How to get rid of unused device drivers in Vista

How to get rid of unused device drivers in Vista

As you add more experiment with more hardware on your computer, you no doubt upgrade your components, or just lose interest in some.  Windows adds drivers to items you didn’t even think had drivers, like monitors and USB flash drives.  It retains these records just in case you attach the device again.  Even if you think you’ve successfully uninstalled the device, it can exist in your Windows configuration, which could cause conflicts, or just take up space.

Keeping your system as clean as possible is always a good idea, and completely removing unused drivers is a way to help your system’s arteries from getting clogged with digital plaque.

First we have to force Windows to show us all the devices that have ever been installed.  To do that, we need to add a new system variable.

1. Go to your System Applet. This can be done by either

  1. Type Win + Break
  2. Right-click your Computer in the Start Menu and selecting Properties
  3. Open the System applet from Control Panel

2. Once you’re there, click on Advanced System Settings on the left bar.  You’ll then be presented with the familiar System Properties window that you’re used to seeing from Windows XP.

3. Click the Environment Variables Button.

4. In the System Variables area, click on New.  You’ll be presented with a sub-window.  Enter the following information into the window.

Once you’ve done that, click Ok, and then OK until you completely back out of the System Properties.

5.  You can now enter your device manager. Right-click on Computer and select Properties.  Go to the Device Manager area.

6.  You now have a new option under the View menu. Click View and then Show Hidden Devices.  All devices will be shown, whether they are attached or not.  Nonpresent devices will appear to have their icons “washed out”.  You’ll have to expand every category to see these devices.

7. You can remove any washed out device by right-clicking and then seleting Uninstall.

Take a look at what the devices are, because you may not want to delete everything.  For example, USB devices like your iPod or Flash drive may be greyed out, but don’t remove it if you frequently connect these devices.  Some old video cards may appear, but they may use the same driver.  I upgraded from a GeForce 7800 to a GeForce 8800, which use the same set of drivers, but both cards were listed in my Device Manager.  Removing the 7800 also removed the 8800, so I was immediately reverted to a Generic VGA device.  I had to reboot and reinstall, but after everything was said and done, the 7800 card no longer appeared in Device Manager, which was very satisfying.

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4 Comments

  1. Idris says:

    This article is totally useful!!! For those who have trouble installing or renaming a hardware, i suggest you to follow the steps above. 100 useful and it works. (: Thanks guys.

  2. Jessie says:

    Holy crap! I had a million generic keyboards and mice installed that I didn't know about… and a ton of 'Generic volume shadow copy'… don't know what they are, but they're gone now.

  3. Yakumo says:

    I've been using this since win2000 lol.
    Don't just everything, some things are still system required just not in use at the time your looking and you often can't get them back without a reinstall.

    Jessie – you just deleted your system backups, better to do it by temporarily disabling then re-enabling System Protection in advanced system properties if you're sure you want to not revert to any backup files.

  4. Marg says:

    I think in XP you can goto device manager and say SHOW HIDDEN DEVICES since the description says it shows devices no longer present.

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