Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Occasionally, something as simple as inserting a device into a different USB port will cause Windows to reinstall drivers again. Or will it?

How can I stop Windows Me/2000/XP from reinstalling the same drivers for the same and only one USB device that's been inserted into different USB ports on the same PC? In other words, I have this same device which I've inserted into different USB ports on just one PC and Windows just keeps installing drivers for it, when it's just that one device but inserted into a different USB port. Can't Windows just use the same driver installed the first time it detected such a device? My particular example is a webcam. A driver is installed whenever I move it to a different USB port.

I don't believe you can.

However, I also believe that Windows is actually lying to you. Unintentionally perhaps, but it's not being completely truthful about what it's doing.

It may say that it's installing drivers every time.

But it's my strong belief that after the first time ... it's not.

Installing drivers for the first time

When Windows encounters a new device connected via just about any means, its plug-and-play architecture kicks in and attempts to identify the device to make sure that the system has everything that it needs to properly interface to the device.

Obviously, that means that the first time that Windows encounters a device for which it does not already have installed or built-in support, it needs to somehow locate and install the software that provides that support; namely, what we refer to as the "drivers" for that device. Drivers are nothing more than software that knows how to "translate," if you will, between Windows and the specific needs and capabilities of the hardware device being installed.

Windows includes many drivers - some are simply part of Windows while some are included on the Windows distribution media and are installed (or requested) only when needed. Often, drivers are not part of Windows itself, but are available via the Microsoft website where they are download automatically as needed.

Of course, neither Windows not the Microsoft website provide drivers for some devices, which means that the drivers need to be provided by a third party. Typically, it's the device manufacturer. Often, the process is automatic, and it requires a few extra steps on your part to locate the drivers for Windows to use.

But regardless of where they came from, once the drivers are installed, the device that they support can be used.

Installing drivers after the first time

The phrase "Installing Drivers" is, I believe, actually a misnomer, and only refers to one part of what's really happening. It might typically be the most time-consuming part of the process, but it's not the only part of the process.

I believe that "Installing Drivers" means (at least) two things:

  • Locating and installing any missing software drivers for a new device

  • Configuring Windows and the driver to access the device

For example, when you insert a device into a different USB port than it was originally plugged into, that same process kicks in. The drivers are already there, but the configuration needs updating to reflect the new location of the device.

I believe that Windows simply pops up the "Installing" message even if the only thing it needs to do is update the configuration for the device in its new location. That's probably just a number of settings in the registry, but it could certainly be a lot more.

So is it actually "Installing Drivers" the second time?

Probably not.

It's more like a misleading message, or at worst, a little white lie.

Article C5246 - April 25, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

David Price
April 28, 2012 11:18 AM

thanks for that info. I thought that was what was happening, and usually try to use the same usb device in the regular port/socket, cheers, david.

April 30, 2012 9:48 AM

If I notice my PC do this (i.e. go through the procedure simply because I used a different port), then I tend to plug the item into all the available USB ports at that point, to stop it doing it again when I am in a hurry.
On a side note (and kind of this article's question in reverse), is there a way to get windows to display the "this may work better in a 2.0 port" every time it is applicable? I have no idea which ports are 2.0 on my system, but I have noticed it only ever does it once, regardless of how many ports I try.

On most computers if one port is a 2.0 port they all are. That message misfires and comes up occasionally for other reasons, which is why it seems to only happen "sometimes".
April 30, 2012 1:46 PM

I think that you are you are half correct and half wrong.

What is wrong ?
1) Files are being copied during the "second" instalation.
2) Registry keys are being changed during the "second" instalation.

Basically the whole instalation takes place again, and what is being done depends a lot on whatever exists in the inf file.

But, you are correct that there is nothing to do about it, because from windows point of view, this is a comletly new device, and hence it needs it's own installation. Remeber that windows does NOT know if this is a new device or not. So, windows acts based on the USB port number. I think that windows "expects" the old device to re-appear in "it's" old USB port.


Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to to ask your question.