Monday, May 28, 2007

Backing up Windows System Drivers

I recently had the chance to test three applications to back up the system drivers on my XP Home system. They also worked on my Vista system, nice!

In most cases, Microsoft packs most all the standard system drivers needed in their Setup disks. What it doesn't can usually be located on line from the manufacturer.

In the case of a system failure, most OEM systems come with a system restore disk that should include all the drivers needed to get it going again along with the operating system itself, all in one reload.

So most folks probably don't give their system drivers a second thought.

Only my system was home-built back in early 2004. I have added additional components over the years. I keep all the media disks that come with these items, but in the event of a system failure I would be looking at installing a base OS load, hoping Windows had enough standard drivers to get things going, then need to locate all my disks and reinstall the extra drivers one by one.

This just doesn't seem an efficient process, and if I end up finding one missing or not quite the right one, the hardware might not function correctly; not a pleasant thought.

An alternative method would be to capture all the system drivers as they currently are found installed and in use on my current system. Then maybe package them all up in a folder or compressed file ready for off-loading to a USB stick or removable media disk for safe keeping.

If I had to do a system restore I could then easily restore them after loading the Windows operating system back, or point the Windows Device installation wizard back to the folder location they are stored in and let it do the driver installations from there instead of loading a different manufacturer's disk or file each time. That would be efficient and I could know for sure they were the correct ones.

So here are three Windows driver backup utilities I tried and pretty well enjoyed.

Driver Magician

DriverMagician - free trial/$ - This program quickly scans and identifies the hardware devices you have on your system, then extracts their associated drivers. You can select either the standard Microsoft drivers, the custom drivers, or both for backup. In the event of a system restore, you can also use the program to restore the drivers.

Backup options include archival and retrieval to a folder (uncompressed files), a compressed file, or from a self-extracting installer package.

It also supports driver uninstall and on-line updating of currently installed drivers.

It supports Windows 98, SE, ME, 2000, XP, 2003 and Vista

It ran very fast on both my Vista and XP systems.


DriverMax for Windows Vista and Windows XP - freeware (with registration for use over 30 days) - This driver backup makes the process very simple using a great interface and a wizard-based process. In a matter of seconds it identified 79 device drivers on my Vista laptop.

Backups are made to either a normal folder (uncompressed) or a compressed file for storage.

You may fine-tune your selection of drivers needed to be backed up as the program allows you to select only certain drivers or all, as well as scanning for all drivers or a combination of them based on type of device, as well as showing drivers in use, and/or phantom devices, and/or hidden devices, and/or Windows default drivers, and/or devices without INF files.

Finally you can run a report as well of current drivers.

The program supports Windows XP and Vista systems.

A more detailed walk-through of the application can be read over at CyberNotes: How to Backup and Restore Windows Drivers.

WinDrivers Backup PE

WinDrivers Backup PE - freeware - this is actually an earlier version that remains freeware. A later version is available, but not freeware. The link is for a site that still offers a copy of the earlier version.

This program is simple and direct. It identifies Microsoft drivers. Non-Microsoft drivers. Or both. Then it allows you to back them up to a folder. No wizards or flashy GUI. Just point and click.

It doesn't have a "restore" feature. So in the event you need anything, during the driver install process, point the Windows device wizard to the proper folder you backed it up in. The Microsoft Wizard should find what it needs and go.

It seems to work just fine on XP and Vista systems.

Halfway Tested

I haven't had a chance to try the "restore" process for any of these driver backup sets just yet; and that (for now) is a good thing.

I'm actually using all three utilities at the moment and keeping the files found in three separate folders. I've burned them to a CD-ROM disk and have a set for our XP laptop, our Vista laptop, and our XP desktop system. Each system has its own folder and the device drivers is kept in its own program folder location to keep them clearly separate and differentiated.

I haven't done a full comparison between all three utilities just yet to see if one is more effective than others in identifying drivers. When I get the time to review the counts on all three systems, I will post the results.

Here's hoping you don't need to use them either.


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