If you are encountering unpredictable errors, lockups, or BSODs in Windows Vista, chances are that your system is suffering from the effects of a faulty third-party driver. As you know, the device drivers that come with Microsoft Windows Vista have a digital signature that indicates that the driver has met a certain level of testing and that it has not been altered. You also know that any hardware that carries a Certified for Windows Vista logo will come with drivers that have a digital signature from Microsoft that indicates that the product was tested for compatibility with Windows Vista.
However, not all third-party hardware manufacturers are willing to take the time and effort to submit their products to Microsoft for certified testing and aren't really interested in having a digital signature from Microsoft assigned to their drivers. And, unfortunately, uncertified drivers are a big source of problems in Vista.
Fortunately, Vista comes with a great utility called the Driver Verifier Manager. While not a new utility (it came with Windows 2000 and Windows XP), the version that comes with Vista has some new features that make it easier to use. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you how to use the Driver Verifier Manager to troubleshoot driver problems in Windows Vista.
This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.
Vista comes with two versions of the Driver Verifier Manager -- a command-line version and a GUI version. I'll cover the GUI version.
Once enabled, the Driver Verifier Manager will go to work in the background and will essentially perform a series of extreme stress tests on the selected driver(s) in an attempt to cause the driver(s) to fail. Keep in mind that the tests that Driver Verifier Manager performs will occur as you use your system over time under normal circumstances. As such, it may take some time to identify a problem, if there is one at all. In other words, this utility will not yield immediate results.
If the driver does fail, it will cause a BSOD and a Stop error message that will contain information that you can use to determine and eliminate the problematic driver. If after a few days, the driver doesn't fail and cause a BSOD, then the driver may not be the cause of the problem. Either way, you will have to disable the Driver Verifier Manager once you are done troubleshooting.Remember that once you enable it, the Driver Verifier Manager will remain active in the background until you disable it.
Launching the Driver Verifier ManagerTo launch the Driver Verifier Manager, click the Start button, type Verifier in the Start Search box, and press [Enter]. When you do, you'll encounter a UAC and will need to respond accordingly. You'll momentarily see a Command Prompt window and then the Driver Verifier Manager will launch and display a wizard-based user interface, as shown in Figure A.
The Driver Verifier Manager runs from a wizard-based user interface.
As you can see, the Create Standard Settings option is selected by default, and in most cases this option is the best way to start. When you use this option, the Driver Verifier Manager selects a standard set of driver verification options.
If you later decide that you want to perform more specific tests, you can select the Create Custom Settings option, which will display all the available driver verification options and allow you to select the ones that you want to employ.
As I mentioned, you will have to disable the Driver Verifier Manager once you are done troubleshooting. To do so, use the Delete Existing Settings option.
As its name implies, selecting the Display Existing Settings option will show the driver verification options that have been activated and will list the drivers being tested.
Once you enable it, the Driver Verifier Manager remains active and performs its stress tests in the background. If you select the Display Information About The Currently Verified Drivers option, the Driver Verifier Manager will display statistics on the utility's current actions.
Using the Create Standard Settings optionSince the Create Standard Settings option is the most common way that you'll use the Driver Verifier Manager, I'll cover this option. At a later date, I'll come back and look at the intricacies of using the Driver Verifier Manager's Create Custom Settings option. When you leave the default setting selected and click Next, you'll be prompted to select the drivers that you want to test, as shown in Figure B.
The Driver Verifier Manager provides you with several options for choosing which driver you want to test.
Since unsigned drivers are the most likely culprit, the Automatically Select Unsigned Drivers option is selected by default. If you select this option and click Next, you'll see only those drivers installed on your system that are not digitally signed by Microsoft. If there aren't any unsigned drivers, an error message will appear.
If you suspect that signed drivers designed for a previous version of Windows may be installed on your system and causing problems, select the Automatically Select Drivers Built For Older Versions Of Windows option. If you select this option and click Next, you'll see a list of drivers that are digitally signed by Microsoft but are designed for previous version of Windows -- most likely Windows XP. If there aren't any signed drivers for an older version, an error message will appear.
While not really a very sensible option when it comes to standard troubleshooting practice, you can select the Automatically Select All Drivers Installed On This Computer option. If you select this option, the Next button will change to Finish and you'll be prompted to reboot your system. (As a general rule of thumb, it is better to troubleshoot a single or a small set of possible problems as it will be easier to determine the cause.)
If you want to see all the drivers installed on the system and be able to pick and choose which ones to test, choose the Select Driver Names From A List option.On my test system, I selected the Automatically Select Unsigned Drivers option and clicked Next. I then saw a small list of the drivers installed on my system that were not digitally signed by Microsoft, as shown in Figure C. To initiate the testing, I clicked Finish and was prompted to restart my system.
In the case of my test system, two drivers were unsigned.
It's been several days, and I have yet to encounter a response from the Driver Verifier Manager. I suppose that it isn't really surprising since I wasn't encountering any unpredictable problems on this system. However, I am in the process of seeking more current drivers.
What's your take?
Have you used the Driver Verifier Manager? Are you encountering unpredictable errors, lockups, or BSODs in Windows Vista? Will you investigate the Driver Verifier Manager? Please drop by the Discussion Area and let us hear from you.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.