Best Free Windows Driver Backup and Restore

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Introduction

Drivers are an important part of the system. They act as intermediaries between the system, and the hardware devices. They interpret the signals, and facilitate communication between the system and the devices. Without proper drivers, the devices either won't work properly, or won't work at all.

Generally, the drivers come on a CD/DVD, with the hardware devices. As an alternative, they can also be downloaded from the hardware manufacturer's site, and that's the best place to download the drivers, or their newer versions.

But sometimes, the CDs can get misplaced, or lost, or the drivers might not be available from even the manufacturer's site, because they might have stopped providing support for the hardware. In such cases, the driver backup software are like a boon. These software back up the installed drivers for different hardware devices on the system.

If you have an old system, and do not have a CD, or cannot get drivers from the hardware manufacturer's site, it would be a good idea to backup all the installed drivers on the system. Or, even if you have the CD, or the drivers, I will still recommend backing up the drivers, and storing them at a safe place, just in case. It's always better to be on the safe side.

Tip: I will also suggest backing up the drivers using more than one software, so that if one program is not successful in restoring them, or is unable to restore some of the drivers, the other ones may still be able to do the job.

In this review, I have covered programs which have the ability to backup drivers, and also restore them. The programs which do not have the ability to restore drivers have not been given a place in the review, and have been mentioned under Other Programs, after the review. This is because, I feel that for general/novice/intermediate users, restoring drivers manually might be a difficult job. I will consider a program useful, only if it has the ability to restore the drivers too, along with the ability to back them up.

Some of the software also have the ability to update the drivers, but I have not covered that in the review. This review is purely based on the abilities of the programs to backup and restore the drivers, and not updating them. As mentioned earlier, the best place to download new versions of the drivers is from the hardware manufacturer's site.

Not all software listed below have the ability to create a list, or a report of drivers installed on the system. If you want a list of drivers installed on the system, you can use the excellent small utility called DriverView from Nirsoft.

Discussion

DoubleDriverDouble Driver has a simple interface, and the program itself is very easy to use. Its noteable feature is that it can backup drivers from an offline system too. This is very useful in cases, where a system is unable to boot, for some reason. This feature, apart from others, gives it an edge over the other software. The only other software to have this feature in the category is DriverBackup!.

For backup, by default, non-Windows drivers are selected in the list. Options are available to invert this selection, to select all, or select none. Users may also select individual drivers of their choice, if they want. Drivers can be backed-up to structured folders(default option), as a compressed folder, or to a single self extract file. For the last option though, Double Driver crashed, when I tried to use it. Its a bug.

Restoration is also easy. Select the driver backup location, the folder where they were backed up previously, and it shows the list of drivers which can be restored. Again, options are available to choose which drivers to restore. The restoration process is quite fast too, and I will say its reliable.

Double Driver has the option to save the list of drivers in a text file. Option to print the list is also there. This feature is quite useful, to see which drivers have been installed on the system. The list is quite informational, providing name, version number, date, hardware ID etc.

Overall, Double Driver is simple, very reliable, has some good features, making it the top choice in the category.

SlimDriversSlimDrivers has a modern and attractive user interface, which is quite appealing. For backup and restoration, it provides a driver list, which is very similar to the list seen in Device Manager. SlimDrivers is a gold certified partner of Microsoft, so maybe that was expected. However, SlimDrivers does not have the option to select non-Windows drivers, or third party drivers, which can be seen as a slight disadvantage by some who would want that feature. Individual drivers can be selected, or deselected though, based on the requirement.

One other thing I find as a disadvantage, is that SlimDrivers stores the drivers in folders with names based on generic, or hardware IDs of drivers. If SlimDrivers itself is used to restore the drivers, then it is not a problem. But, if for some reason, SlimDrivers is not used for restoration, then it can be a problem figuring out the drivers for the corresponding devices.

SlimDrivers was not able to backup the drivers for the devices that were not connected to the system at that time.

At the time of restoration of drivers, I ran across a few errors. However, after the process was over, I found that drivers had been restored successfully. But still, errors are a possibility, and therefore, reliability can be a concern.

