How to identify unknown devices in the Windows “Device Manager”

Posted by · August 8, 2012 11:13 am

How to identify unknown devices in the Windows “Device Manager”

By: Tribus

Quite often I get asked about unknown devices in the Windows “Device Manager”.  I did some searching on the trusty ‘ol internet and I actually found very little information on hardware identification and it’s meaning.  With this in mind I thought a simple write up for the EE tech news blog breaking this down and simply explaining the process of hardware id’s and their meaning would be useful to the EE Tech News blog readers.

Why is this important to me?

If you are able to find the vendor and device identification numbers of a piece of unknown hardware you can then proceed to search out and identify the unknown device and find the software you may need to make it work with your Operating System.

What is a hardware id and where do I find it?

Inside the Windows system properties screen you can get to your “Device Manager”.  You can right-click “Computer” or “My Computer” and select “Properties” to get to the system properties screen or you can find “System” in your Windows “Control Panel”.

Open up your “Device Manager” and then you will be presented with a screen that looks similar to this:

Windows 7 “Device Manager”

If you have an unknown device you should see a yellow exclamation point icon beside the device.  If you do not see any exclamation points then most likely you are fine and do not have any unknown hardware items.  Also, you may occasionally see a category in the device manager that says “Other Devices”

If you do see a device that is identified as an unknown device the best way to identify it would be to look at its hardware id.  To see a devices hardware id you need to right-click on the device inside the Device Manager and select “Properties”.  You will then see a properties screen that looks like this:


Example properties of a PCI device

You should then see a set of tabs at the top of that screen that say “General”, “Driver”, “Details” and “Resources”.  Select the “Details” tab and then you will see a dropdown selection box.  You want to select the Hardware id’s selection and then the “Value” area will fill in with some data.  This data is your device’s hardware and vendor id.

Hardware ids come in different varieties and order but for the most part here is what you need to know about them:

All devices are assigned a Vendor id and a Device id.

The Vendor id and Device id identify the device and manufacturer, and are commonly called PCI ids or PCI\VEN.

There is a working project to collect all known Vendor and Device ids located here:

The Subsystem Vendor id and the Subsystem Device id further identify the device model. The Vendor ID is that of the chip manufacturer, and the Subsystem Vendor ID is that of the card manufacturer. The Subsystem Device ID is assigned by the subsystem vendor, but is assigned from the same number space as the Device ID.

Example device hardware id: PCI\VEN_10DE&DEV_06C0&SUBSYS_14803842

The important data in this string is the VEN number, the DEV number and the Subsystem number.  So, what the above example in plain terms is saying is that it is a PCI Device with Vendor id: 10DE, Device id: 06c0 and Subsystem: 14803842.  If you look that up using any search engine such as Google, Yahoo! or Bing you will probably see that it is an Nvidia Video Card and a Geforce GTX480.  From that point you should be able to locate the manufacturer’s website and then search for their support and drivers area and locate the drivers that match what you now know about your unknown device.

Not all devices are up to date and have drivers to work with the many different OS’s that have been released over the years, but this is what you need to begin an intelligent search to locate the correct software/driver that will work with your hardware.

Happy computing,