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Device drivers should be saved if they are not in the original Windows setup. That way, you can replace them easily if you need to.

In many computer articles pertaining to reinstalling Windows, they always recommend having a copy of all your hardware drivers. Can you elaborate a little on how this is typically accomplished? Assuming I'm using the same drivers that are already being used on my system, I wonder: are all of my installed drivers stored in the same directory? If not, can I find the drivers by searching for a particular file name extension? Once I've saved a copy of all my driver files, I assume I can make them available during re-installation by using a USB thumb drive, but I fear that weird and distinct file names might leave doubt as to what's what. Is the Windows reinstall procedure smart enough to select and use the correct driver file? Please explain a little bit more about this process.

In this excerpt from Answercast #71, I look at when you should save device drivers and updates.

Saving drivers

Here's my rule of thumb. Whenever you get a driver from some place other than Windows setup, save a copy of it right then. Not later, not after it's installed:

  • Save what it is you downloaded;

  • Or save what it is you got on a CD with a device;

  • Or save whatever you got that wasn't part of setting up Windows from the original installation media.

Those are the ones that are typically difficult to replace.

If it's in Windows, if it's a device driver that's in Windows itself (in other words, it was part of the original setup of the machine, part of the drivers that came with it, part of the drivers that were installed by virtue of running a Windows installation disc), they're going to be there again the next time you install Windows. There really isn't a lot of reason to try and back those up.

Installed drivers

When you get third-party drivers or drivers later (like when you add a new video card and it comes with drivers, or when you add a piece of hardware that comes with its own drivers, or when you update a driver outside of Windows Update... in other words, you go out and you grab your own latest and greatest copy of the mouse drivers or the video drivers or the whatever drivers), save what you downloaded. Save that.

Save that somewhere safe so that when you reinstall Windows again later, you can provide it, if Windows setup asks (which it might, probably not... but it might). More importantly after that reinstallation of Windows is done, you can then reapply or re-update those drivers using what you had saved before.

Drivers may change

It's very possible that in some cases, it may be kind of moot. You may not end up using what you saved. For example:

  • You install Windows.

  • Eventually, you get a new video card and you save the drivers that came with it.

  • A little while later, you decide to download and update those video drivers.

  • A little while later, still, you reinstall Windows.

Well, what you're going to reinstall of course will be the drivers that... what? Came with the card? Maybe. Came with Windows? Maybe.

In that situation, it's always useful to go and check out the latest drivers that are available for download at the time you reinstall.

If there's nothing new, great. You don't have to download it because you can use what you saved before. If the company went out of business (and this is the big one because it happens from time to time; things disappear from the internet all the time), then go grab what you've downloaded before. You've got your backup copy and you can still get to where you need to be.

If on the other hand, there are newer drivers still, then well, you might want to go ahead and download them again. But that's a convenience. The saving of drivers is really a safety issue for those drivers that didn't come with Windows.

It's much like saving all of the downloads for programs that you purchase so that you've always got a copy that you can reinstall at any time.

Article C6048 - November 19, 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?


Duane Ferguson
November 19, 2012 11:07 PM

Back up your device drivers with 'Double Driver. It creates a structured directory containing all your device drivers on a flash drive, external hard drive, CD, or any other specified location. When it comes time to rebuild, siply run Double Driver, and have it restore your device drivers just like any other back up. I've used it successfully on countless occasions. Double Driver is freely available, and can be downloaded from many places on-line. And Leo said this answercast did not mention backups ;o)

November 20, 2012 3:17 PM

Double Driver is excellent is quick and it works.
..but the best bit it is free !
Get from & other places.


November 20, 2012 4:00 PM

I agree with the comments that laud double driver. It has worked well for me on my clean reinstalls.

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