One point to mention is that in the Options, make sure to select the same folder for both Backup, and Restore, otherwise, the list of drivers does not appear in the Restore section, because of which, you won't be able to select individual drivers, and will have to restore all of them.

By default, SlimDrivers is selected to run at Windows startup. Users will want to deselect that in the Options. Also, when installed, and run for first time, SlimDrivers will open its home page in the browser. It does not happen for subsequent runs of the program though.

SlimDrivers also has the habit of sitting in the tray, even if you close it. To exit the program fully, it has to be exited from the system tray. I find that an unnecessary feature.

For backup and restoration, SlimDrivers does quite a fair job, and works as it should.

Note : 1. An online installation of SlimDrivers is provided, and not an offline installer. This will be considered quite a drawback for people who like offline installers, myself included.

2. Take care to avoid the AVG Security toolbar bundled with the software, during the installation. Make sure to uncheck the checkboxes for the AVG toolbar. Also, to be sure, click the button "Decline", which won't affect the software installation, but will avoid the AVG toolbar altogether. They keep changing this procedure, so pay attention during installation. I will try my best to keep this updated with each new release.

3. The program can be used as a portable program by copying the program executable from the SlimDrivers folder in the Program Files. Strangely, the program folder does not have any other files in that folder, and seems to work solely from the executable. Wonder why the developers still require the program to be installed. They could have provided a portable version making use of this. Strange that they didn't do so. Though the procedure I have written, is on their forum, still, I won't label this program to have a portable version. But, based on this, once you have installed the program on a PC, the executable can just be copied, and used as a portable program.

DriverMaxDriverMax had a lot of useful options, before version 6, but, since version 6, all those useful options and features are gone. Quite disappointing.

This free version of DriverMax takes steps backwards in terms of options, and features, which is quite disappointing. Now, there is no option to see, or save a report of existing drivers, a feature which was there in the earlier versions. The earlier versions offered options to save Windows drivers, and/or third party drivers. Now, only third party drivers can be backed up. Earlier, drivers for hidden devices, or phantom devices could be selected and backed up too. There are no such options now.

The interface is new, modern and improved, and the delays between operations present in the earlier versions is no longer there, which is good, but, these are the only improvements. Seems like they have decided to strip down the free version.

The backup screen shows only third party drivers to backup. There are no visible options, but on clicking the Backup button, the options to backup all, or selected drivers only, can be seen. If you do not choose the option to backup to location of your choice, the drivers will be backed up as a compressed zip archive in the My Drivers folder under My Documents. This is the default location where DriverMax will look for restoring drivers. Good thing is that, the restoration will take place from the zip archive itself, and there is no need to extract contents to any folder.

Restoration process is still slow, much slower than other programs. It might be a tad faster than its previous versions, but its still on the slower side. The restoration is reliable though.

Note : 1. DriverMax is now bundled with OpenCandy. Therefore, be careful during installation, and observe the screens carefully. Please avoid any third party software offered during installation.

Be careful during uninstallation too, as the offers are being presented during uninstallation too now.

2. DriverMax now has the option to send anonymous usage statistics. If you do not want it, uncheck the check box for it in Options under Settings.

3. The program now has the option of starting with Windows turned on by default. Users might want to turn that option off. It has the option of automatically checking for driver updates, on by default too. So, that might need to be turned off too. Also, the program stays in system tray once closed. It has to be exited from the tray to fully close the program.

DriverBackup!DriverBackup! has the ability to backup, and restore drivers, but unfortunately, the restore feature did not work for me, for unknown reason. This is disappointing, as I had high hopes with this software, because it has some really good features. DriverBackup! is the only other software in this category, to have the feature of backing up drivers from an offline system, which can be a life saver.

For backup, DriverBackup! is very good, providing some useful options. When started, it presents a clearly laid out list of drivers, with all installed drivers selected by default. However, if one wants to choose only Windows drivers, or only third party drivers, they can be easily chosen, with just the click of buttons, OEM, and Third parts, respectively, on the interface. The selection can be further refined by selecting drivers with full portability(according to DriverBackup!), or drivers with digital signatures, again by pressing the respective buttons on the interface. Drivers are backed up individually in folders, according to device names. The program also generates a .bki file unique to the program, which contains information on the backed up drivers. This file is used at the time of restoration, to present the list of drivers from the backup folders. Again, the selection of drivers can be refined at the time of restoration too.

