In 2023, the process of reinstalling Windows on a newly purchased laptop is still as useful as it has been ten years ago. OEMs continue to add bloatware and other questionably useful things to the machines they sell.
For example, a new Acer Aspire A515-58P that I just purchased came with various games and, most notably and notoriously, McAfee “security” software. As anyone who’s dealt with this software before knows, it can be quite a pain to uninstall, and even then, it may very well leave things behind in the Windows Registry and elsewhere after having been uninstalled. For this reason alone it’s worth it to reinstall Windows from scratch, to avoid dealing with leftover software cruft.
Unfortunately, it can be surprisingly difficult to reinstall Windows when you have a relatively new laptop, since it likely has hardware for which the latest Windows installer doesn’t have built-in drivers. When it’s something minor like audio or Bluetooth, it’s usually not a problem, because Windows Update will generally find and install drivers for that. But if it’s a storage interface, you won’t even be able to begin the reinstall, since Windows Setup booting from USB won’t see any disks!
This is the situation I found myself in with this Acer laptop. Not only that, but the trackpad wasn’t recognized, either, so I had no mouse, either. The solution to this problem is backing up working drivers.
What you need:
- Your new laptop, fully functional with all the OEM preinstalled things
- A Windows installation USB drive formatted via the Media Creation Tool, with plenty of remaining free space (ideally 5+ GB)
Now, let’s back up the existing drivers. Launch an administrative (elevated) PowerShell prompt and enter the following:
Export-WindowsDriver -Online -Destination C:\DriverBackup
This may take a while. After it’s done, inspect the newly created C:\DriverBackup directory, and make sure it has various other directories in it, which should be full of drivers.
Once you’re satisfied, copy this directory to your Windows installation USB drive, taking care to ensure it has enough space for all the drivers.
To avoid losing extra time to this chore, open the Device Manager, and do some investigative sleuthing: find out what critical devices (like storage controllers and mice) look like in here, what port(s) they are connected to, and what drivers they use.
In the case of my new Acer, the trackpad is seemingly connected to an I²C port:
The storage interface is identified as an Intel RST VMD Controller, and we can see all the way to the individual driver files by clicking the Driver Details button:
Next, it’s important to find these drivers inside the backup directory. Once that’s done, we can be on our way!
The drivers that have been copied to the installation USB drive are useful for both Windows Setup and initial configuration, to get things like audio and Wi-Fi working quickly.
Once you’ve booted into Windows Setup, go through the standard screens, until you get to the point of selecting disks:
Since you have copied the working drivers to the installation USB drive, click (or tab over to) “Load driver” and load the necessary drivers. For my Acer to start recognizing the trackpad, I needed to load both
ialpss2_gpio2_adl drivers. Then, for the Intel RST VMD Controller, I loaded the
iastorvd driver. Once the necessary storage drivers have been loaded, disks should show up.
You may need to load your wireless and/or wired Ethernet controller driver(s), too, since Windows 11 makes it difficult to proceed with an offline setup. If you’d prefer to skip network setup, the following steps work, at least for now:
- Press Shift-F10 when Windows is asking to connect to a network — this will open a command prompt
oobe\bypassnroand press Enter — the machine will reboot immediately
- Go through the setup process again, and you should now see an option to continue without internet access
Initial Windows configuration
Once setup is complete and you boot into Windows, you can quickly load all of the backed up drivers without waiting — and hoping — for Windows Update to do this for you.
Simply open an administrative (elevated) command prompt and enter the following:
pnputil /add-driver *.inf /install /subdirs
d: above for your installation USB drive.
Once this process completes, restart the machine, and you should be good to go, with a clean Windows install and working components and peripherals.