How to Remove a Network Driver that Locks Up Device Manager When You Attempt to Uninstall It

August 20, 2010

A typical fix for networking issues in Windows XP is to uninstall the device in Device Manager and then have Windows reinstall it by selecting “Scan for Hardware Changes”. Under Windows Vista and Windows 7 the network troubleshooter will do this automatically if you choose to reset the network driver. I don’t know the exact reasoning, but I suspect it is because of the interaction with the NDIS miniport driver.

Sometimes there is a problem with the drivers and they simply will not uninstall. When you try to uninstall or disable the device, Device Manager will stop responding until the end of time (or until you end the task). You can re-open Device Manager and try as many times as you like, but the same thing will happen every time. Afterwards Windows will usually also hang during the shut down process and never complete it.

The broken driver most likely has an outstanding IRP request which it never completes or cancels.

When I was doing contractor work one of my clients was specifically having this problem with the Intel wireless drivers on a lot of their systems. The driver could not be updated or reinstalled with Intel’s installer either, as it would also stop responding.

The solution is to disable the driver’s service entry so that Windows does not load it at all, and it will no longer have any open IRP requests which prevent it from being removed.

The first step is to obtain the name of the driver’s service entry. You can do this easily if you open the device’s properties in Device Manager and select the “Details” tab (other tabs may cause Device Manager to stop responding if you click them, but Details will work). Select “Service” from the drop down list in the middle of the Details property page. If you can’t access the Details tab in Device Manager, you can also use the command: ‘sc query type= driver group= NDIS’ to display all of the network drivers on your system along with their service name and obtain it from there.

Once that’s done open the system Registry Editor (regedit.exe) and navigate to: ‘HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services’. Expand the ‘Services’ tree and look for a subkey underneath it with the driver service name we located in the step above. Select the driver service subkey and there will be a DWORD entry inside it named “Start”. Double click the “Start” entry and set it’s value to the number ‘4’ (decimal). Setting the value to 4 disables the service on startup.

After you reboot the system, the device should appear in Device Manager with a bang and you should have no problem uninstalling it.