How To Detect Drivers for Unknown Devices in Windows

Banish the 'Unknown Device' message in Windows using this handy tip.

If I knew this tip years ago, it would have saved me uncounted hours of trying to track drivers.
I wouldn't have had my head inside many a computer case with a flashlight trying to find some obscure number printed on a piece of hardware.
Thanks to this article, I won't be doing that anymore.

If you've ever had the 'Unknown Device' message pop up and weren't sure what to do with it, you need to read this article.
If you've never seen that message, you might want to bookmark the site for future reference. :)

How To Find Drivers for Unknown Devices in Windows


Click here for more items like this. Better still, get Rhiannon's latest tasty tech treats delivered daily via your RSS feeder or alternatively, have the RSS feed sent as email direct to your in-box.

Share this
Average: 4.5 (35 votes)
Your rating: None


by veekay on 8. February 2011 - 4:52  (66014)

Forgot to mention this...

If you want something painless to help you fix the "Unknown Device", jinxed sound playback/recording and similar common problems, your first step should be to take help from Mr. Fixit:

Choose your problem symptom from the Fixit Solution page, and it will download an executable that will connect later to the Microsoft KB and driver database, to provide automated solutions for your common issues.

It is not only painless, but surprisingly works well on many occasions. Try Mr. Fixit first before you mess around with manual driver re-installations, registry hacks, etc.

If the Fixit service (yes, it is a GUI frontend to a troubleshooting service), doesn't help you, you may find solutions to your problems at the Microsoft Answers forums:

Sometimes though, you have no option but to get your hands dirty.

Typically, the "Unknown Device" is encountered when you plug in a new (or old) USB device, and try what you might, Windows refuses to recognize the device and lists it as "Unknown Device" in Device Manager.

This is where "USB Man" can come to your rescue:

USBMan site has been helping millions of people with USB problems since the past decade.
You can find links to drivers and support-software-installers for esoteric Ali/SiS/VIA chipset-based USB devices. Plus it has troubleshooting tips and links for each OS (see the listed Operating Systems on the left side of the USBMan main page). Much of this info has been lost as other similar sites faded away over the years, and it is a miracle USBMan is still up there serving people, with periodic updates now has some info for USB 3.0; though Windows 7 specific info is missing, links for Vista will work for Win7 in most cases).

I recently had to make an old USB PCI card work when I installed Windows 7 64-bit on my old PC, and no other site provided the proper support software, except USB Man. It has saved me on many occasions over the years.

I hope some of this info helps the users here. I know how painful it can be to resolve driver issues, especially if you are doing it for some family member or client who can't do such complex tasks on their own.

by SelfMan (not verified) on 27. January 2011 - 9:04  (65300)


as I posted on Rhiannon's site, there is a more efficient way.
Copy the Hardware ID and post it at
You'll get all the info you need about the hardware including links to drivers which you can directly download withour further searching.

by LOTL (not verified) on 25. October 2012 - 11:38  (101330)

Thanks for the info on Needed XP drivers for a Compaq PC that HP's site only listed drivers for Vista/7. Too old a computer to put 7 on and didnt want to spend the money on extra memory. This saved me a lot of time of hunting down all of the drivers and worked great.
Just a little warning though, the site has a lot of ads and has somewhat misleading download buttons, so make sure of what your clicking on.

by rhiannon on 26. October 2012 - 1:42  (101347)


Ads and misleading download buttons are causing quite a bit of consternation. I find the increase and deception to be distressing - our Tech Tips editor wrote a recent article on this topic:
Watch Out Where You Click on Download Sites or You May Not Like What You Get - a Prime Example

You have a good point, these days it's hard to figure out which button takes you to the actual download.
The article by BillP (of WinPatrol) that our Tech Tips editor writes about has a link to a very good article (found at the bottom of the page) written by the good folks at Malwarebytes - both are worth reading if you download software. :)

by (not verified) on 29. January 2011 - 21:14  (65469)

How do I copy the hardware ID?

by Brian J. Bartlett (not verified) on 31. January 2011 - 22:41  (65595)

I don't know if this is true of all versions of Windows (I only have 7 running here for now), but I've always just right-clicked and selected Copy. I've also found over the years that you can highlight and Ctrl-C most anything even when it does not visibly appear to work. [Yet another Windows oddity.] And, of course, there is always opening a instance of Notepad and lining the window so that you can type the info into it for use elsewhere. Your Mileage May Vary.

by rhiannon on 1. February 2011 - 18:48  (65640)

Hi Brian,
I didn't know about that but it's definitely worth a try, and I'll keep it in mind for the future.

by rhiannon on 30. January 2011 - 2:46  (65488)

@shruggy63 To the best of my knowledge those fields can't be copied using computer commands - Step 6 of the article recommends a notepad.
You could input them into a text editor like Wordpad or Notepad (or other device) and copy them from there.

by veekay on 5. February 2011 - 6:40  (65872)

Thanks Rhiannon for your kind support.

