Every now and then you come across an old computer or hardware that you need to install and you cannot find drivers, either for that particular Windows version or no driver at all.
Re-installing same version of Windows
If you are re-installing the same version of Windows, you can save yourself a LOT of trouble by backing up the already-installed drivers and using them later. There are several “driver backup” software out there, I like using MyDrivers v3 and/or DriverBackup! which is freeware and works like a charm. You’ll need mscomctl.dll which you can download from here. After running the program, you can choose List –> Options –> List other providers’ drivers which only backs up non-Microsoft drivers since Windows already contains other drivers.
Finding updated drivers for your hardware
There is a program called Version Tracker that will look for newer versions of your drivers (especially useful for laptop drivers) and downloads them for you.
Finding out the real make/model for unknown hardware
Sometimes, you install windows and it cannot recognize the hardware. You are presented with a yellow exclamation mark in Device Manager and you do not know where to start. There are a few utilities that can help shed some light into what you should be searching for. If it’s a PC hardware, your best bet is to take out the hardware (for example you have no sound installed and you are pretty sure the computer has a sound card) and look for any brand/model or any useful information that you can search on google to find more information about the hardware and related drivers. If you are installing a laptop or cannot access the computer’s internals (ie, locked computer), UnknownDevices is currently the best software out there for this job. Version 1.4 beta supports all windows versions from 95 to Vista (no NT4). Unknown Device Identifier is a freeware from a commercial company (which also created MyDrivers) and tries to push you to buy their driver backup software. Just take the name and search on your own !
Hunting down drivers for known hardware
Now that you know what to look for, or if you already knew the name/brand and model of your hardware, I hope you have a LOT of patience, time and a bit of luck hunting down your driver. The problem is that most manufacturers stop hosting or even listing old drivers and hardware on their website. I do not know why any manufacturer would want to subject their loyal customers to abandon their hardware and go out to buy another version of the same hardware just because they (the manufacturer) do not care to host a small driver on their website. If they expect you to go out and buy another product from the same manufacturer, would you want to be cheated again ? I remember having to chuck my perfectly good Creative Webcam out because it was only supported on Windows 98 and not Windows2000. I have never bought any Creative webcams anymore (currently use Logitech which has Windows XP/Vista support).
There are hundreds of spam filled websites claiming they have your driver, only to find that it’s their useless “driver finder” software which may or may not be bundled with spyware and junk. Currently there are just a handful of sites that actually host the files you need. Unfortunately most, if not all require you to create a login before you can download any of their drivers. They want to send you spam you see ! I would recommend using temporary mailboxes to create usernames for such websites. Remember, never ever ever use your personal email address for registering on such websites. Although every website that requires registration will promise you that they are not going to use your email address to send spam, and at best, will send you selected mail from their sponsors, that selection is very large and in a short time you’ll find lots of spam in your mailbox. You can for example make up a name like firstname.lastname@example.org and go to http://www.tempinbox.com and type in driverzzz to view mail sent for it. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for these registration mails to be sent
Here are a few driver websites and temporary-inbox sites:
- DriversCollection (no registration required)
- cNet.com (don’t expect to find rare or very old drivers)