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When Should I Remove Drivers From My Computer?

Since drivers are such crucial system files, it is best to handle them very carefully. Overzealous removal of files that seem unneeded or outdated could cripple your system and leave your hardware on the fritz. Most users should leave their drivers alone, but problems popping up may require you to do a little selective trimming of the archives. It takes a few steps to fully remove driver files. However, virus infections and incompatibilities often call for the deletion of device drivers before brand new copies can be installed. Learning when and how to remove driver files is important if you don’t have a computer service department to fall back on for repairs.

Arguments Against Removal

It is a good practice to uninstall software and games when you’re done with them to keep your hard drive from getting cluttered. However, driver files are small and won’t take up significant room. There are far more benefits to keeping older version of drivers around than there are risks associated with them. If you keep your files, you can:

  • Easily rollback to a previous working version when an update causes all sorts of issues. Many new releases come with unexpected bugs, so rollback is one of the most powerful driver tools you can use on Windows XP.
  • Use System Recovery to reset your entire computer back to a point before a virus or bug took hold. If the drivers have been deleted since the last good working point, recovery will likely fail in at least one way.
  • Keep generic drivers from being installed for hardware you use every day. Removing a driver still in use often triggers an automatic installation that leaves you with limited to no use of the equipment.
  • Registry files are left behind after many types of incomplete driver uninstalling processes. Leaving these listings could mean that new items are incorrectly recognized as the old equipment. New sound cards or printers with no response are often linked to driver confusions.

Corruption And Malware

One situation that calls for uninstalling the older set of drivers is when malware or viruses strike. Many high level viral threats attack the system files to make it much harder for you to remove the infection. Being forced to delete your graphics card driver may cause the system to act up, but it could be your only option for eliminating the threat. Your anti virus software may ask to quarantine the file before deleting it, which will require a reboot. Make sure you follow the uninstallation process after quarantine, then clear the system with your anti virus program, before you attempt to install a new copy.

Driver Errors

You may also need to initiate a full removal of scanner drivers or similar files if you find that error codes keep popping up every time you start your computer. This is often the only indication that you are dealing with file problems at all. Keep an eye out for:

  • Code 18 – The driver is in need of reinstallation before the device can work properly again.
  • Code 38 – There are issues loading the driver files because existing instances are already open.
  • Code 45 – The hardware is not connected.
  • Code 49 – Too many devices have been installed into the registry. This is the code most linked to the need for immediate deletion of old and unneeded drivers.

New Equipment

When you want to replace a stock piece of hardware or an outdated accessory, you may need to completely remove old drivers along with the unwanted equipment. Leaving files in place often means a new video card or sound card is simply recognized as the previous version. This prevents the hardware manager from following the process for adding the right driver files for your upgrade. Again, deleting the physical drivers won’t take away the corresponding registry listings, so follow a full uninstallation if your new equipment recommends it. It’s smart to follow the process even if it isn’t recommended when installing anything attaching to the motherboard.

It is also recommended that you prune out some outdated drivers if you reconfigure your hardware and remove things that aren’t replaced. Leaving too many drivers behind will use up precious system resources and slow down the start up process. Each driver file has to be loaded during the boot phase, so excess listings can lead to slightly slower loads. This is barely noticeable on a modern system, but an older XP computer with limited memory and processing power could struggle greatly if it gets too bogged down. You may find a streamlined start after a careful survey of driver files that are no longer needed.

How To Remove Drivers In Full

A quick process is all it takes to remove driver files and the registry listings associated with them. You won’t be able to see the files for missing or disconnected hardware unless you take the right steps to unlock them says Tech Republic.

  1. Open your Start Menu by clicking the circular icon in the left hand lower corner.
  2. Select the Run option near the bottom.
  3. Enter the word “cmd”, without the quotes, into the Run box that appears. Use lower cased letters.
  4. When the Command Prompt window opens, type in “set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1” without the quotes. Press enter after to execute the command. Nothing will appear to happen, but the setting will change as soon as you see the blinking cursor move to the next line.
  5. On the next line, enter “devmgmt.msc” with no quotes. Again, press enter. At this point you will see the Device Manager opening – without you having to go through the Start Menu again.
  6. Open the View menu at the top of the Manager screen. Click on the Show Hidden Devices option.
  7. Check the updated listing on the screen. You should see any inactive or unused drivers as grayed out icons and text. Double check every device and listing before making any changes. When you find something you can verify needs removal, right click and select Uninstall to complete the process.
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