Device Manager

(For Geeks Only)
By Joe Callison
21 December 2019

Windows Device Manager can be accessed in Windows 10 by right-clicking on the Start icon to get the menu, by typing Device Manager in the Cortana search box, or by using the old Control Panel desktop app. Device Manager is useful for troubleshooting or updating computer device drivers for hardware installed in or attached to the computer. Even if the hardware is removed, the previously detected item will still show with a light colored icon in the list and can be seen by clicking the “Show hidden devices” under View. Abandoned devices that are not likely to be connected again can be removed from the list by right-clicking on the item and choosing “Uninstall device” or if you have both toolbars checked in the Customize settings under View you can select the item and click on the red X in the snap-in toolbar, which only shows when applicable for the item selected. Similarly you can disable a device or update its driver from the right-click menu or the toolbar.  

Right-clicking a device and choosing Properties, the Driver tab can be opened to view the installed driver version. The Driver Details will list the driver paths and file names that are installed. Update Driver is another way to get to the update choices. Roll Back Driver allows going back to the previously installed driver in the event the updated driver causes problems. The Disable Device and Uninstall Device choices can also be accessed in the Driver tab.

Detected devices that can’t be identified or that drivers can’t be found for by Device Manager will show with an exclamation mark on the device icon. One method to identify the item is to look at the Properties for the device. In the Details tab, use the drop down list under Property to view the “Device instance path” or “Hardware IDs”. By doing an internet search on the first part of the value before the REV number, such as PCI\VEN_8086DEV_2A42&SUBSYS_04061028 which can be identified as a Mobile Intel(R) 4 Series Express Chipset Family, an appropriate driver may then be searched for.

Sometimes a problem with a device can be fixed by simply choosing the “Uninstall device” and then after it is removed from the list, under the Action menu choose “Scan for hardware changes” or restart the computer to detect the device again and the driver will be reloaded and may fix the problem.

For old legacy hardware that does not support “Plug-and-Play”, which is how the computer can detect new hardware automatically, there is a wizard accessible through the Action menu item “Add legacy hardware”. I have not tried using that feature. As noted in the wizard, the manufacturer’s installation files should be used instead if at all possible.

Avoid the temptation to use drivers from unfamiliar sources on the internet or using driver updater software found there. It is likely to either be infected by malware or is malware itself. Driver updater software is often the source of other unwanted programs that get downloaded and installed without your knowledge, or the driver updater may find newer versions than currently installed but not appropriate for your computer hardware. The best source for drivers and driver updater software is the support area of the computer manufacturer’s website. If you can’t find a Windows 10 driver listed, try looking under the earlier versions of Windows that have the same bit processor (32-bit or 64-bit) as your Windows 10 installation as they will often work. If not found there, the hardware device manufacturer’s website often has generic drivers that should work, but may not have all of the features the driver from the computer manufacturer would have provided. Occasionally I have even had to resort to looking up the manufacturer and model number of the main chip on the device, such as an NVIDIA graphics chip, REALTEK audio or LAN chip, or BROADCOM WLAN chip, and getting a generic driver from their website.

My last bit of advice is to create a restore point before updating a driver that you are unsure about so you can more easily undo the changes. Sometimes the “rollback driver” is not able to undo a change. If updating multiple drivers, do it for each driver and check that it works properly before going to the next driver, otherwise, you may not know which driver is causing the problem.

Posted by Joe Callison

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