How to Backup and Restore System Drivers

Thursday Oct 15th 2009 by Ronald Pacchiano
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Tracking down missing system drivers is a royal pain. Ron Pacchiano shows you an easier way and walks you through backing up and restoring your computer’s system drivers.

Whenever I restore a PC for a friend or family member, they almost never have the original drivers or system recovery CDs that shipped with the system. All you can do is install the retail version of Windows onto the system. And it’s almost inevitable that the drivers for a least one device will be missing.

Retrieving missing drivers from a system like a Dell or an HP isn’t complicated, although different hardware configurations can make it a bit confusing. However, finding drivers for a no-name or custom-built PC can take many frustrating hours.

Manufacturers used to include the operating system, applications and device drivers all on separate CDs. These days when you purchase a new PC, most manufacturers now use automated recovery CDs that restore the system to factory specifications with minimal user intervention.

The problem with this is that if you just want to reinstall a specific driver, such as the audio or network adapter, it might not be possible. In most cases you can find the drivers on the Internet, but it’s more time consuming.

Simplified Driver Recovery

I use DriverMax, a driver management tool that updates and maintains the device drivers on a PC. Chief among its features: it backs up and restores your computer’s device drivers. You can then store these drivers on removable media, such as a USB flash drive or an external hard drive.

Should you need to reinstall your operating system, DriverMax uses this backup to restore any drivers missing from your PC. The entire process takes just a few minutes. No more recovery disks or time consuming Internet searches.

This program can also scan your system for outdated drivers, a common cause of system instabilities. This makes it easier for you to keep your system up to date, thus increasing overall system performance and reliability. Plus it can provide you with detailed reports about all the components in your computer and makes it easy to roll your system back to an earlier configuration thanks to tight integration with Windows System Restore.

Here’s a real world example of how DriverMax works. I have a Dell Inspiron 9100 that came pre-configured with Windows XP, which I upgraded to Windows Vista. After the upgrade, I checked Device Manager and discovered a couple of unknown devices. Turns out my audio adapter and modem were not recognized by Vista.

I checked the Dell Web site for updated drivers, but to my surprise, none existed. Frustrated, I installed DriverMax hoping for some assistance. DriverMax not only successfully identified my missing devices, but it also let me download the appropriate drivers. Within minutes my system was fully operational.

DriverMax came to my rescue again a few weeks later. I needed a system to evaluate Windows 7. So I reformatted the Inspiron’s hard drive and performed a fresh install of the OS. Like Vista, Windows 7 did not recognize my audio adapter and modem, but it also didn’t recognize my video adapter.

I ran a Windows update, but no luck. I remembered that I had backed up my Windows Vista drivers via DriverMax a few weeks earlier. Since both versions of the OS were 32-bit, I decided to see if my Vista drivers would resolve my issue. I installed DriverMax again and used the backed up drivers to restore my missing devices. I rebooted Windows 7 and the system was fully functional.

DriverMax made it easy to identify the unknown devices in my system and even provided me with the necessary drivers, despite the fact that they weren’t available from the manufacturer’s website.

Best of all, I used the free version of DriverMax. However, the free version of DriverMax has significant limitations. While the backup and restore capabilities are always available, the free version limits the number of daily downloads it allows. If you need to update numerous drivers, it could literally take weeks.

Fortunately, Drivermax comes in a variety of affordable license options: $10 for 30 days, $29 for one year and $39 for two years. You can use it on an unlimited number of PCs throughout the duration.

Go to Page 2 for a step-by-step guide to backing up your drivers.

Backup Your Computer Drivers

To try DriverMax visit www.drivermax.com and click the “Download” link on the menu bar. Once the download completes, launch the program and follow the simple installation steps.

You’ll need to register a free user account to use some of the programs features. Now that you’ve DriverMax installed, let’s create a backup of your computer’s current drivers.

  1. Launch the application and click on Driver backup and restore.
  2. Now choose Backup drivers. This will start the Experts Drivers Wizard. I should point out that DriverMax will only backup a device’s drivers, NOT any program that might also come with it..
  3. Now press Next to begin. DriverMax will scan your current drivers. Once they’ve been found, press the Select all button. Verify that all the drivers have a check mark next to them and press Next.
  4. Now you choose the export type. You can save drivers to either a folder or to a compressed ZIP file. I recommend the folder as I had reliability problems with the ZIP file. Now you tell the program where to export the drivers. The default location is “C:UsersusernameDocumentsMy Drivers”, where “username” will be your Windows user account name; but you can use any location you like.
  5. When ready, press Next to begin the driver export process.  This should take a few minutes to complete. Once it says Done, press Close.

You now have a backup of all the drivers on your system. If you kept the default backup location in Step 4, be sure to copy the My Drivers folder to external storage before reinstalling your OS. 

Restore Your Computer Drivers

Now that you have backed up your files let’s restore them. We’ll assume you have reformatted your hard drive and have just finished reinstalling Windows onto your PC. To reinstall your drivers, just follow these steps:

  1. Install DriverMax and launch the program
  2. Select Driver backup and restore. Underneath that select Restore drivers from backup. You might see this message: You must run DriverMax with administrative rights if you want to be able to install drivers. Do you want to restart the program in admin mode? Click Yes to restart the program in the required mode.
  3. After the program restarts, select Restore drivers from backup. You should see the Import driver wizard. Click Next to begin. Point the application to the location where you stored the backed-up drivers. Note: The program works most reliably when you select only the drivers that are missing. Do not restore all the drivers because most of them come with the OS.
  4. Select the drivers you need and then press Next.
  5. Confirm the drivers you have selected. Then check the box Install unsigned drivers without asking for confirmation.
  6. If you restore drivers to a different OS then the one you originally backed up from, say from Vista 32-bit to Windows 7 32-bit, then you might also want to check the option Create a restore point before installing the driver. Should you run into a compatibility problem with the previous drivers on the new OS, you can just go back to the restore point before you installed those drivers and start over. Otherwise you might have difficulties removing those drivers from your system and have to reinstall the OS all over again. Once you’ve made your selections press Next to begin the restoration.
  7. When the process completes you’ll see this message: You should restart your computer after each driver installation. Proceed with the reboot now? Click Yes.
  8. Once your system restarts go into Device Manager to check the status of your drivers, verify that they are all installed and verify that you have no unknown devices.

If your primary goal is to simply backup and restore your system drivers, then the free version of DriverMax will work fine for you. However keeping your device drivers automatically updated is worth the price.

Ronald Pacchiano is a contributing writer for SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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