Rule No.1: Never lose your device driver CDs.
Rule No.2: Be prudent and keep a backup copy close by.
Rule No. 3: If you lose your driver files, know where to download it from again.
Congratulations! If you have flouted at least two of the above rules, then this post might serve as deliverance from the three cardinal sins. I am a fellow sinner. But, the third rule has often bailed me out and it’s thanks to a little postscript to the third rule that has washed away my need for penance.
Device Manager is the place where all drivers are displayed. An unknown device gets a yellow question mark against it in Device Manager. The causes could be one or a few – You could have installed the wrong device driver which the OS does not recognize. Or the hardware itself could be faulty. All such cases lead a device driver to be classified as an unknown device.
The easiest way to resolve an unknown status is to find device drivers from the manufacturer’s website and download them. The respective websites usually have drill down menus to take you to the right driver for your OS. But what if you can’t recollect the make or brand of the device? To err is human; to fix it is divine duty. Thankfully, ways exist that makes correcting unknown device status as easy as a prayer.
The Manual Way from the Device Manager
Every device driver comes with two identity numbers – the Vendor ID and the Device ID. These two numbers can be used to track down the manufacturer and the specific device driver. The Device ID is the most unique identifier for a device. Hardware ID’s can be less specific. Device ID is what gets accessed first during setup.
- Open Device Manager from”¦
- Control Panel – System – Hardware – Device Manager (In Windows XP).
- Control Panel – System and Maintenance – Administrative Tools – Computer Management – Device Manager (In Windows Vista).
- Alternatively, in the Run box type devmgmt.msc.
- Unknown devices would be listed as such and marked out with a yellow question mark.
- Select the unknown device and right click to access Properties.
- In the Properties window click on Details tab and select Device Instance Id from the drop down.
- An alphanumeric string like this PCI\VEN_1217&DEV_7130&SUBSYS_012F1025&REV_01\4&6B16D5B&0&33F0 is the identification marker for the device. We only need to isolate the Vendor ID number (prefixed with VEN) and the Device ID number (prefixed with DEV). In this case, Vendor ID is 1217 and Device ID is 7130.
With the numbers identified, a few resources can be tapped to get the vendors behind these numbers.
It is a reputedly the largest centralized database of PCI device IDs to find your device driver. Using the search box, you can search vendors and devices by IDs. Either one of the searches gives you the clue about the origins of this device. Further information can be obtained from the vendor’s website or a Google search.
The Software Way Using Unknown Devices
A small free standalone software aptly named Unknown Devices offers a quick way to get to the anonymous device drivers. The 630 KB sized software (beta ver.1.4.20) runs directly without an installation. The database used by the software comes in 3 text files located in the same folder.
- The program scans the devices installed and displays the name of the manufacturer and the devices discovered.
- The detailed info includes the vendor and device IDs along with the manufacturer names.
- A Google search is available for any of the details with a right-click. For instance, a Google search using the hardware ID can be used to find device drivers.
- The text based database can also be queried for any hardware ID using its integrated Lookup Hardware ID search box.
The beta version (1.4.20) extends support to Vista.
The info obtained using the above two methods, does not guarantee a solution. In some cases, the information will take us into a blind alley because the device driver itself is not available. But the two ways do help to unmask the unidentified devices and make them accessible with a few more details. With the devices identified, we are in a better position to query the manufacture or hunt around on the web for the right device driver.
Let me point you to some resources to find device drivers as a starter”¦
With 400,000 drivers, it is very nearly king of the heap. The free membership comes with a few limitations like access to all 100,000+ member uploaded drivers but limited access to the site’s own 300,000+ uploaded drivers. But free entry into its huge company database list and community forum makes this site a great hub. As it allows user submitted drivers, you can put in a request for an obsolete driver.
Nearly 30,000 drivers are indexed by company name and driver type. Read more about it here.
It offers a downloadable driver scanner. The site is well laid out with a database of 120,000 drivers listed by manufacturer and device type.
Let us know how you deal with an unknown device driver and make it a bit more recognizable.
Image credit: viagallery