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I am a cleanup junkie. On my computer, I have the usual motley of cleaners, uninstallers and update managers installed. I thought my system was squeaky clean and safe as a house until I ran into some conflict issues. The culprit it turned out was an old sound driver.

Old hardware drivers are remnants of upgrades and un-installations. Like forgotten landmines, they often return to cause performance hiccups and driver clashes.

Normally, these old hardware drivers remain hidden as the Device Manager displays only the active devices. Using a special command, it is possible to force them into view. What is easy and neat about the whole thing is that the old devices appear grayed out – sighting and uninstalling them is just a matter of a keystroke.

So here is the short and easy method to prevent your computer from being bombed out by old driver leftovers. The process is the same for Windows XP and Vista.

  1. Open Command prompt window in the administrator mode.
    • From Start – All Programs – Accessories – Command Prompt – right click and Select Run as”¦Administrator.


    • Alternatively, Start – Run – Type cmd – press Ctrl+Shift +Enter to run as administrator.


  2. Now type (or copy-paste) the following command in the window and press Enter.

    This forces the invisible old drivers to reveal themselves in the device manager.

  4. Now, we have to bring up the Device Manager. Type this command in the following line and press Enter ““
  5. devmgmt.msc


  6. In the Device Manager, go to View – enable Show hidden devices.
  7. The Device Manager now lists out all devices which are active and which are not. The inactive devices appear grayed out.


  8. From the list, right click on the inactive device you wish to remove and select Uninstall to remove the driver.


In three minutes you have detected and demolished the old device drivers which were stealthily creating problems for your system. Hopefully, your system is back to its squeaky clean state. Mine certainly is.

If you liked this how-to, then you can check out this post on backing up hardware drivers 3 Useful Software to Backup Your Hardware Drivers In Windows 3 Useful Software to Backup Your Hardware Drivers In Windows Read More too.

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  1. CrankyBeach
    February 14, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Just discovered this technique, and am hoping it will resolve some difficulties. But I have many, MANY "unknown" devices, inactive hubs and the like listed under USB controllers. Is there a method to bulk-remove these? Perhaps at the command line level, or even from the registry? Thanks.

    November 16, 2016 at 5:47 am

    Thank you very much ! i found to my surpise more than 50 grey items, so y had to spend about 20-30 minutes to erase all of them one by one, and now my computer is clean ( sorry about my english )

  3. Zahoor
    October 26, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Hi! How can I run my command prompt as administrator when I click run as it opens a page which is Run As I clicked the option of =the following user and as administrator but when I click OK it says blank or incorrect password is not allowed so please answer fast thank you

  4. Cat
    October 5, 2016 at 1:25 am

    Helpful. thanks . How can I recover an Admin password on my laptop. Suddenly it won't let me do anything and reassigned me as system user.

  5. Isai
    March 17, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    My pc only has one USB that works in. the others are connecting but not successfully. but the ports are not dead because as you put in a USB,it responds well but not successfully installing

  6. SPL
    February 20, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Okay, so super old post, but I was curious if this was required prior to device manager allowing the ability to view hidden drivers. Or, is this different?

    • Saikat
      February 21, 2015 at 5:05 am

      That ability has been there since XP. The screenshots are of a XP machine.

      It's only that Windows does not display some types of hidden devices, even when you enable the Show hidden devices option. “Ghosted” devices, such as USB devices that aren’t connected to your computer, will not appear in the list. To view them on Windows 7, Vista, or XP, you’ll have to launch the Device Manager in a special way.

  7. Haresh
    January 26, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Thanks a lot for the tips! USB drives and Memory cards drive had stopped working. But, after uninstalling all the inactive drivers, everything works fine again.

    Thanks again :-)

  8. dimitrios
    January 8, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    10.000 thanks!!!!

  9. Patriot
    June 23, 2009 at 8:00 am

    This method does not actually delete the driver. If you remove a piece of hardware from the Device Manager using this method, the driver will be reinstalled, automatically, if you run the hardware detection scan again.

    The only way of which I'm aware to permanently remove the actual driver files is as described here:

    • Altiris_Grunt
      June 23, 2009 at 3:08 pm

      Outstanding post, Patriot!

  10. Ivor the Insufferable
    May 25, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    The difficulty I see, in this article and in some others, is that there's no follow-up. No explanation or link is offered as to what the hidden device names are. I've found that there are a few that should be left alone. If I had their names handy from past misadventures, I'd give them here.

    MUO needs to provide explanations of what the hidden devices are or might be, what can be removed, what's best left alone.

    Also, regarding another article, an explanation needs to be given on the process of rsstoring drivers backed up with DriverBackup. Every time I've seen this program recommended, no one, not the reviewer or any commenters, had any insights on how to restore these "backed up" drivers, nor any potential problems that might arise.

    In short, please explain things more indepth and follow through on advice given here at MUO. As in the example given, if you're going to talk about how to use a program to back up drivers, talk further about how to restore said drivers.

  11. Art_Teac
    May 22, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Umm, wouldn't you achieve the same result if you reboot XP in Safe Mode, go to Device Manager and delete these orphan drivers?

  12. U SUCK
    May 19, 2009 at 4:30 am

    Way to steal a post buddy.
    This article was written on 08/1/07"

    • Saikat
      May 19, 2009 at 12:08 pm

      Let me know if there's another way to do a straightforward thing as removing old device drivers. Then I will willingly agree that I "stole" your "patented" method. I guess according to you, Windows also did not know about this and you were the first one to "discover" it. For your information, this method has been referred to for troubleshooting since the early days of XP. 2007 is pretty late. There's a Techrepublic post dated 2006. Techniques are regurgitated on the net so that new readers and newbies can benefit from them. And from the 5-6 comments and 17 tweets, I guess it has helped at least someone.

  13. Bonemonster
    May 18, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Thanks for putting this up, it has helped quite a bit. I do still have a question or a few. What is the most likely cause of GPU crashes, even after I have uninstalled all old drivers? I have 3 seperate GPU's I can use: Nvidia 8400GS by XFX, ATI Radeon 3650HD by Visiontek and the onboard video )noe disabled) by Nvidia. No matter which option I choose games, such as Guild Wars or WoW, will eventually hang, crash, CTD or implode windows. This problem ONLYhappens when running 3D applications such as games. I thought it might be drivers but now I am not so sure. Also, how in the hell do I get a fix for the VPU Recover Error on the ATI card, not even Visiontek knows...

    • Saikat
      May 18, 2009 at 10:25 pm

      Your query falls a bit outside my area of "expertise". And I haven't faced a similar problem myself...I am more into Halo and Age of Empires.What I will do is forward your query to our writers network. We have some guys with pretty high geeky quotients out there...let's see if they can come up with somehthing.

    • Saikat
      May 19, 2009 at 11:50 am

      One of my colleagues was very helpful with this suggestion:
      I found a good forum thread about the VPU Recover Error, so I thought I would pass it along to you: It basically counsels users to reinstall the graphics card driver, check the power supply unit, or increase the size of a computer's virtual memory.
      Another offered that your PC could be overheating. You can check both these out. Hope it's a help.

  14. Regine
    May 17, 2009 at 1:14 am


  15. Hezee
    May 16, 2009 at 3:48 am

    what about unknown devices (yellow question-mark) is it ok to remove them as well?

    thank you!

    • Saikat
      May 17, 2009 at 1:44 am

      The 'Yellow Question Mark'/Unknown device could be because of various reasons...not necessarily a bad driver. Let me direct you to this detailed Microsoft Support article which explains it.

      • Hezee
        May 17, 2009 at 3:18 am

        thanks - it helped bigtime! ;)