Removing Invalid and Unused drivers from Windows

Removing & Cleaning OLD drivers from Windows

Over the time you have used your Windows based computer, you have possibly made several hardware changes. This causes a potential situation with older (unused) device drivers remaining in the Windows Registry (usually hidden).

Notes: When a device is plugged the (special) driver for that device is installed for the proper functioning of that device, but later if you unplug it the device entry disappears from the Device Manager but the driver(s) will still exist in the system (registry).

This can cause your system to perform below its optimal ability, may cause conflicts with new drivers, and possible system errors. If you fail to uninstall such drivers before you physically remove the related hardware, Windows XP does not cooperate, by default, in letting you remove the drivers - they often become 'hidden' resources.

Wen a physical device is removed from the computer - without removing the software, the only way to uninstalling the old drivers is to alter Windows Device Manager to Show hidden devices.

However, there is a easy way to display the hidden devices, and thus be able to uninstall these drivers using the device manager. Follow either of these two simple steps (cut and paste from the text below):

Permanent Windows Setup Method: (show hidden devices settings)

  • Open Windows System Properties
  • Select Advanced tab, click Environmental Variables button
  • Click New under System Variables
  • Variable name=devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices, Variable value =1
    Click OK, then OK.
  • Open the Windows Device Manager (see below)

Temporary (once-only) Setup Method: (show hidden devices settings)

Notes: This method applies for users on Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10 :

  • Run cmd via Start > Run (opens the windows command prompt) : Windows Vista, 7,8 & 10 users go to Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Right-click command prompt -> Run as administrator..
  • Enter set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1
  • Press Enter key
  • Enter devmgmt.msc (opens Windows Device Manager)
  • Press Enter key

Note Click Show hidden devices on the View menu in Device Manager before you can see devices that are not connected to the computer.

Windows Device Manager (show hidden devices user):

Access the old devices, and remove (uninstall) their drivers after using either above method:

  • Open Device Manager
  • Click the View menu, select Show hidden devices (must be done each time you open the device manager)
  • Devices not present will have a lightened grayed (or washed out) icon
  • Right click the grayed out item and select uninstall to remove the device's drivers

Show hidden device drivers

Identify Devices That Are not Working

To identify devices that aren’t working properly — possibly because of problems with their drivers — look for the yellow triangle containing an exclamation point over a device’s icon.

Right-click the device and select Properties to view more information about the problem. The problem could be a driver issue, a system resource conflict, or something else. If it’s a driver problem, you can generally install a new driver for it from the Driver tab in the Properties dialog.

Warnings about removing Device Drivers!

Not all devices that show up as unused are safe to uninstall. The following items should be left alone:

  1. devices from different hardware profiles (such as a docking station for laptop)
  2. removable PnP devices
  3. powered down devices (printers, scanners, external storage)

Should you have hardware such as old Motherboard's, Network Cards, Sound Devices or Printers that have lingering drivers, this will allow you to remove them. While PNP devices are not supposed to load their drivers when their accompanying hardware is not in use, they can malfunction. Be careful removing drivers of any sort, as removing the wrong driver(s) may cause a Windows system error (a Windows restore point will fix this).

To access Windows system properties:

* Right click My Computer then left click properties
* Hold the Windows key and press Break (or Pause)

To access the Windows Device Manager:

* Click Start, Run, then type devmgmt.msc (or start devmgmt.msc)
* From the command prompt type devmgmt.msc (or start devmgmt.msc)
* From the system properties select the hardware tab and click device manager


In Device Manager, there are two types of hidden devices in addition to the devices that are displayed:
  1. Typical, hidden devices that are not displayed (non-Plug and Play drivers, printers, and so on)
  2. Phantom devices that are not connected to the computer
  3. Windows does not display certain types of hidden devices (even when you enable the Show hidden devices option). “Ghosted” devices, such as USB devices that are not connected to your computer, will not appear in the list. To view them, use the method above.