If you’re like me, you’re nearly always in the process of building or rebuilding one or more Vista systems, or checking specific systems out for currency and correctness. Especially when dealing with new or revised builds, or with systems you haven’t worked with before, you will occasionally come across devices that Windows doesn’t recognize. When that happens the first step toward finding the correct and likely MIA device driver is to identify the device that’s currently earning a yellow question mark in Device Manager.
That’s where Unknown Devices comes in. It goes through the Windows device enumeration process and records everything it discovers during that process. Even if the program itself can’t identify a device — and I’ve seen this happen in less than a handful of instances on all the systems I’ve tried it on —it provides you with a vendor ID string in nearly every case (so far, that means 100% for me in my personal experience, but I also know that it’s possible that you might come across a device for which the software can’t find such data). With that information in hand, you can almost always Google your way to device identification, and from there to a driver for your platform and OS.
The interface is pretty spare and simple, and consists simply of a list of device categories at the top level. These map to elements that appear in Device Manager as well, though you’ll find more elements in Unknown Devices than you may see on a specific desktop. For example, I’ve turned off the floppy controller and floppy disk drives in BIOS on those machines that have no floppy drives installed and they don’t appear in Device Manager any more; nevertheless, they still show up in Unknown Devices (though no entries appear under these headings on such machines, as you might expect).
Click on any category and you can examine a listing of its contents as shown here, for the Storage Controllers category (a green checkmark indicates a signed driver):
Right-click on any item, then select device details to see basic information about the device in question. Here’s a snap of the info shown for the motherboard’s built-in ICH9R RAID controller:
Despite an occasional misspelling (Vender for Vendor, Visable for Visible) the tool nevertheless delivers lots of useful information, and can help you run down and pinpoint unknown devices pretty efficiently. Better yet, I’ve recently learned from direct experience that this tool works with XP, Vista, and Windows 7, even, which makes it very handy indeed. I’d wondered why Unknown Devices was part of the basic toolkit for the various WinBuilder projects (LiveXP, VistaPE, and Win7PE) and now I know. Try it out, and so will you!
WARNING! The information that Unknown Devices turns up is only as good as the various PCI, USB, and Chipset identification text files that drive the program. You’ll definitely want to follow developer Mike “Catfish” Moniz’ advice, and grab the latest version of the PCI, PCI-e, AGP, … devices list from the link he provides for that purpose. This program is no panacea for Windows device identification or troubleshooting, but it does come in pretty handy.