Another workaround to get the Vendor ID and Device Id of any problem devices is:
1. Go to Start->Run window (hotkey: WINDOWS+R).
2. Type "msinfo32" (without quotes) and press Enter/Return. (I am surprised how easily even veterans forget this nifty inbuilt Windows tool - I am guilty of the same oversight sometimes, duh!)
3. In the System Info app that pops up, expand the "Components" node, and click on "Problem Devices".
4. Click on File menu, and Export.
5. Save it as a text file to your desktop.
6. Open the text file in Notepad, and you can see the Vendor ID and Device Id, and other info for ALL the problematic devices. Copy the info you need.
7. Go to the PCI Database (or, as SelfMan kindly pointed us to), paste the ID info you just copied, and see what is the exact device it pertains to. Make a note of it for future reference. You can also probably check your device's packaging/shipment material to see if the device name matches with what you expect.
8. Google search and download the new drivers using the exact device name/make/model/brand. If you are using a branded PC or Laptop, you should install it with the latest drivers from the manufacturers website or use the Driver Downloader usually shipped with these branded devices (e.g., Dell Driver Download Manager, Thinkpad Support Centre).
9. Uninstall the old device drivers (Revo Uninstaller and Driver Genius work well for me). If you don't see your device in device manager, enable the "Hidden Devices" setting (see my earlier post here - it may be needed for devices that are tricky to remove/troubleshoot), and disable/remove the device entry and try the uninstaller again.
10. Reinstall with the latest driver software you just downloaded. Keep your fingers crossed and hope it finally resolves your problem!

by rhiannon on 5. February 2011 - 19:35  (65890)

@veekay Excellent tip, thanks for sharing it. I'm also guilty of not using some of the Windows built in tools that I know are there and work well. :)

by veekay on 25. January 2011 - 14:49  (65176)

Rhiannon, thanks for sharing this nice tip! It has saved my bacon many times in the past few years.

A related tip I would like to share is explained with nice screenshots in the linked guide below.

Enable Hidden Devices in Windows Device Manager:

This MSKB article explains the same workaround:

This is very crucial info on many occasions, since some device drivers raise conflicts during installation due to existing (jinxed) drivers for the hidden devices, which should be removed or disabled for the troubleshooting to continue. I have tried quite a few "driver cleaner" tools, but they can cause more harm than good if not leveraged correctly.

by seeker108 on 27. January 2011 - 23:12  (65338)

I'm running Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and one can see hidden devices in the Device Manager simply by going under the View menu and selecting 'Show hidden devices'. Maybe this tweak is only necessary for XP? Or I am missing something here?

by rhiannon on 3. February 2011 - 0:32  (65725)

I think that function is in most versions of Windows.

by AlwaysGetsItWrongButKeepsTrying (not verified) on 1. February 2011 - 20:01  (65649)

Try it seeker108, you will see the difference, and the remanents of past AntiVirus engines, items that even the installers did not remove from my Windows 7 64 bit.

by rhiannon on 25. January 2011 - 23:35  (65199)

@veekay Both of those are great resources, thanks for posting them.

by DavidE (not verified) on 25. January 2011 - 12:10  (65165)

This util saves even more time.
It's called Unknown Devices and scans your devices.

by danilo2 (not verified) on 24. January 2011 - 21:02  (65140)

Anyone (here) reading about devices might also be interested in the free "Device Remover". I fully agree with Lifehacker - "Device Remover is an Absurdly Powerful Device Manager".

by danilo2 (not verified) on 24. January 2011 - 21:04  (65141)

And the URL didn't make it...

by rhiannon on 25. January 2011 - 23:33  (65198)

I hadn't seen that, I'll check it out.

As MC points out, such tools should be used with caution - anything that changes your system settings can cause a crash.
It's a good idea to:
- know what you're doing enough to restore your system in the event of a crash
- have someone who knows computers that will help if your system crashes
- the kid down the street who probably knows more than I ever will :)
- Keep your data backed up
- set a restore point before you do anything (keeping in mind that System Restore doesn't always restore your system)


by MidnightCowboy on 25. January 2011 - 6:08  (65156)

Thanks for the link but please note the warning:

"Installing and launching the utility is simple enough—but this is one utility you'll want to use with a great deal of caution unless you really know what you are doing".

Tools like this (and so called registry "cleaners") cause more system meltdowns than anything else because those electing to use them mostly don't need them and/or do not have an expert knowledge of Windows.

by richtea (not verified) on 27. January 2011 - 20:06  (65324)

Do not throw all cats in one bag. Good registry cleaners have their uses - the key word is "good". CCleaner has never done any damage to my Windows systems over the years. In general, products come with manuals - those who can read, do; those who cannot be bothered, do not. There are consequences to either.

by CrazyDaisy (not verified) on 30. January 2011 - 10:36  (65506)

It may not have done any harm but has it (and does it ever) do any good? But that is a question for a different part of this forum :-)

This way to sort out drivers is a great find thank you very much :-)

by rhiannon on 30. January 2011 - 21:02  (65541)

@CrazyDaisy I'm glad you like the driver information, and you're right on about the registry (and other system) cleaners. The useful/harmful debate has been ongoing for years in more places than I can count, the site forums here included. The forums here are a terrific resource if you need information or want to talk to others about something. The forums have topics in many areas - including Mac and Linux. :)

by jSwann0 (not verified) on 24. January 2011 - 11:10  (65116)

Merci beaucoup, Rhiannon !!

by rhiannon on 24. January 2011 - 20:54  (65139)

My pleasure. :)

by Bruce_Fraser on 24. January 2011 - 3:31  (65092)

One of the best posts ever!

by Anupam on 23. January 2011 - 20:14  (65078)

Thanks for this article Rhiannon. This is useful stuff.

by rhiannon on 24. January 2011 - 1:42  (65086)

I wish I would have known about it years ago. =)

by Anupam on 24. January 2011 - 6:52  (65098)

same here :).

Gizmo's Freeware is Recruiting!

Gizmos Needs YouShare your knowledge of free software with millions of Gizmo's readers by joining our editing team.  Details here.