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How to easily find drivers for Unknown Devices in Windows

Marco Chiappetta | Jan. 21, 2014
If you're mucking around with a new Windows installation, you're probably going to run into driver headaches.

If you're mucking around with a new Windows installation, you're probably going to run into driver headaches.

No matter whether you're installing a fresh copy of Windows on a freshly built rig or simply upgrading your PC to a new version of Windows, the OS fails to properly identify all of the hardware connected to the system more often than not. I typically like to download drivers for all of the major components in a PC before I even begin an OS installation, but inevitably a motherboard will have an obscure controller on-board or the system will have a non-descript add-in card that Windows doesn't recognize.

People deal with driver problems in different ways. Some will hit a motherboard manufacturer's website and search for the mobo, in hopes of identifying a component by the perusing the motherboard's manual or spec sheet. Some folks resort to yanking the rig apart — ick — and searching the web for random part numbers on chips or cards they don't recognize. You'll likely have some success using either method (I have), but there is a much better way to identify unknown devices in Windows — and you don't have to whip out any tools to do it.

Delving into the unknown
If you've just installed Windows and the Device Manager is loaded with "Unknown devices" or "Other devices" that are in an error state or without any drivers installed, don't fret! You're only a few clicks away from ascertaining all of the information you need to identify the device and download its drivers.

Windows will usually brand all of the unrecognized devices in Device Manager with a black exclamation point (!) on a yellow sign. If you're lucky, the device's name will be listed and you can simply search for its drivers. Otherwise, the device will most likely be labeled an "Unknown device," which is not very helpful.

The detective work
To find drivers for hardware that Windows refuses to recognize, open Device Manager (a search from the Start menu or Windows 8 Start screen brings it up lickity-split), right-click on the listing for the Unknown Device, select Properties from the context menu, and then click on the Details tab at the top of the resulting window.

On the Details tab, you'll see a drop down menu labeled "Property". The items listed in that drop down menu will offer up a wealth of information about the mysterious device, but it's the Hardware IDs that are most relevant to this discussion. Select Hardware IDs from the drop down menu and the "Value" field below will populate with a list of values. Consulting the Oracle — excuse me — searching Google for one of the values listed in the Window will usually yield the device's identity.

 

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