I've always found this to be curious about installation instructions for computer peripherals; most commonly, installation of USB hardware in Windows XP.

Installation instructions typically insist VERY LOUDLY that you MUST install the drivers BEFORE plugging in the peripheral. Last example I saw specifically, a Microsoft Comfort Optical Mouse 3000 shipped with a cardboard tag folded over the USB plug that said "INSTALL DRIVERS FIRST!".

Why is this necessary? What happens upon plugging in a USB device that so thoroughly screws up your system that the included driver installers are rendered useless?

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    Its not necessary. I always hook up the equipment and only install drivers if Windows doesn't detect the hardware which allows it to use generic drivers.
    – Ramhound
    Sep 19, 2012 at 18:27
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    I have had drivers do strange things and install improperly when going against the rule of installing without the device connected, its rare. I think it is mostly to avoid confusion as windows will pop up dialog boxes while you are trying to install the driver package if the device is connected. It makes the installation a little smoother for non techies.
    – Moab
    Sep 19, 2012 at 18:32
  • I’ve never read that, and almost never done it. Sep 19, 2012 at 22:42
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    Don’t forget that there is usually no “driver installation program” in and of itself, but rather a full-blown, driver+lots-of-junky-software package. The manufacturer wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of putting together that bloated package if there weren’t something in it for them, so of course they would prefer you install it from the disc rather than install just the bare driver. `:-`
    – Synetech
    Sep 20, 2012 at 19:07

3 Answers 3


This isnt an unbreakable rule. The main reason to install drivers first is that the device manufacturer knows the drivers did not ship with Windows XP (or whichever OS). You can certainly plug the device in and the world will not implode in a cataclysm of fire. Typically, Windows will complain that it doesnt know what the device is and prompts you to install the drivers. That's it. This could be an issue if you do not know how to install drivers manually. At worst, you have a yellow exclamation point in your device manager signifying that Windows doesnt know what to do with the device.

Some device installation packages should be installed first, as they maintain drivers and software for multiple devices. So, the installer runs and asks you to connect the device. The installer then detects the device and installs the appropriate drivers/apps.

Needless to say, its best to follow the directions that come with your device as to mitigate any known issues that may arise.

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    Is it possible that after installing a piece of hardware using built-in drivers, the drivers included with the peripheral will not be able to take precedence over the already-used drivers somehow?
    – NReilingh
    Sep 24, 2012 at 15:27
  • Driver files have version numbers in their properties. So if the drivers were from the same source, than the newer should always replace the older. If an older driver is trying to replace a newer one, Windows will warn you of that fact.
    – Keltari
    Sep 24, 2012 at 17:08
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    Right--I'm thinking more of Generic Mouse/Printer Driver vs. Proprietary Mouse/Printer Driver.
    – NReilingh
    Sep 24, 2012 at 19:14
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    If Windows doesnt recognize the mouse as a proprietary mouse, it will install the generic drivers. If you install the proprietary drivers, it will replace the MS drivers, even if they are newer.
    – Keltari
    Sep 24, 2012 at 19:35

Maybe because plugging it in first might result in some default driver getting installed which lacks the options (bloat?) the recommended driver package offers. This is not only likely to confuse a normal user, it is then going to be extra confusing/difficult to teach him/her how to update the driver to the recommended one (resulting in lots of unnecessary support calls). My guess is prevention of this sort of scenario, instead of any real issues as such, is what makes them recommend installing the drivers first, then simply plugging in the device and have it work properly from the get-go.

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    In addition to that, I recall that once that default driver is installed, it would be difficult (not completely impossible, but a really bad user experience) to make Windows disregard this default driver and install the proper one. Installing the drivers first will significantly reduce the number of problems that the user might experience.
    – djeidot
    Sep 27, 2012 at 14:43

The reason this has such a cataclysmic reputation is that Windows 98 and XP would sometimes install a "composite device" driver on anything it didn't recognize so as to manage interrupts from the unknown device. Unfortunately, that meant that the new hardware wizard wouldn't get triggered and that the device could not be detected when you tried to follow the installation instructions. You actually had to manually remove the composite device driver before you could install the correct driver. The fact that most drivers are present in new windows distributions helps a lot, and apparently Windows now deletes the "place saver" drivers at boot time if the device isn't present - it isn't the traumatic event that it once was. More than that, this deponent sayeth not.

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