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Driver Cleanup Remains a Solid Disk Space Reclamation Tactic

Back in 2011, I blogged here about a program named DriverStore Explorer. Aka RAPR, this is a CodePlex project that when run in administrative mode enables users to see all drivers in the Windows DriverStore and to selectively delete those that aren’t in active use at the moment (find that blog at “Check Out DriverStore Explorer” which posted nearly 3.5 years ago). This weekend, in prepping a couple of machines to take on the road, I was pleasantly surprised to get back 1.5 to 2.5 GB of disk space on those systems’ boot drives simply by excising old drivers no longer in use. I also discovered two valuable techniques to make better use of the program for this task (cleaning up outdated or unused drivers), which I’ll describe in the following paragraphs.

rapr-cap

Sorting the entries by the ‘Driver Class’ column lets you see all instances of the same driver together in groups. [Click Image for full-size version]

As the foregoing caption describes, sorting the entries in RAPR on the Driver Class column groups drivers together by type, as shown for example in the preceding screenshot by multiple instances of the NVIDIA Display Adapters (2) and Microsoft Human Interface Devices (4). By doing this on the machines I was cleaning up, I could see all the drivers for each device grouped together, and identify those with older dates likely (but not always) to no longer be in use. Thus, this describes the first technique for driver cleanup: use this mechanism to group drivers together so you can easily compare their version numbers and associated dates. It also leads directly into the second technique.

That second technique is probably best described as “try deleting the oldest drivers (or lowest version numbers) first, one at a time; do likewise for multiple instances of the same driver.” Windows does install multiple instances of identical drivers when a system hosts multiple instances of the devices to which they’re associated. That’s why you see four instances of the HID drivers in the preceding screenshot (I like to leave the penultimate graphics driver version on my systems, as well as the most current one, to enable Device Manager to roll back to that penultimate version if the most current one leads to system instability, as it sometimes does): the system that produced this screenshot has four such devices installed, all of which use the same driver. Here’s the nice feature of RAPR that keeps you out of trouble with experimental deletion attempts: if you try to delete a driver that’s in active use, it will block the initial attempt (you can still use the “Force Deletion” checkbox to remove it anyway, but I don’t recommend that unless you’ve got another and hopefully better driver ready to replace that item on hand). That’s why deleting drivers one at a time, slow and frustrating as it may seem, is the best approach to clean-up: it quickly lets you determine which drivers are in use, and focus on removing those that are sitting idle.

As I said in the lead-in paragraph, space savings that result can be helpful, especially on tablets or laptops with limited storage. On a 256 GB SSD (or larger drive), saving 1.5 to 2.5 GB or more isn’t terribly dramatic. Though still useful, this technique is best applied to systems whose system/boot drives are 128 GB or less, where saving space for unused drivers means making valuable room for data, paging, and other key elements of storage. Try out my driver two-step: I think most power users and admins can’t help but be tickled with the results. RAPR also works on every version of Windows I’ve tried since 2011, which means Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10 on the desktop, and 2003, 2008, and 2012 on the server side (including R2 versions).

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