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How to Fix an Empty Device Manager List In Windows

written by: Lamar Stonecypher•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/12/2009

Why is my Device Manager Empty? If you are using Windows Vista, XP, or Windows 2000 and find that your Deviice Manager list is suddenly and inexplicably empty, there are several things to try to fix it. Here we'll start with the three most likely causes and work our way down the list.

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    Why is my device manager empty?

    Several conditions can cause the device list to show up empty in Windows, but most of the problems involve either permissions or services. Here we'll start with what Microsoft recommends first, and then work our way down to the less likely, but still possible causes and their corrections. We include here what we consider the three most likely causes.

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    Plug and Play Service is Turned Off

    If the Plug and Play (PnP) service is not running, the Device Manager list will fail to populate (or enumerate). To check for this, click Start → Run and type in

    services.msc

    and click OK. In the "Services" dialog, scroll down and find "Plug and Play." Double-click it to bring up the Properties dialog. Under "Startup type:," it should be set to "Automatic." Change it if it's not, and then click OK to close Properties, close the Services dialog, and restart the computer.

    If that fixes the problem, you're done. If not, please continue to the next step.

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    XP Service Pack 3 Upgrade Broke It

    If you have just upgraded to Windows XP Service Pack 3 and notice the problem, it's likely that your Network Connections dialog is also failing to populate. Microsoft says that this can happen if you had antivirus software running when installing SP3. Yes, we've all seen the advice to disable antivirus software from time to time, and we've all ignored it just as we routinely ignore the advice to close down other programs when installing applications.

    If you haven’t uninstalled SP3, the solution is to download a patch from Microsoft and install it. Please follow the link above and look for “Download the Update for Windows XP (KB953979) package now."

    If this didn't work or you haven't just upgraded to Service Pack 3, please go to the next step.

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    Something Changed in the Registry

    The next possibility is that some application changed the security policy in the Windows Registry. To detect or correct this, you'll need to access the Registry. It's a good idea to set a restore point before editing the Registry.

    Creating a Restore Point in Vista

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    1. Click Start and type in “systempropertiesprotection"
    2. If User Access Control is active, click Continue
    3. Click Create
    4. Enter a meaningful name for your restore point
    5. Click Create and watch as it makes the restore point
    6. Click OK to close the System Properties dialog
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    Creating a Restore Point in Windows XP

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    1. Click Start → Programs → Accessories → System Tools → System Restore
    2. Select "Create a restore point."
    3. Click "Next" and continue

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    Backing Up the Registry in Windows 2000

    Since Windows 2000 does not have the System Restore feature, you can use an alternate method to back up the Registry using Windows Backup. Please follow these steps:

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    1. Click Start → Programs → Accessories → Backup
    2. In the Backup dialog, select the Backup Tab
    3. Select "System State" and click "OK" to create the back up
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    You can also use the Backup tool to restore the Registry (and other important system files) in Windows 2000.

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    Editing the Registry

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    To edit the Registry in Windows XP or Windows 2000, you'll need to be logged in to an administrative account. (If there's only one account on the machine it is an administrative account.)

    In Vista, you'll need to start from an elevated command prompt. Instead of the first step below, do this: Click the Vista start button/orb and select All Programs → Accessories. Right-click "Command Prompt" and select "Run as administrator." Confirm at the UAC prompt if it appears and then type in "regedit" and press Enter. Continue with step #2 below.

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    1. Click Start → Run and enter "regedit32" (Windows 2000) or "regedit" (XP)
    2. Start at "HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT" and minimize the major classes under "My Computer"
    3. Click the plus sign beside "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE" to maximize it
    4. Maximize "SYSTEM" and then "CurrentControlSet"
    5. Right-click "ENUM" and select "Security." Under "Permissions for ENUM" you should see "Everyone" and "System." If you don't see them there, you have found your problem and need to add them manually
    6. Click the "Add" button, and, under "Select Users or Groups" enter "Everyone"
    7. Click "OK," click the "Add" button again, and enter (in all capitals) "SYSTEM"
    8. Select "Everyone" and select "Read" in the lower part of the dialog
    9. Select "SYSTEM" and select "Read" and "Full Control" in the lower part of the dialog
    10. With "SYSTEM" still selected, click the "Advanced" button, also in the lower part of the dialog
    11. In the "Advanced Security Settings for Enum" dialog, select "Replace permission entries on all child objects with entries shown here that apply to child objects" and then click "OK"
    12. If a warning appears, acknowledge it and continue
    13. In the main Regedit or Regedit32 window, select File → Exit

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    We have covered here the three most likely reasons that the Device Manager list might appear to be empty, but there can be other causes, too. For example, a few years ago an Internet browser "helper" package that came to be called Apropos.Spyware could cause this in Windows versions prior to Vista. Hopefully you've found your solution here. If not, as always, Google is your friend and we wish you luck.

    While this can be a unsettling problem to see, according to Microsoft, it does not actually cause anything to stop working.

    Thank you for reading this and thank you for visiting Bright Hub.