilities. They just worked diligently for about a month before they solved it! I told the client he better be releived that he had retail supported software, or it would have been REALLY expensive getting his investment data back!

aylb
aylb

Bill, I appreciate this particular tip, but I understand e_caroline's point. I didn't realize that a video transcript was available - I'd clearly have preferred a text version. Also, I access Computer Management through Control Panel, because I don't care for the simplified Start panel. It makes it difficult to access some of the areas I use regularly. For that reason, most of the video was 'time wasted' (since I had to wait for the core information to appear). All I needed was the Environment Variable, and the tip to 'Show Hidden Devices' -- and it would have been a heck of a lot easier to have a text version of the environment variable to cut-and-paste -- it's easy to make a typo on a variable of that length. I won't comment on the 'real tech pro' aspect. Obviously, if I 'knew it all', I wouldn't have needed this particular VERY useful tip. However, just for the record, I'm a 64-year old retired IT Pro, and worked in the computer industry for 40+ years before retirement -- yup, long before PC's even came on the scene. I certainly don't know everything, but I do what format I find most useful in the help I receive. Thank you for the work you put into making this accessible for everyone.

JCitizen
JCitizen

text bound technophiles, but they can't read the simple fact that a test source is available. Kinda makes you wonder how their brain is wired huh? Maybe they are dislexic or borderline autistic of something? I sure get tired of the whining when the text info has always been available. I remember something way longer when I watch it, or hear it on voice playback, than reading it on a blog. Besides, I get a kick outta seeing what my favorite TR journalists sound and look like in motion. Hey, I'm a TV baby, OK?

JCitizen
JCitizen

but I too am no guru on that, so I digress.

JCitizen
JCitizen

How hard is it to click on a link? Duh? There is always a text version link with every article! How hard is it to READ THE LINK! Dang! Why is it you text guys say you need text, but you can't SEE THE TEXT? Sorry, Bill but this just drives me crazy!! X-(

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