For every device you have in your Windows PC, you will need a driver for that device to work properly. The problem with this is that as time passes, your Windows machine will be bogged down with lots of unnecessary and old drivers, which eventually may result in problems on your PC.
Surely you can easily uninstall any device driver using Windows’s built-in tools. The problem is that Windows device manager only shows currently connected devices, and there is no option to see hidden or old drivers. Here we show you how to force hidden drivers to appear and how to remove old drivers in Windows.
Note: this article is based on Windows 11 but should work with any other previous versions, like Windows 10, 8 and 7.
For Graphics and Sound Drivers, Use DDU
Graphics cards are complex things, and if you’ve either bought a new graphics card or updated your old one, then you may find that it doesn’t work properly due to driver conflicts. (It may not work altogether or may be prone to crashes and restarts.)
If that happens, you should use the free Guru 3D tool DDU (or Display Driver Uninstaller) to completely uninstall your old graphics card drivers before installing the new ones. It’s one of the few external utilities we recommend, as the software is malware-free and has specific built-in options for commonly used graphics, such as Intel, NVIDIA and AMD. It also covers the two major audio drivers: Realtek and Sound Blaster.
To uninstall drivers:
- After downloading the DDU archive file, copy-paste it to a convenient PC location to extract the application easily.
- Clicking the DDU application may require another round of extraction. Click “OK” to proceed. You should see an application file named “Display Driver Uninstaller” that will remove the old drivers.
- As soon as the Display Driver Uninstaller (DDU) program is launched, it will show a warning message “DDU has detected that you’re not in Safe mode,” will be displayed. This means the option to “Clean and restart” the PC to replace the old audio and GPU drivers is greyed out.
- To operate the DDU utility, you’ll need to open Windows in Safe Mode. While there are quite a few ways to do that, this is the most easiest method. From the Windows Start menu search, find a System setting called “Change Advanced Startup Options” and click the “Restart” button from the inside menu.
- Your Windows PC will restart with a blue screen. Using the arrow keys, navigate to the Startup Settings screen via “Troubleshoot -> Advanced options -> Startup Settings.” Here you will find another Restart button which must be clicked to log in to Windows Safe mode.
- On a subsequent restart, you will find a few options with Safe mode for Startup settings. Each is selected using a numerical input. Choose No. 4 for Safe mode access.
- The Safe mode is no different from normal PC mode except the desktop has a black screen, and some of the functions are disabled for security reasons.
- Navigate to the folder where you saved the DDU uninstaller.
- Open DDU and select your device type (GPU or Audio) from the drop-down menu. Once you’ve made your selection, click “Clean and restart” for your drivers to be completely uninstalled.
Once you quit Safe Mode and return to the normal mode, you can install new GPU or audio drivers without any conflicts or interference from the old ones.
Warning: while the DDU program is safe to use, make sure you keep a backup of all your old Drivers that can be accessed from Device Management (see below).
Force Old Drivers to Appear
Before uninstalling old drivers, we need to force the old drivers to show up in the list.
- To do that in Windows 11, press Win + X and select “Windows Terminal (Admin)” from the list of options. You can run Command prompt from here. In Windows 10, you can directly select “Command prompt (Admin)” from the Win + X shortcut and open Command prompt from the Search menu.
- Type the following command and press the Enter button to execute it:
What the above command does is force all the old and invisible drivers to show up in the Device Manager list. Once you have done this, you can proceed with the uninstallation.
Uninstall Old Drivers in Windows
- To uninstall the old drivers, press Win + X and select “Device Manager” from the list of options.
- Go to “View” and select the option “Show hidden devices” to reveal all the hidden and old drivers.
The good thing about this feature is that all the old drivers are faded out, so you can easily identify the old or non-present drivers from current drivers.
- Select the old driver you want to uninstall, right-click and select the Uninstall option. Here we are choosing a faded old driver for a USB drive that is no longer used but has retained memory in the PC. Look under each heading to uncover similar faded old drivers that can be uninstalled.
You can also pursue a simple disk cleanup of your Windows PC to delete old device drivers.
- Search for the Disk Cleanup app in the Windows search menu. Run it as an administrator for best results.
- Disk Cleanup will calculate the space you can free up on your computer by scanning various internal system files, including redundant device driver packages. Wait for the scan to be completed.
- In the Disk Cleanup pop-up window, look for various files to delete. Here you will see an option for Device driver packages and the amount of space you can save here. Click on the “OK” button once you have selected driver packages to delete.
- Wait a few minutes for Disk Cleanup to clean device driver packages. This will help you get rid of the old, unnecessary drivers.
Using this tip, you can easily find and uninstall any old and hidden drivers. Always be careful not to remove any current device driver, as this may cause problems with your connected hardware device. Also, always check twice before uninstalling any device driver.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it safe to uninstall System32 drivers?
System32 contains important DLL (Dynamic Link Library) files integrated within the Windows operating system. Its drivers are located in the “C:\Windows\System32\Drivers” folder.
Many of these drivers are used in booting, display, data backup, and other essential activities. Therefore, you won’t be able to uninstall them if your PC operations depend on these drivers. However, in the System32 folder, you may sometimes find outdated drivers for older video cards, webcams and monitors which you no longer use. These can be safely removed.
2. Can I delete the Realtek driver? Is it safe?
It is completely safe to remove and replace the Realtek driver. While such an important sound driver can’t be removed from Program Files, you can easily remove it from “Device Manager” and replace it with other audio drivers that you prefer. Some of the other options include WO Mic. The same holds true for graphics drivers such as NVIDIA, Intel, and AMD. If you’re replacing them, it is possible to delete the older one completely.
3. How to restore a deleted driver?
Generally a Windows update takes care of the “missing driver” problem. It will also reinstall any drivers automatically with each update. If you need a deleted driver in the future, you should check Device Manager to find out whether there are any recently replaced drivers under any of the subheadings.
Select that specific driver’s “Properties” through a right-click to see if there is a “Roll back driver” option enabled under “Drivers.” Clicking it will undo the current driver and go back to the previous one. You can also create System Restore points if you know you’ll be needing these deleted drivers in the future.
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