Windows XP is packed with updates and cool new features that are aimed at making your computing experience more enjoyable. The integrated elements include a personal firewall, remote control capability, and CD-ROM writing software. These tools are nice, but one that I’ve found to be a real keeper is the device driver roll back utility. It allows you to revert to the previous version of a device driver if the latest and greatest version screws up more than it fixes. While upgrading to a new device driver sounds simple, doing so can sometimes cause headaches far beyond what two aspirins can cure. The device driver roll back feature won’t completely eliminate device driver problems, but it can help you resolve them if your upgrade turns sour. With just a few mouse clicks, you can easily restore your computer to working order.

Using Safe Mode in Windows XP
When your drivers are acting up, you should start the computer in Safe Mode. Access the Windows XP Advanced Options menu by pressing [F8] as Windows XP is loading (as in previous versions of Windows). On the Advanced Options menu, you can choose from the options shown below. Use the arrow keys to highlight the desired option and press [Enter].

  • Safe Mode
  • Safe Mode With Networking
  • Safe Mode With Command Prompt
  • Enable Boot Logging
  • Enable VGA Mode
  • Last Known Good Configuration
  • Directory Services Restore Mode (Windows domain controllers only)
  • Debugging Mode
  • Boot Normally
  • Reboot
  • Return To OS Choices Menu

Using device driver roll back
Once you determine that you need to use the device driver roll back feature, access the device driver property page for the misbehaving driver. For the purposes of this Daily Feature, I will show you how to roll back a Matrox video card driver.

The easiest way to access the device driver property page is to right-click on the My Computer icon and select Properties to display the System Properties dialog box. Then, choose the Hardware tab and select Device Manager. In the Device Manager dialog box, double-click on the appropriate device, which will display the component’s properties page. On the Driver tab, you can obtain driver details, update the driver, roll back the driver, or uninstall the software. An example of this screen is shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Note that the driver version for this Matrox video card is not available and that the driver date is 3/20/2001.

After you click the Roll Back Driver button, you will be asked (for safety reasons) whether you truly want to roll back the driver. If this is the action you want to take, click Yes.

When the roll back request is initiated, Windows XP will remove the current driver and reinstall the previous version. This process requires some patience. Once the driver changes have been made, you will be asked to reboot your computer so the system can initialize using the replacement device driver.

After rebooting your computer, verify that the device is working and that the driver version has changed. As shown in Figure B, the driver date for this Matrox video adapter is now 2/15/2001 and the driver version is 5.1.2439.0.

Figure B

It doesn’t get much easier, does it? No more hunting for the original driver software, followed by the lengthy reinstallation process. A few mouse clicks and a reboot were all it took to remove the incorrect driver version and revert to the correct, working device driver. With XP’s roll back feature, you can easily swap drivers for all your components so you can test the various changes the updated drivers make. If there is something you don’t like about an update, just click back to the original driver and move on.