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Windows 8 Driver Gotchas

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Updating Windows drivers can sometimes be a breeze, but occasionally can be an exercise in frustration. While finding the best and most-up-to-date driver can pose the occasional challenge, there are some tricks worth trying to help you find them and get them installed. Ed Tittel explains some of his favorite Windows drivers tips, tricks, and resources.
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Lest the title suggest more than it actually means, the aim of this article is not to report on—or complain about—Windows driver problems or issues. In general, Windows 8 is very good with drivers, especially for any devices that conform to the Windows Plug-and-Play specifications (a condition that pertains to 99-plus-percent of all devices in use today).

Instead, the aim of this article is to explain why some devices occasionally show up in Windows 8 as "Other devices," bearing the traditional question mark icon that denotes something for which Windows can't find the proper device driver.

Figure 1 shows an example from one of my Windows 8 desktop PCs.

Figure 1 A screen snippet from Windows 8 Device Manager showing "Other devices"

In general, the question mark means that Windows can't find a driver for the devices shown on its own. You can quickly and easily confirm this by right-clicking any such device and selecting the "Update Driver Software" option from the resulting pop-up menu (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Right-click any device in Device Manager to ask Windows to look again for a driver

Who knows? You might get lucky (particularly if it's something you just added to your system, and Windows' first try to find the driver failed or got interrupted for any reason) and actually get a working driver out of this maneuver.

Don't get your hopes up, though: out of the hundreds of times I've tried this, it’s worked perhaps twice, and each time success came as a stunning and unexpected surprise.

Most of the time, you'll see something like the message shown in Figure 3 from Windows instead.

Figure 3 Most of the time, Windows says "No dice!"

OK, Windows Finds Nothing. What Next?

A wise man once told me that the answer to any good question always begins with the same two words—namely, "That depends." In this case (and I'll use the items displayed in Figure 1 as my jumping off points), it depends on what Device Manager can tell you about each device. In the case of a Bluetooth Peripheral Device, of which there could be a very large number of different types, this isn't terribly helpful. In the case of something specific and mysterious like OMAP4470, you might just get lucky by searching for that string using Google or another favorite search engine.

But alas; in this case, all I could determine is that an OMAP4470 is a Texas Instruments processor that's used in smartphones (like the BlackBerry Z10) and tablets (most notably in various Kindle and Nook e-readers). Because I plugged my son's Nook HD into this PC last week to charge it up, I can only speculate that Windows 8 recognized the type of device to which it was attached, but couldn't find a driver. In fact, not even through the OMAP Application Processor forum on the TI E2E (Engineer-to-Engineer) support community was I able to find a driver, by hook or by crook. However, when I plug the Nook back in, I can still access its internal storage through File Explorer. Go figure!

This looks like a case where I find no driver because there is no driver to be found. I do see some discussion of drivers for Windows CE and Windows Mobile Development tools, but nothing for conventional Windows Oss, where the OMAP4470 is concerned.

Try the Driver Properties, Especially Hardware IDs

But when I started digging into my other mystery driver, I discovered that my P8Z68-V Pro Gen3 motherboard from Asus includes built-in Bluetooth. However, Asus hasn't released Windows 8 drivers for that Bluetooth module. With some diligent online searching on the hardware ID—a formidable string that takes this value:


I discovered a Czech website that specializes in Atheros drivers (the Unofficial Czech Atheros Drivers site) that told me that driver version worked with my device and with Windows 8. But I couldn't find a link to that driver there, so I searched Google again for "Atheros Bluetooth Driver" and grabbed it from Softpedia (a usually reliable source for downloading drivers). It did, however, take forever to grab the package from that website, but eventually it got downloaded to that Windows 8 desktop PC.

After installing that driver, I wound up with the entry in Device Manager shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4 Post-installation, the PC works with Bluetooth, and driver is installed

Potential Treasure Troves for Windows Drivers, Including Windows 8

Over the years, I've learned that there are good ways to find drivers in general and some even better ways to find particular drivers. When it comes to general driver-search techniques, a driver scanner/updater is a good way to go.

Slimware Utilities makes a decent free tool called SlimDrivers, but I've learned to appreciate the higher hit rates you get from commercial tools such as DriverAgent, RadarSync, or Driver Detective (my favorite of the bunch is DriverAgent, though you can find pointers to 10 such offerings at TopTenReviews). See my June, 2008 blog post, "Smart Use of DriverAgent Improves Driver Update Results," and my March 2012 post, "Interesting Driver Status for Clean Windows 8 Installs," for more discussion on how to make good use of this tool.

But there will be times when a driver scanner won't be able to help you get the driver you need installed on your Windows 8 PC. I encounter this most often when the scanner recommends an installer for some OEM machine that's smart enough to know that I'm trying to install it on a machine made by somebody else. At that point, it stops running and shuts itself down.

In such cases, you either need to find a way to extract the drivers from the installer file so you can install them manually or find those drivers from some other source. In the sections that follow, I explain how to walk a bit down each of these paths.

Find Another Driver Source

For drivers from some sources, it pays to go straight to the manufacturer to look for their drivers. This works for most devices, except when specific models are sold only to OEMs, in which case you'll be referred to the company that sold you a desktop, notebook, or tablet PC.

Over time, I've learned to go to look for drivers from the following vendors when the scanner lets me down:

  • AMD
  • Atheros
  • Broadcom
  • Intel
  • Nvidia
  • Synaptics

As long as you can identify the make and model of the devices for which you're seeking drivers, you can probably find something usable through these vendors' sites. On the other hand, there may be times when what the vendor provides won't work for you, either. In such cases, I've found that some third-party driver sites actually get ahead of what the vendor makes publicly available. One of these is the Czech Atheros site already mentioned; another is a French website named Station-Drivers, where I have very often found drivers for AMD, Intel, Broadcom, Atheros, Asus, JMicron, Marvell, and Realtek that I could find nowhere else, no matter how hard I looked. Be sure to add these tools to your driver search arsenal, too.

Extracting Good Drivers from Uncooperative Installers

Warning: this approach doesn't always work, and is most likely to fail on Intel installers, which are very good at hiding driver files in their installer programs, even from determined people like me (on the other hand, Intel's chipset utility includes the /a and /p options so you can instruct it to unpack its contents into a directory of your choosing).

Many installers, however, can be unpacked to reveal their contents, often including the .dll, .inf, and .cat files at which you need to point Device Manager to succeed when you tell the Update tool to "Browse my computer for driver software."

Surprisingly, I have had excellent luck unpacking some installer programs using the 7Zip utility. For others, I turn to Legroom Software's Universal Extractor. You can point either of these tools at an .exe file and they will do their best to unpack its contents for you. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but I've had enough luck with both tools and driver installers to recommend them as "worth a try."

Knowing When to Quit

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can't find the driver you need for the device you're trying to update (or get working). My recommendation is never to spend more than two hours trying to find and install any particular driver. After you've been beavering away for that long, you'll only be doing yourself a favor by breaking off to go do something else.

You can always return to the problem later and try again. I've been in a handful of situations in which it took half-a-dozen tries before I finally cracked a particular driver dilemma. If you persist over time, you may indeed succeed. But if you persist for too long at one sitting, you'll just get frustrated (and maybe a headache). Breaking off really does help.

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