Sunday, November 30, 2008

Troubleshoot Missing Drivers

11/30/2008 11:22:00 AM |

When Windows tells you that a device may not work properly because the OS (operating system) can’t find a proper driver for it, it’s time to look for a driver that will work. (Drivers are programs that allow hardware peripherals, known as devices, to communicate with a computer’s operating system, such as Windows.) This generally happens when you connect a device to the computer for the first time. (If it occurs out of the blue with a device that worked on that computer until that point and you haven’t done anything major such as a Windows reinstall or System Restore recovery in the meantime, the problem could be that the device is failing. Also, something might have overwritten or corrupted the driver files on the hard drive, including one or more sectors going bad on the drive.)

For the majority of cases with new devices, the troubleshooting steps for any recent Windows OS are as follows. Sometimes you’ll find the right driver with the first step; at other times, you may have to try all the steps before you find something that works. These steps are a little generic, as Win98/Me/2000/XP/Vista’s add hardware-type wizards are similar.

1) Browse to the device manufacturer’s Web site and download the most recent driver for your specific device and OS, such as the file DJ_AIO_DriverOnly_NonNetwork_ENU.exe for an HP DeskJet F4180 on Vista at Double-click the downloaded file to install the driver. (If the device is built into a chip on a motherboard, such as a hard drive controller, look on the motherboard vendor’s site for drivers for that particular chip on that particular board. If it’s a graphics card, the maker of the GPU/VPU chip, such as ATI or Nvidia, will probably have more recent drivers than the card vendor.)

2) If you can’t find driver downloads on the manufacturer’s site, or the site itself, look for the driver that came with the device, if applicable. It will usually be on an installation CD or floppy diskette. Look around the CD or floppy for the driver for your specific device and OS and then double-click it to install it. If the driver file isn’t executable, such as an INF file, you’ll need to launch Windows’ driver installation wizard, such as the Add Hardware Wizard in WinXP’s Control Panel. Tell it to look for a driver in the correct folder on the CD or diskette. If Windows still says it doesn’t find a proper driver there and you’re absolutely sure that driver will work, use the Have Disk option to force Windows to install it. Note that drivers that come with a device are often old, though they may still work fine. Older drivers may have some bugs that are fixed in later driver versions. On the other hand, sometimes the latest drivers introduce new problems, making a slightly older version a better choice.

3) If you still can’t find a suitable driver, perhaps Windows can. Windows comes with many not-terribly-recent drivers for various peripherals, and it might just have one that will work for your device. Launch the Add Hardware Wizard. Windows will look for unconnected devices without drivers. When it’s done, tell the wizard to automatically find and install a working driver. Enable the option to have Windows check online, if present, and perhaps on a CD or diskette as described in the previous step, if applicable. Note that Windows almost always has older drivers than the manufacturer could provide. Also, the OS will often choose an older driver that’s been certified by Microsoft’s WHQL (Windows Hardware Quality Labs) as guaranteed to work with Windows over a newer, “uncertified” one. WHQL-certified drivers are “safe” choices, although they may lack some features or performance enhancements found in the current drivers.

4) No luck? Try looking through the Add Hardware or other wizard’s list of drivers by manufacturer name and model number. You might find a driver provided by Windows that’s not specifically made for your device model but similar enough that it will work. For example, if your laser printer is an Acme 8840n, but Windows only has a driver for an Acme 8840 without the “n,” give it a try.

5) Your last option should be to try a driver provided by a third-party site, such as or Several of these sites are trustworthy and offer free downloads of drivers for devices that are no longer supported by their manufacturers. They may also link to drivers on manufacturers’ sites. However, make sure your antivirus and antispyware are actively protecting your system and you’ve downloaded all Windows Updates before you visit a third-party driver site. Also, scan any download before you install it.

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