Identifying unknown devices in Device Manager

Windows and Microsoft do a great job of providing drivers for hardware devices. A lot of drivers ship in the box with Windows and hundreds of thousands more are available online on the Windows Update site. Still you quite often end up with one or two unknown devices in Device Manager. When Windows Update or the Windows DVD cannot help you, you have to turn to the manufacturer of the computer or device. If the machine is a specific model you will probably find the drivers on the drivers page of that model. But if it’s a custom system or a system where hardware has been added or replaced you will have no help.

I recently discovered a website that was incredibly useful in discovering who made a particular device and which device it is. The site is PCIDatabase.com:

PCIDatabase.com offers a very simple and very useful search engine. You can use either vendor or device search:

So just find your unknown device in Device Manager and lookup its Hardware Ids. You find these on the Details tab of the device:

Highlight the value and press Control+C (right-clicking does not work here). Past the value into Notepad or some other text editor and copy just the numbers following VEN_. Past these numbers into PCIDatabase.com’s Vendor Search box. You will see a result like this:

So now you know who made your device. Repeat the process but this time select the numbers following DEV_:

So now you have identified you device and can start looking for a driver. I recommend going directly to the source, that is, the manufacturer of the device. Drives hosted by computer manufacturers are often hopelessly outdated. As you no doubt have noticed it is sufficient to search for the device ID, because that will return the vendor ID as well.

PS: Sometimes the manufacturer of a particular device will not let you download drivers for it from their site. You are instead forwarded to the manufacturer of you machine. This is done because sometimes computer manufacturers modify the hardware device to work a particular way. Using a generic driver in these cases can be problematic. That said I have yet to encounter a device that has been modified in such a way and have used generic drivers directly from the hardware manufacturers for all my devices.

Sometimes the device manufacturers even block you from installing their drives for devices that have been used by the machine manufacturers. The most common examples of this are GPU manufacturers. Both nVidia and ATI (AMD) will check to see if your GPU is one that has been OEMed by a computer manufacturer and prevent the generic nVidia and ATI drivers from installing for such a device. That is quite annoying, especially since the drivers work perfectly with the GPUs. To work around this you can use a custom inf file or a drives modder. The site LaptopVideo2Go provides custom inf files for nVidia drivers, for ATI you can use the MobilityModder application. I am sure there are mode sites and apps that do this, but these are the ones I have used.

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