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Dealing with Problem Hardware Drivers in Windows

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 6/13/2009

Problematic hardware drivers don’t just make using a piece of hardware difficult, they can wreak havoc on your system too. Incompatible, buggy, or poorly written driver code can cause hard-to-diagnose problems too. You can deal with this though – you just have to know where to look and what steps to take.

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    Locating Problem Hardware and Drivers

    If you’ve ever installed a newer driver for a piece of hardware like a camera, printer, or modem and then had problems after installing it, you know firsthand how dangerous bad drivers can be. Installing an incorrect driver for a device doesn’t just affect the hardware you’re installing the device for. It can also wreak havoc on the entire system, causing unexpected blue screens or causing applications to shut down for no apparent reason. If you suspect a newly installed driver has caused a system problem, you can remove that driver and replace it with a different one. You can also use the rollback feature of Windows and instruct your system to use an older version of a driver.To solve a driver-related problem, follow these steps:

    1. Isolate the hardware device that is causing problems for your computer. This can be a little tricky if you have recently installed more than one hardware device, such as a camera and a scanner. If this is the case, disconnect all of the hardware devices that you have installed recently and then connect each device, one at a time, and test to see if you can find the device that is causing problems for your system.

    2. Once you find the problem device, you should reinstall the hardware driver for it. Use the installation disk that came with the hardware device and follow the instructions carefully. It is possible that device driver files became corrupted and reinstalling them can solve your problem.

    3. If you have an Internet connection, you may want to visit the Web site of the company that produces the device you are reinstalling the driver for. Many companies offer driver updates for free, and their Web sites are likely to have the most recent drivers. Find the driver you need, download it, and install it.

    4. After you successfully install the new driver, reboot your computer to ensure that the new driver gets initialized properly.

    Tip: When trying to diagnose your driver problems, don’t forget to use the Web. If you are having a problem with a hardware device, it’s likely many other users are having the same problem. Companies who produce hardware devices often post troubleshooting sections on their Web sites to make it easier for you to play detective and solve tricky problems.

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    Return to Older Versions of Drivers Using the Device Driver Rollback Utility

    If you are having a problem with a hardware device that you have been using for a while and have installed different drivers for it, you can easily use the Device Driver Rollback utility to return to an older version of the driver. When hardware manufacturers issue new versions of their drivers, usually the new drivers help fix problems that have been detected in the past by other users. In some situations, new drivers will create problems that didn’t exist before. If this happens, your best bet is to use an older version of the driver. This is easy to do because Windows provides a built-in feature for managing driver versions.To use Device Driver Rollback, follow these steps in Windows XP (Vista is similar):

    1. Right-click My Computer and click Properties.

    2. Click the Hardware tab, and then click Device Manager.

    3. Locate in the device tree the device whose driver needs to be rolled back.

    4. Double-click the device, and in the device’s Properties dialog box, click the Driver tab.

    5. Click Roll Back Driver, and click Yes to roll back to the previous driver.

    If, after rolling back the driver, you are prompted to restart the computer, do so. If a problem occurs with the rolled-back driver, run Device Driver Rollback again. If problems still occur, consider System Restore.

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