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I just got a new Windows 8 laptop. So far the biggest problem is the hideous Elan-powered touchpad. It has a crazily-fast and sensitive scroll speed, and has the scroll direction inverted. The controls to modify these settings are greyed out under the Elan panel in control panel > mouse, for some reason.

I can uninstall it via device manager or BIOS, but what will happen if I do? Will Windows 8 revert to some sort of default, no-frills touchpad software? Presumably at the very least I'll lose the ability to do anything with the touchpad except move the cursor and click.

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Likely, yes, Windows will revert to some simple, basic functions. However, it may completely disable your trackpad, depending on whether the Windows default driver supports your trackpad or not. You should have a USB mouse handy in case this happens.

It's possible that your trackpad driver may need to be re-installed in order to provide access to the settings you're looking for. Generally, you can obtain driver installation files from your laptop manufacturer's website. Uninstalling and re-installing drivers may or may not fix the problem, but it's definitely worth a try.

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I do not recommend you to uninstall the ELAN driver, you will lost all their functionalities which are very useful.

If sensitive and scroll speed are the problem, you can fix that in their option dialog:

Open the Elan Smart-Pad dialog

The slider allow you to set the scroll speed

The slider allow you to set the sensitivity

(I could share more realistic pictures but I am French and my PC also, so I googled that ones)

Note, if you still want to uninstall the driver, you also have to uninstall the software (which is not automatically removed) from system program unistaller.

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