Fixing Windows Driver problems

Windows driver malfunction - Failure to install drivers

If you have installed a new driver for your graphics card or other computer peripheral, and your Windows computer has now gone inoperative as a consequence, safe mode can help you reverse the damage. The most common signs of driver malfunction are Windows blue screens with error messages and other crashes during the Windows XP and Vista loading process.

By booting into safe mode, you can usually bypass the faulty drivers (since safe mode uses its own set of default drivers and ignores non-essential peripherals like sound) and get to the operating system where you can choose to remove them.

Locating the problem driver:

If you are not sure which (or even if) drivers are the cause of your Windows issues, you can use the built-in SIGVERIF program to locate all non-Windows certified drivers on your system. If you do have a driver issue, it's likely to be because that particular driver has not been properly tested with XP. SIGVERIF can tell us the various possible culprits.

To run SIGVERIF, boot into safe mode, go to 'start\run' and type 'sigverif.'

Windows File Signature Verification

Click 'start' to begin the scanning process. SIGVERIF will examine the Windows system files for drivers that have not been WHQL certified to work with Windows XP. The list is saved as a text file in c:\windows.

Create a directory on your C:\ drive called 'driver backup' or something similar. Locate any unsigned drivers you wish to test in the 'c:\windows\system32\drivers' directory and cut and paste them to the 'driver backup directory you just created.

Locating Bad Drivers:

It is not advised to perform this step with video card drivers. We'll give you another method for fixing faulty video drivers in the next section.

Once you have moved the unsigned drivers into the new directory, restart in normal mode. You will get errors noting that 'at least one driver or service failed to start.' but you are looking to see if the problems you were experiencing previously have now gone away. If so, you can reboot in safe mode and move the unsigned drivers back to c:\windows\system32\drivers one at a time, restarting between copies, until the behavior manifests itself again and you have found the problem driver.

Correcting Video Card Driver issues in Safe Mode:

Let's look at the process of fixing a faulty graphics driver, one of the most common driver issues you may run into. The methods described below can be used for any other piece of hardware in your system too.

Rolling back 'faulty' drivers:

If you have installed a new version of your standard graphics driver and suddenly experience problems with booting into windows, the best thing to do is to roll back the driver in question. To do this:

Load Windows XP in safe mode.

Right click on 'my computer' and select 'properties.'
Choose the 'hardware' tab and click 'device manager.'

Windows Device Manager

Now expand the 'display adaptors' category and highlight your video card's name. Right click on it and select 'properties.' Go to the 'driver' tab.

Windows Update or Roll Back Driver

From here, you have several choices for fixing your driver issue. Your main options should be to roll back or update the driver. Rolling back the device driver will revert your system to the previous (hopefully stable) drivers, while the 'update driver' button will allow you to install new drivers.

The 'roll back drivers' option should be the first one you try, as it will revert your video card back to the set of drivers it was using before you installed the faulty ones. Select this option and restart in normal mode to test.

Disabling devices in safe mode:

If you have newly installed a hardware device such as a modem, sound card or other peripheral and lost your ability to boot into Windows XP, you will often need to disable the device in order to restore your system to functional order.

To disable a device: Boot in safe mode. Right click on 'my computer' and select the 'hardware' tab, then 'device manager.'

Find and highlight the device in question, right click it and select 'disable' from the menu. This will cause Windows to effectively ignore the device's existence until you re-enable it, and should fix your booting problems. Once you are back into Windows you can search for alternate drivers for the disabled device, then install them before re-enabling it.

Note that this procedure should not be used on video devices for fairly obvious reasons.

Fixing Display Resolution and Refresh Rate Problems in VGA Mode:

A common problem that occurs when users employ new video cards with old monitors is the issue of refresh rate and resolution compatibility.

Older displays, especially 15" screens, generally have a very low refresh rate. A standard 15" monitor may be able to display an 800x600 screen comfortably at 60Hz, for instance, but will become an unreadable mess at 75Hz refresh rate. If you exceed the resolution or refresh rate capabilities of your screen, you will end up with either a blank screen or a blurred, distorted mess when booting into Windows normally.

Reboot the computer, pressing F8 to access the windows advanced options menu. Choose 'enable VGA mode' from the menu.

VGA mode starts Windows normally with a single exception. Your video refresh rate and resolution are both reset to 640x480 and 60Hz respectively. This should display correctly on any VGA monitor, allowing you to change the display settings to something more compatible with your hardware.

To do this, go to 'start\control panel\display' and choose the 'settings' tab, then 'advanced.'

Windows Video Resolutions

Select the 'adaptor' tab and choose 'list all modes.' Select a resolution that works with your current monitor setup, then click 'ok' to test. If everything looks fine, reboot the computer into normal mode.

Use the System Restore Utility From 'Safe Mode Command Prompt'

The Windows XP system restore utility is extremely useful for rescuing your system from various software disasters that might befall it, but it does have some limitations. The most major of these is the fact that it cannot be invoked from the repair console, and can only restore the most recent save point when chosen from the XP boot menu. This means that if your system will not boot fully into Windows or into safe mode you are out of luck. Well not quite.

It's possible to start the system restore utility from the 'safe mode command prompt' boot option of Windows XP. This gives you one more option for rescuing your system, since this safe mode may load where other Windows XP boot options do not.

To invoke the system restore utility from the safe mode command prompt, type;

c:\windows\system32\restore\rstrui.exe

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