Thanks to the tireless efforts of computer experts, virtually everyone and their grandma knows the importance of backing up crucial data. But even the most fastidious of computer users usually overlook backing up their OS device drivers, even though it’s nearly impossible to get a system up and running without them.
Part of the reason is the ‘how’ of backing up drivers. Unlike regular documents, creating a copy of your Windows drivers requires a bit more work than copy-pasting files onto an external drive. Which is why we’ll devote this article to understanding how drivers work, and how to create a backup copy of them on Windows 7.
If you’re completely new to Windows, you may want to check out this course on new features in Windows 7 to get the hang of the OS before you start this tutorial.
What are Windows Device Drivers?
One of the biggest challenges in creating an operating system like Windows is to ensure that the OS works smoothly with the myriad variety of devices and components in the world. Between the many, many different hardware manufacturers in the world, you can build a computer with a nearly infinite combination of computer components. That Windows can work equally well with all of these is nothing short of a technological miracle.
This is made possible by something known as “device drivers”. A device driver is essentially a piece of software that interprets data from a hardware component and transfers it to the operating system. You can think of it as a translator that takes the low-level “gibberish” from the hardware and sends it to the OS, allowing it to operate smoothly without needing to know exact details about the hardware.
Essentially, a device driver is an interface for facilitating interaction between the software (Windows) and the hardware (the actual device). Without a working copy of the device driver, most hardware fails to work or offers subpar performance. If you’ve ever installed Windows from scratch, you may be already familiar with this as your keyboard, mouse, monitor or graphics card simply refuses to work. This is also why most tech advice columns recommend that you update your drivers regularly to get the most out of your system.
Why Backup Drivers?
Every technology expert worth his salt extols the virtues of developing solid data backup habits. Even though computers have been steadily becoming more stable over the years, they are hardly fail proof. You never known when the odd blue screen of death, or some rare virus burns your Windows to toast and forces you to reinstall everything from scratch. A copy of your current Windows drivers will ensure that you can restore everything back to normal without rummaging through CDs and online help forums when computercalypse strikes.
Want to maximize your productivity on Windows? Learn how in this course on Windows 7 productivity essentials.
How to Backup Up Windows 7 Drivers
There are more than a few ways to backup drivers on Windows 7. These range from manual (and technically challenging) to the automated (and simple). We’ll learn more about the two primary backup methods in more detail below.
Method 1: Download Each Driver Manually from Manufacturer’s Website
This is a slow method that requires oodles of patience and a willingness to work through confusing manufacturer websites, but it ensures that you get the latest copy of the drivers straight from the manufacturers themselves.
But before we begin, you need to figure out your Windows 7 system type (32-bit or 64-bit).
Determining Your Windows 7 Version
Windows 7 is sold in two flavors – 32-bit and 64-bit. Most 32-bit drivers don’t work on 64-bit operating systems, and vice-versa. Hence, before you can download drivers for your computer, you need to figure out what Windows version you’re actually using.
To do this, click the start button and type in ‘system’ into the search box.
Click on the ‘System’ result under Control Panel. You should see a window with information about your computer, including your processor type and Windows version, as shown below:
Your Windows version will be displayed next to ‘System type’.
With that out of the way, let’s start downloading our device drivers.
What You’ll Need: Your laptop/PC’s model number
Identify your computer’s make and model number. In case of laptops, this can be found at the back of the laptop, usually over the battery cover. Look for a sticker with some numbers and technical details written on it.
Alternatively, you can find this from your laptop’s manual.
For example, I’m using a Lenovo laptop for writing this article. This is what the sticker on the back of my laptop looks like:
Note that most laptops have a make (in this case, Lenovo G570) and a model number. You’ll need both of these to find the right drivers.
Head over to the manufacturer’s website and look for a support section. This will usually be tucked away in the footer area, as shown in this example from Lenovo.com
In the support section, look for your laptop or PC. Since most manufacturers are also creating tablets and phones these days, you may be redirected to a separate site for desktops/laptops.
The best way to find your device in this section is to use the search (if available). Alternatively, you can use the menu options to locate your device. In this example, we’ll dig through the list of laptop models to find our device.
Once you find your product model, ensure that you select the right operating system (32-bit or 64-bit).
Download drivers for each device individually and save them to a folder on your computer. Some devices may have multiple drivers. In such cases, consult your Device Manager for the right device model or type (more on using Device Manager below).
Copy your downloaded drivers to an external hard drive, pen drive or CD. You can install drivers directly from this drive whenever you get a fresh copy of Windows.
For even more security, create a copy of your drivers on Dropbox. Learn how to use Dropbox in this introductory course.
Download Device Drivers for Assembled Computers (Or Really, Really Old Computers)
If you assembled the computer yourself by buying components individually, be prepared for some heavy duty leg work. Unlike the above example where we found all the drivers from Lenovo’s website directly, you’ll have to download drivers for each device from the device manufacturer’s website individually.
The first step in this process is figuring out what components you’re using. After that, it’s a whole lot of googling.
Figure out your computer’s internal components. To do this, you can look them up in the Device Manager. To open the Device Manager, click on the ‘Start’ button and type-in ‘device manager’ in the search box.
Click on ‘Device Manager’. You should see a new window pop open with a list of different components installed on your computer.
This is all you need right now to find drivers for your devices. I recommend listing each critical device (display, input, Wi-Fi and hard disk) in a separate text document to make step 2 easier.
Note: Your retail invoice for the components typically carries detailed information about the components. Preserve it; it’s a much faster way to find device models than the Device Manager.
Search for drivers for individual components on either the device manufacturer’s website, or on Google. Depending on the manufacturer and the age of the components, this may be quite straightforward, or it may require digging through dozens of search results.
When you do find the appropriate drivers, make sure to get the ones compatible with your Windows 7 version.
Method 2: Backing Up Drivers with Double Driver
Double Driver is a popular freeware tool that allows you to view, backup and restore all drivers installed on your computer. It is a much faster option than downloading each driver individually, but may not work in case of a few drivers (although this is rare). For most purposes, I recommend that you use this tool over method 1.
Download a copy of Double Driver. You can find one from Download.com here.
Unzip the downloaded file in a folder on your desktop.
You should see two executable files in the desktop – dd.exe and ddc.exe
Both dd.exe and ddc.exe perform the same function. However, the latter runs from the command prompt and requires a higher degree of technical know-how to operate.
For this tutorial, we will run the dd.exe file, which offers a much easier to use graphical user interface.
Keep the ddc.exe file handy though. In case you can’t boot up your computer but have access to the command prompt, you can use it to backup and restore drivers.
After running the dd.exe file, you should see a window like the one shown below (Windows may show a security warning; ignore it):
Click on ‘Backup’. On the next window, click on ‘Scan Current System’.
Double Driver will quickly scan your system for existing drivers. Depending on your system, this list may include hundreds of drivers. Double Driver will automatically pre-select critical drivers, though it’s always a good idea to go through the list and select any driver Double Driver may have missed.
Once done, click on the ‘Backup Now’ button.
You’ll now be asked to specify the location for the backup. You can either save them to an external drive or your internal hard drive. In case of the latter, I recommend that you use non-system partition (i.e. a partition where no Windows system files are installed).
You can also select how you want to save the drivers. For most purposes, the default structured folder format is good enough.
Hit OK. Your drivers have now been saved! You can now access them whenever you reinstall Windows.
Knowing how to backup Windows 7 drivers is an important skill every computer user should know. You can learn more such skills in this course on Windows 7 essentials.