One of the worst changes in Windows 10 was Microsoft automatically updating drivers even on PCs where existing drivers were correctly installed and the system was in stable condition. Let’s see how to rollback drivers & stop auto update of Windows drivers.
What are drivers?
For those who are not familiar with what a driver is, I explained that in the article on why you should clean install Windows after getting a new PC. In short, a device driver is software that is required to make the hardware device work correctly with the system. The OS vendor i.e. Microsoft defines the driver model. Device manufacturers develop drivers as per the driver model/specification.
For example, NVIDIA, the company that makes GPUs will also deliver graphics drivers to make the GPU work with Windows. This is based on Windows Display Driver Model. Windows includes many drivers built-in and all the rest are supplied by Microsoft and device manufacturers via Windows Update.
Which drivers are the best drivers?
In another article, I explained how to install or update device drivers in Windows. In that write-up, I stressed the fact that the best way to install drivers was from your disk drive. Use either the ones that came on your disk drive, which your PC manufacturer supplies or the latest ones you have downloaded from the PC manufacturer’s website.
Drivers auto-installed from Windows Update sometimes cause serious problems, even BSODs (Blue screen of death errors). Or if a PC manufacturer-supplied driver has some specific functionality in it or additional settings, Windows Update drivers may not have that feature – they are often generic drivers and not as well-tested as the ones your PC vendor has for your exact PC model.
The big disastrous change in Windows 10 and how to stop driver auto update
Windows Update in Windows 10 has the terrible default behavior of automatically and forcibly installing its drivers, overriding any existing drivers you may have installed from elsewhere. It was understandable if it did this only on PCs where there was no driver installed at all. But Windows Update does this even on well-configured PCs with stable drivers already installed and working. This often causes serious issues. Therefore, the ability to not just rollback drivers but also stop auto update of drivers is crucial.
Here’s how to stop Windows Update from auto updating drivers. Copy the following text into Notepad, save it as a REG file and merge it into the Registry by double clicking it:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate] "ExcludeWUDriversInQualityUpdate"=dword:00000001
After this, make sure you restart Windows because certain services related to Windows Update need to be restarted.
If you are unable to boot into Windows due to a problematic driver, first boot Windows into Safe Mode and do the Registry changes from there. To access safe mode itself when Windows is not booting at all, you may need to have a bootable USB drive with Windows 10 Setup. It will also let you access the Recovery environment via the Repair option from where you will be able to disable the modern boot UI & restore the F8 boot menu to access Safe Mode.
Other ways to disable the automatic driver update setting
You can change the same setting with Winaero Tweaker, a safe free app to change Windows settings, if Registry editing and merging REG files yourself is not your cup of tea. Or you can use Group Policy Editor. The policy setting is called Do not include drivers with Windows Update and is located under Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Windows Update.
Rant: This should be an end-user facing option
Auto-updating drivers is never a good idea especially on systems which already have drivers properly installed. But not giving end-users control over this is a massive reduction in ease of use and control over the system. Microsoft should consider including this Registry option as an end-user facing option directly in the Settings app for Windows 10.
The other day I actually started getting a random Blue screen error (BSOD) as soon as Windows booted and found that Windows Update had automatically updated my network drivers. I was able to boot into Safe Mode and do a driver rollback. Then I disabled this setting immediately and decided never again to allow Windows Update to automatically update drivers on a stable well configured PC.
I have even heard horror stories of how people’s systems were stuck in a loop after some driver auto-updated. Windows starts automatic recovery in such cases but booting into Windows again installs the driver, causing an endless loop of BSODs.
How to rollback a driver if some driver gives problems
Open Device Manager by pressing Win+X keys together on the keyboard and launching it from that menu.
Expand the correct device category and double click the device whose driver may be giving you problems.
Switch to the Driver tab and click Roll Back driver. Windows will ask you the reason for why you are rolling back. Select one or enter your own reason and click OK.
You may need to restart to revert to the earlier version of the driver.
As mentioned above, sometimes Windows may get stuck in a BSOD bootloop due to a bad driver. In that case, boot Windows into Safe Mode and do the driver rollback from there.
How to see installed or updated drivers by date
Windows Device Manager does not have an easy way to sort installed device drivers by date. But you can use third party free tools from NirSoft to locate any problematic drivers. These include DevManView, DriverView and InstalledDriversList.
The useful thing about these tools is that they present far more detailed views of data about installed drivers. There are columns to sort drivers by date so troubleshooting gets easier.
Also these tools list software-only drivers and virtual device drivers. Not all drivers on your system are related to physical hardware. Many of them may be kernel-mode software drivers which are causing issues.
Another outstanding tool is Driver Store Explorer. It will not only list device drivers present in the Windows Driver Store but also help you free up disk space by cleaning up old versions of drivers that have been superseded.
If you suddenly started getting Blue screen errors (BSODs), you must also try NirSoft BluescreenView to try to troubleshoot what hardware or software driver is causing it.
So now you know how to rollback drivers & stop auto update of drivers via Windows Update in case your system suddenly won’t boot or starts giving you serious errors like Blue screen errors (BSODs).