The Windows driver store is a protected repository on the local disk that contains installed device drivers and their previous versions. Drivers come in driver packages, which contain all required files for device installation. As manufacturers push updated drivers to Windows users, the number of unneeded files can grow over time, taking up valuable disk space.
The size of the typical hard disk on laptop and desktop PCs doesn't require users to perform a lot of operating system cleanup, but folks who use smaller capacity disks, such as smaller solid-state drives (SSDs) on notebook or tablet PCs need to keep the superfluous to a minimum because drive space is often at a premium.
This article reviews some free utilities that enable you to identify and/or remove driver files from Windows 7 and Windows 8: NirSoft DriverView.exe, SysTools Driver Viewer, and DriverStore Explorer (from CodePlex).
We'll look at the viewers first, which let you browse all kinds of information about device drivers, and then explore how to use DriverStore Explorer to delete driver packages from a disk.
The DriverView utility displays a list of all currently loaded device drivers, providing a plethora of information for each driver.
Figure 1 shows roughly half of the columns of information available through this tool, with non-Microsoft drivers highlighted in pink. You can also select View > Hide Microsoft Drivers to make the list easier to read (that's what we do, anyway).
Figure 1 DriverView
To use DriverView, download the 32-bit or 64-bit version from the NirSoft website, and then run the driverview.exe file with the Run as administrator command.
DriverView runs on Windows desktop versions from Windows 2000 through Windows 8, along with Windows Server 2008. Consider this tool a companion to DriverStore Explorer: Run DriverView to see which drivers are currently loaded and to review file details, and then use DriverStore Explorer to remove unnecessary driver packages.
SysTools Driver Viewer
Another utility that lets you view a list of currently installed drivers is Driver Viewer, a free utility from SysTools. To use Driver Viewer, download the software from the SysTools website and install it.
In the main screen, click Scan for drivers. You get the same type of information offered by NirSoft DriverView but in a different format (see Figure 2), and without the various view options, such as being able to hide Microsoft drivers.
Figure 2 SysTools Driver Viewer
Driver Viewer supports all versions of Windows desktop operating systems, from Windows XP through Windows 8.
To reduce the footprint of the driver store in Windows 7, you can use pnputil.exe with the /d option and the specific name of the .inf file you want to remove. In Windows 8, you can use the Driver Installed Framework (DIFx) tools. Both are free utilities from Microsoft but can be challenging to use. An easier, cleaner alternative is DriverStore Explorer.
DriverStore Explorer is available from CodePlex, the Microsoft open source code repository. The utility lists device drivers on a system and lets you select drivers and uninstall them, removing the files from the driver store and freeing up disk space.
On computers that have been running Windows for quite a while (a year or more, for example), you should be able to free up at least 1 GB of space. If you've been running the same installation of Windows 7 for several years, disk savings could mount up to as much as 3 4 GB.
To run DriverStore Explorer, download the ZIP file from the CodePlex site, extract the lone binary file (RAPR.exe), and then use the Run as administrator command to start DriverStore Explorer. The utility provides few options and no built-in Help system, but you can get information about each option from the CodePlex website.
To see a list of device drivers in the store, click Enumerate. To see the drivers listed by class, click the Driver Class column heading (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 DriverStore Explorer in Windows 8
Select the check box for the driver package you want to remove. (You can select multiple packages at a time, if you like.) Then click the Delete Package button. If DriverStore Explorer can't delete the package, a message displays in the bottom of the window. You might be instructed to force the deletion of a package. In that case, with the package still selected, select the Force Deletion check box and click the Delete Package button again.
A best practice is to always keep the current version of any driver and the previous version. Then you can use Device Manager to roll back to the previous version if you run into any issues after rebooting.