As many Windows users learned the hard way, drivers are sometimes wreaking havoc on devices powered by Microsoft’s operating system, often even blocking the computer from booting.
If a specific driver is broken and Windows is unable to load it, the OS could end up experiencing a fatal crash, or Blue Screen of Death, before it gets to the desktop.
If this happens, it goes without saying that your options are very limited, as uninstalling the driver isn’t necessarily the most straightforward thing to do without access to Windows.
Fortunately, it’s possible to do this from the Windows Recovery Environment, which was specifically developed to help you deal with problems that prevent the OS from booting. Microsoft provides an accurate description of WinRE’s purpose:
“Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) is a recovery environment that can repair common causes of unbootable operating systems. WinRE is based on Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE), and can be customized with additional drivers, languages, Windows PE Optional Components, and other troubleshooting and diagnostic tools. By default, WinRE is preloaded into the Windows 10 for desktop editions (Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education) and Windows Server 2016 installations.”
There are several ways to access WinRE, but in case your computer doesn’t boot, turning to recovery media is the only method. If you can log in to the desktop, there’s a shortcut that allows you to reboot the system to WinRE:
Start > Settings > Update & security > Recovery > Advanced Startup > Restart now
Next, you need to open the Command Prompt to be able to remove the faulty driver. The Command Prompt allows you to obtain full information about the drivers running on your device using the following command:
Dism /image:C: /Get-Drivers
If Windows is installed on a drive other than C:, make sure you change the aforementioned command accordingly.
At this point, you should be provided with a comprehensive list of drivers on your computer, and the line that you’re interested in is called Published Name. Third-party drivers are named using an oemX.inf rule, where X is a number that starts with 0 and increases as more drivers are detected on the device.
Once you determine which driver must be removed, type the following command to uninstall it:
DISM /Image:C: /Remove-Driver /Driver:oemX.inf
Again, change the drive letter and the driver file accordingly.
If you do this correctly, you should see the following message in Command Prompt:
Found 1 driver package (s) to remove.
Removing 1 of 1 – oemX.inf: The driver package was successfully removed.
The operation completed successfully.
At this point, you can very well reboot the computer and check if Windows starts correctly without the faulty driver.
If you’re wondering how you can determine which driver is causing the booting issues on your Windows device, there’s no generic answer to this dilemma. In most of the cases, the drivers that have only recently been updated are the culprit, so you should begin by removing the ones that were installed or updated before restarting or shutting down the device.
The method described here doesn’t work when you’re running Windows, as this is considered an online instance of the operating system and needs to be specifically used in the Windows Recovery Environment. The same steps can be used to fix driver issues preventing the device from booting in previous Windows versions as well, including both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. All Windows 10 versions are supported, including the upcoming version 2004 due in the spring.