DriverBackup! was able to backup drivers for phantom devices, that is, devices which had been connected earlier to the system, but not at that time. Very useful.

The program has a very good help file, explaining how to perform different operations. The program can be used from the command line too.

Although, the program is portable, but it cannot be considered fully portable, because from version 2 onwards, it required the use of .NET 2.0, which if not present on the computer, the program won't work. I consider this as a disadvantage. Versions earlier to 2.0 do not require .NET, but they do not have the option to restore drivers.

Still, feature wise, this program is quite good, and if only it did not fail in restoring drivers, and did not require .NET, it would be a brilliant program.

This program is in active development, and I hope that the future versions will address the shortcomings.

Other Programs
These are other programs which have not been reviewed in the article. But, I am listing them here, in case anyone comes across them, and wonders about their abilities.

  • Driver Magician Lite  It performs the task of taking backup of the installed drivers very well, but unfortunately, it does not restore drivers. It presents a neat list of installed drivers, with the third party drivers(that is, drivers not contained in Windows by default), marked in red, making it easier to distinguish them. Users can select these drivers, or, they can select individual ones, or select all, depending on requirement. The backup is done in nicely structured folders with clear device names.
  • DriverPack Solution Lite  Not recommended. The program is more of a driver update program. There is option for backup, but there is no option to restore the backed up drivers. On the Backup window, there is a checkbox to backup to exe format, which does not seem to work correctly. I backed up drivers using both exe format, and non-exe format, and did not find any difference in the way the drivers were backed up.

    The program includes extra bundled adware, and so caution during installation is advised. It offers to install Delta Toolbar, Delta search engine, and also offers to change the home page, and new tab page. These can be avoided by choosing custom installation. In the next screen too, another unwanted software suggestion is shown, which should be declined too.

    The help for program leads to a non-English page. Besides, the program interface is kind of weird, and the program contains several features, which I thought were unnecessary in a driver update/backup program. Device Manager can be considered a justified feature in the program, but I still think it's unnecessary. Other unnecessary features are inclusion of Add/Remove Programs within the program. Link to System Restore is also on the backup screen, which is misleadinly termed as Restore Windows. There is a Diagnostics dropdown in the program which includes features like testing memory, defrag, system cleanup and antivirus scan, which are really not required to be there. There is also an option to Update BIOS, which besides being unnecessary, is also dangerous, in my opinion.

    All in all, I wouldn't recommend this program at all.

  • DriverGrabber  The program is way too simple, and has no configuration options whatsoever. It only backs up third party software. Windows drivers can be made to back up by editing the .ini file, but that is not a good option for general users. The program is not in development anymore, and the home site is under development too. There is no official report, whether the program will work on Vista, or Windows 7. Same for 64-bit Windows.
  • Driver Collector  Does not have a website anymore, and the program is not in development. There are no options to configure the program. There is no option to back up the drivers in batch mode. Instead, individual drivers have to be selected and backed up manually. This defeats the purpose of having a software to make things easier.
Testing Procedure

All testing was done on Windows XP. I only have Windows XP, so, this is the best I can do. But, the software which are indicated to run on Windows Vista, and Windows 7 on their website, should work in the same way as described in the article.

First, backup of drivers of the main running system was taken with each software one by one. The main system has all the drivers installed with the help of CDs, that came with motherboard, and with other hardware devices, such as the web camera, or the network card.

The restore procedure was performed on another hard disk, used on the same hardware system. Same copy of Windows XP was installed fresh on this hard disk, but without the third party drivers. Image of the system in this state was made with the help of a drive imaging software. Each time, before using another software to restore the drivers, the system was returned to the fresh state, with the help of the image taken earlier. The drivers were then restored on this fresh copy of Windows XP, with each program.

Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

Quick Selection Guide

Double Driver
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Simple interface. Very easy to use. Can backup drivers from an offline system. Backs up phantom devices. Option to save list of installed drivers in text file. Fast restoration of drivers.
None.
http://www.boozet.org/dd.htm
4.1
2.06 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
Windows XP/Vista/7

In case DoubleDriver site is down, please download from Softpedia.

http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/System-Info/Double-Driver.shtml

SlimDrivers
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Appealing interface. Presents list of installed drivers in a nice way.
No options to select only third party drivers. Generates folder names based on hardware IDs. Has to be exited from tray to fully close it.
2.2.32705.52095
918 KB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP/Vista/7/8

Be careful of the AVG Security toolbar being provided with the software. Additional information in review.

DriverMax
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Good interface. Reliable backup and restore.
Very slow in restoration of drivers. Many features and options stripped down since version 6.
7.40
5.53 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2003/XP/Vista/7/8

Bundled with OpenCandy. Be careful to avoid any third party software offered during installation.
Also uncheck sending of anonymous usage statistics from Options.

DriverBackup!
2
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Can back up drivers from offline system. Good program options. Works great for backup.
Not successful in restoring drivers. Not fully portable, since it requires .NET.
http://drvback.sourceforge.net/
2.1 Revision 7
524 KB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Open source freeware
A portable version of this product is available but not from the developer.
Windows XP/Vista/7

Requires .NET 2.0

Update Log

19th July 2013: Added DriverPack Solution Lite to "Other Programs".

6th July 2013: Removed Driver Magician Lite from review, and moved to "Other Programs" section, because of lack of restore feature. Removed "Backup Drivers" from "Other Programs" because it's not available anymore on its home site.

5th February 2012: Added matter to note for SlimDrivers about AVG extras being bundled with the program.

20th December 2011: Added matter to note for DriverMax, with release of version 6.11.

6th November 2011: Major update to the article. Completely rewritten. Double Driver as new top pick.

Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Anupam. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or suggestions they might have by clicking here.

Tags

Windows driver, driver backup, free drivers, free driver backup, restore driver, freeware

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Comments

by George.J on 21. August 2014 - 15:32  (118134)

It's a shame Double Driver isn't developed anymore. The last version dates back to 2010. I'll try SlimDrivers soon.

by Born Cynic on 7. March 2014 - 8:17  (114856)

Running Win XP SP3 [yes, I know ...] and looking to provide a backup file of installed drivers. Looking at your recommendations I tried to download DoubleDriver but the site is apparently experiencing problems, hopefully not with any drivers.

Then successfully downloaded and installed DriverMax. Ignoring my numerous available updates [ain't nuttin' broken] I then created a backup ZIP folder of my drivers.

However, a message advises me that 'SigmaTel High Definition Audio Codec' was not backed up - without telling me why. Also, I can't locate any backed up drivers for my HP printer.

Any advice?

by Anupam on 7. March 2014 - 10:02  (114861)

DoubleDriver site was working fine a few days earlier. It faces problems occasionally. You can download it from Softpedia, the link provided below.

Strange why DriverMax couldn't back up the audio codec... no idea.

Was the HP printer connected to your system when you took the driver backup? If not, connect it and then try again.

I would advise to take driver backups with multiple software, so that if some software leaves out some drivers, or can't restore later on... then you have another software with another backup to rely on.

I have now provided a link to Softpedia for DoubleDriver as additional information.

by Born Cynic on 7. March 2014 - 19:53  (114875)

No idea why the printer was not covered in DriveMax - it is wireless and was available during the scan. Now have backup zipped files from Double Driver and DriveMax - sufficient insurance, methinks.

by Anupam on 7. March 2014 - 20:30  (114876)

The devices which are not connected to the system, but have their drivers installed, are called ghost devices. In earlier versions, DriverMax had an option to select the ghost devices exclusively, but it doesn't have anymore. So, it might be hit and miss for these.

You can try SlimDrivers too, it's also a good software.

by crombierob on 7. March 2014 - 8:33  (114857)

Download DoubleDriver from here -
www.softpedia.com/progDownload/Double-Driver-Download-26895.html
I tested the first link and I reckon it will download.
Rob
PS Softpedia is reliable, except you have to be a brain surgeon to find the correct download. I have done that operation (he he) for you.

by Born Cynic on 7. March 2014 - 8:52  (114858)

Much appreciated Rob - much quicker and truely portable.

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