Windows 7 : How to Troubleshoot Driver Problems

10/8/2012 7:20:59 PM
Drivers are software features that Windows uses to communicate with hardware accessories. Windows typically has dozens of drivers active at any given point, allowing it to communicate with your graphics card, hard disks, sound card, USB devices, and other hardware. Without a driver, hardware cannot function properly. Additionally, you might have problems with hardware if a driver is outdated or unreliable.

The following sections describe how to work with drivers to solve hardware problems.

1. How to Find Updated Drivers

Microsoft or hardware vendors occasionally release updated drivers to improve hardware performance and reliability. Many updates are available directly from Windows Update. To find and download any updates available for a computer, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, click All Programs, and then click Windows Update.

  2. If available, click Check For Updates.

  3. If Windows Update displays any optional updates, click View Available Updates.

  4. Windows displays any driver updates if available. Select the update and then click Install.

  5. Windows Update downloads any selected updates, creates a system restore point, and then installs the updates.

Additionally, hardware manufacturers might release updated drivers directly to users before they are available on Windows Update. Check manufacturer Web sites for updated drivers.

2. How to Roll Back Drivers

When you update a device driver, your computer might have problems that it did not have with the previous version. For example, installing an unsigned device driver might cause the device to malfunction or cause resource conflicts with other installed hardware. Installing faulty drivers might cause Stop errors that prevent the operating system from starting in normal mode. Typically, Stop message text displays the file name of the driver that causes the error.

Windows provides a feature called Device Driver Roll Back that might help you restore system stability by rolling back a driver update.


You can use System Information or the Sigverif tool to determine whether a driver on your computer is signed and to obtain other information about the driver, such as version, date, time, and manufacturer. This data, combined with information from the manufacturer's Web site, can help you decide whether to roll back or update a device driver.

To roll back a driver, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, right-click Computer, and then select Manage.

  2. Under System Tools, click Device Manager.

  3. Expand a category (Network Adapters, for example) and then double-click a device.

  4. Click the Driver tab and then click Roll Back Driver.

  5. You are prompted to confirm that you want to overwrite the current driver. Click Yes to roll back the driver. The rollback process proceeds, or you are notified that an older driver is not available.

3. How to Use Driver Verifier

Windows 7 (and all versions of Windows since Microsoft Windows 2000) includes the Driver Verifier (Verifier.exe). You can run either graphical or command-line versions of the Driver Verifier. To run a command-line version, open a command prompt and then type Verifier.exe. To run the graphical version, click Start, type Verifier.exe, and then press Enter.

Driver Verifier is useful for isolating a problematic driver that is causing a computer running Windows to intermittently fail, because you can use the tool to configure Windows to actively test potentially problematic drivers. After driver verification has been configured for a driver, Windows puts additional stress on the driver during normal operations by simulating conditions that include low memory and verification of I/O. Enabling driver verification for a problematic driver is highly likely to initiate a Stop error that identifies the driver.

To use Driver Verifier Manager to troubleshoot problems that might be related to a driver, enable driver verification for all drivers that might potentially be causing the problems. Restart the system and then wait. Driver verification happens in the background while the system performs normal tasks and might not yield immediate results. If a verified driver returns an inappropriate response, Driver Verifier will initiate a Stop error. If a Stop error has not occurred after several days, the verified drivers might not be the source of the problem you are troubleshooting. After you have completed the troubleshooting process, use Driver Verifier to delete the settings and disable driver verification.


Use Driver Verifier only on nonproduction systems to identify a problematic driver. Using Driver Verifier greatly increases the likelihood of a Stop error occurring and decreases system performance.

To verify unsigned drivers, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, type Verifier, and then press Enter.

  2. Click Create Standard Settings and then click Next.

  3. Click Automatically Select Unsigned Drivers and then click Next.

    As shown in Figure 1, Driver Verifier Manager finds unsigned drivers, enables verification of those drivers, and then displays the list of unsigned drivers.

    Figure 1. Driver Verifier Manager can help you identify problematic drivers.

  4. Click Finish.

  5. Click OK and then restart the computer.

To verify all drivers, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, type Verifier, and then press Enter.

  2. Click Create Standard Settings and then click Next.

  3. Click Automatically Select All Drivers Installed On This Computer and then click Finish.

  4. Click OK and then restart the computer.

To disable driver verification, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, type Verifier, and then press Enter.

  2. Click Delete Existing Settings and then click Finish.

  3. Click Yes.

  4. Click OK and then restart the computer.

4. How to Use the File Signature Verification

File Signature Verification (Sigverif.exe) detects signed files and allows you to

  • View the certificates of signed files to verify that the file has not been tampered with after being certified.

  • Search for signed files.

  • Search for unsigned files.


Unsigned or altered drivers cannot be installed on x64-based versions of Windows.

Driver signing is a multistage process in which device drivers are verified. For a driver to earn this certification, it must pass a series of compatibility tests administered by the Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL). Because of stringent WHQL standards, using signed drivers typically results in a more stable system. When troubleshooting a problem that might be caused by a driver, you might choose to remove unsigned drivers to eliminate the possibility that the unsigned driver is causing the problem. Although most unsigned drivers will not cause problems, they have not been verified by Microsoft and therefore have a higher risk of causing problems than signed drivers. Microsoft digitally signs drivers that pass the WHQL tests, and Windows performs signature detection for device categories such as:

  • Keyboards

  • Hard disk controllers

  • Modems

  • Mouse devices

  • Multimedia devices

  • Network adapters

  • Printers

  • SCSI adapters

  • Smart card readers

  • Video adapters

A Microsoft Corporation digital signature indicates that a driver file is an original, unaltered system file that Microsoft has approved for use with Windows. Windows can warn or prevent users from installing unsigned drivers. If a driver is not digitally signed, the user receives a message that requests confirmation to continue. Microsoft digitally signs all drivers included with Windows or distributed by Windows Update. When you download updated drivers from a manufacturer's Web page, always select drivers that are signed by Microsoft.

The following tools are useful for troubleshooting problems caused by unsigned files:

  • File Signature Verification

  • Device Manager

  • Driver Verifier Manager

To identify unsigned drivers, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start and then type Sigverif. Press Enter.

  2. In the File Signature Verification window, click Start.

  3. After several minutes, the Signature Verification Results page displays unsigned drivers. Unsigned drivers can be reliable, but they have not undergone the same testing that is required of signed drivers. If you are experiencing reliability problems, you should replace unsigned drivers with signed versions from Microsoft.

  4. Click Close to return to the File Signature Verification window.

  5. Click Close again.

5. How to Use Device Manager to View and Change Resource Usage

Installing new hardware or updating drivers can create conflicts, causing devices to become inaccessible. You can use Device Manager to review resources used by these devices to manually identify conflicts. Typically, however, you should let Windows automatically allocate resources. With modern hardware, there is almost never a valid reason to adjust resource usage manually, and you might cause more problems than you resolve.

To use Device Manager (Devmgmt.msc) to view or change system resource usage information, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, right-click Computer, and then click Manage.

  2. Click Device Manager and then double-click a device.

  3. Click the Resources tab to view the resources used by that device.

  4. Click a resource and then clear the Use Automatic Settings check box.

  5. Click Change Setting and then specify the resources assigned to the device.

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