Finding and importing device drivers

Device drivers can be one of the most frustrating and problematic aspects of Windows deployment for a number of reasons:

  • It can be difficult to find the drivers you need. Some vendors, such as Dell and HP, provide special tools for finding and downloading drivers for their hardware, and you will have to learn how to use their tools.
  • Device drivers must be in a certain form before you can import them into the Deployment Workbench. Specifically, you need the driver’s INF file. If the vendor makes its drivers available as .cab files, you can easily extract these into a folder and import them into the Deployment Workbench. If the vendor makes them available as Setup programs (.exe files), however, you might need to use a third-party tool like WinRAR to extract the driver files from the .exe file before you can import them.
  • Driver incompatibilities can cause problems during deployment. For example, if the wrong mass-storage driver is used when deploying Windows to a system, the system might “blue-screen” and cause the installation process to fail. This problem can often arise when a deployment share is being used to deploy several different versions of Windows and you have imported all the drivers for each of the various versions into the Out-of-Box Drivers folder of your deployment share. When you do this, the result is that during the deployment process Windows will decide which drivers to use by using Plug and Play. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens with this approach that a 32-bit driver might end up getting installed on 64-bit hardware or vice versa, resulting in a failed deployment.

You can prevent such issues from arising by creating a hierarchy of subfolders beneath the Out-of-Box Drivers folder, with each subfolder representing a specific Windows version and architecture. You can then further differentiate drivers according to the make and model of system hardware they apply to by creating a deeper subfolder hierarchy such as the following:

Out-Of-Box Drivers
--- Operating System 1
------ Make 1
--------- Model 1
--------- Model 2…
------ Make 2…
--- Operating System 2…

You then import the specific drivers needed for each Windows version or architecture into the appropriate driver subfolder. You can then use another MDT feature called selection profiles to associate each driver subfolder with a different task sequence, which allows each task sequence being used to deploy a different version or architecture of Windows on each make or model of hardware in your environment. The downside of the driver subfolders approach is that it is more work to set up than simply dumping all the drivers into the Out-of-Box Drivers folder and letting Plug and Play decide which ones to use during deployment.

Mitch Tulloch is a eight-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award and widely recognized expert on Windows administration, deployment and virtualization.  This tip was excerpted from his new book Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 Training Guide published by Microsoft Press which is available from Amazon.  For more tips by Mitch you can follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook.

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