Over the years, I’ve always struggled with some Windows drivers that prove more tricky or difficult to install than others. This goes double for those devices whose vendors provide installable executables to handle driver and environment updates, such as Nvidia, Intel, RealTek, Atheros, and others. I don’t blame them for taking this approach because it shields most users from the complexities of updating drivers manually (Device Manager, select device, right-click, Update Driver software, and so forth). But sometimes, the automated tools omit to install some drivers either by accident, oversight, or for more mysterious reasons. That’s when my bag of tricks gets hauled out and brought into play.
1. I use 7zip more or less exclusively as my decompression and unpacking tool. It just so happens to be great at unpacking files inside most executables (like the aforementioned “installable executables”) and letting me inspect their contents. Often, I can find the .cat, .inf, and other driver files in some nicely named directory (e.g. x64Drivers) and use them to attempt a manual driver update. Surprisingly, this works about half the time. The other half requires further fooling around, especially for those executables that don’t unpack into usable files (like the latest Intel chipset drivers, for example).
2. When the unpack and manual update technique fails, it’s time to get more creative. I’ll often turn next to the fantastic and incredibly well-stocked French driver site Station-Drivers (where do they find that stuff? I wonder…) For all the major device makers — Intel, RealTek, most laptop and desktop OEMs, all the networking players, USB, and oodles more) — this site usually has the latest and greatest drivers including stuff that may not ever be officially released or that won’t go public for months and months. Often, a driver found here will bring my devices more up-to-date.
If some of the rumors I hear are true the vendors whose drivers appear here would also like to know where they come from and how they get here!
3. Sometimes, I have to digging inside the driver itself to figure out what it is and starting chasing down related software. Inside the Device Manager, click a Device’s Properties, then the Details tab, then copy the Hardware IDs field(s). These are typically strings that look like this:
Jump onto your favorite search engine, and enter these strings accurately, and you’ll find info and drivers to match quite readily.
You can then look these strings up in your favorite search engine, and sift carefully through whatever pops up in response. This technique is particularly helpful when Windows itself can’t find a driver for some device and it shows up in the Unknown Device category in Device Manager. It can also be helpful when you can’t find a driver using either of the two preceding approaches I’ve described here.
With a little persistence, a certain amount of doggedness, you can use these tricks to solve most driver problems. They’ve served me well in the past decade and more as I’ve worked to keep up with the never-ending parade of new devices and drivers to go with them, and new versions of Windows to help uncover their deficiencies (or outright absence).