Every device connected to your computer, and the components inside it, are managed by device drivers. These drivers ensure that the devices can run smoothly and support their full feature sets. These drivers let you make the most of what your computer has – and Windows includes a built-in device manager that can be used to manage device drivers. This guide will cover how to use the Windows Device Manager to maintain your device drivers.
To open Device Manager, press the Windows key+X hotkey combo and click on “Device Manager” from the drop-down box.
By default, Device Manager shows all connected devices in a list sorted by the type of function they perform. For example, all audio devices are grouped together. To see a specific driver, you need to expand out the relevant section. Once you can see an individual driver, you can manage it by right-clicking on it.
The management options you have from the right-click menu allow you to: update the driver, disable the device and uninstall the device.
Clicking “Uninstall device” will cause a warning popup to appear. The popup informs you that this will uninstall the device from the system. There is also a checkbox that can be used to delete the driver software as well. Clicking “Uninstall” will instruct will remove the links between the driver and the device. If you tick the “Delete the driver software from this device” checkbox, it will completely remove the driver and associated registry keys from your computer. Either action will render the device unusable until you install the device driver again.
Tip: If you do this to, say, a keyboard that’s still plugged in via USB, the computer will no longer recognise that keyboard as an input method. Unplug and replug in order to reinstall the device and drivers.
Uninstalling the device will remove the entry from the device manager. This will make it significantly harder to re-enable the device if you change your mind. For USB devices you may just be able to reconnect them in a different port, but reinstalling internal components may be a lot harder – please be careful when using this feature. Just because you don’t recognise something in the list doesn’t mean you don’t need it!
Tip: Be incredibly careful when uninstalling device drivers. If you uninstall a driver that manages a core part of the computer, such as the CPU, you may end up crashing your computer or making it unusable. If you don’t know exactly what the device is, you should not uninstall it.
Clicking “Disable device” will cause a warning popup to appear as well. This warning informs you that “Disabling this device will cause it to stop functioning.”. If you click “Yes” the device will be disabled. Disabling the device is essentially the same as uninstalling it, but it will remain in Device manager and can be easily re-enabled. If you click “No” the action will be cancelled.
Tip: To re-enable a driver right-click it, then click “Enable device”.
Tip: Again, be very careful when disabling devices. If you disable something important you could crash your computer. You could also end up disabling your mouse and/or keyboard and not be able to undo the actions. If you don’t know exactly what the device is that you’re disabling, you shouldn’t disable it.
Clicking “Update driver” opens the driver update wizard. The wizard lets you choose between it searching automatically for an updated driver and you specifying a driver file on your hard drive. Searching automatically won’t take too long and can be done by clicking “Search automatically for updated driver software”. The wizard will either confirm that it has found and updated the driver, if it was successful, or if the search was unsuccessful, it will confirm that you have the latest driver, and offer to search through Windows Update for updated drivers. Clicking “Search for updated drivers on Windows Update” will open the settings app on the Windows Update page, where you’ll need to click “Check for updates”.
If you’ve already downloaded an updated driver but just need to apply it, you can do so by clicking “Browse my computer for driver software” instead. You can select the folder with the driver in by using the “Browse…” button.
Tip: Keeping “Include subfolders” ticked is a good idea, as this will also check in all the folders inside the folder that you select.
Alternatively, you can click “Let me pick from a list of available drivers on my computer” to select drivers saved in your computer’s Driver Store. This, where available, will allow you to choose from a list of generic drivers, which may not support all the features, but will allow the device to function. You can also choose the latest vendor-specific driver and in some cases a previous driver as well. This can be helpful if a newer version causes problems and you want to go back to an older version that worked for you.
If you update a driver, then start running into issues with it, it is possible to roll back the driver. To do so, right-click on the device for which you wish to roll back the driver, then select “Properties” from the dropdown menu. In the device properties window, move to the “Driver” tab and click “Roll Back Driver”. A popup window will appear asking for feedback as to why you’re rolling back. Select a reason then click “Yes” and the driver will roll back to the previously installed version.
Some drivers have specific tools released by their manufacturers to manage them. A key example of this are graphics drivers. Both Nvidia and AMD have their own graphics driver management program. The latest drivers can be installed via these platforms before they get published via Windows Update. Other examples include peripherals, such as mice, keyboards, and webcams although these will vary between brands.
Peripherals will generally mention their own driver management tools in their installation instructions. These tools can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website if they are available, or may even install when the device is first plugged in.
Generally, it’s a good idea to check your instruction manual for info on driver issues if you have performance problems – although this subject may seem complicated, the solution to issues is often just updating to a newer version!