One thing that Windows has got better at over the years is offering more driver support out of the box and installing compatible drivers for many components in a system without having to go online. Windows XP didn’t have the best driver support from the CD although it did a fair job for the time, but the amount of drivers available on the Windows install disk really got stepped up with Windows Vista and then Windows 7. Nowadays Windows can usually install the majority of the most important drivers on a system without having to connect to the internet first.
After a visit to Windows Update, there will probably be one or two drivers at the most which need to be downloaded from a third party. There is a driver though which is one of the most important of all, and that is the network adapter driver. If you have no wired or wireless network driver installed, you have no internet connection. And if you have no internet connection you can’t go online, install other drivers from Windows Update, use any driver scanning software to download drivers automatically, and you can’t download drivers from a manufacturer’s website.
Installing Windows and finding a network driver has not been detected and installed can be a real cause for frustration. If you’re lucky you have the driver files backed up somewhere or a driver installer package such as DriverPack Solution, but many users won’t have those things to hand. If you have access to another computer there are ways around this issue to get your network driver installed even though you don’t have a driver for it, here we have four solutions that can help. 1. 3DP Net
3DP Net has been around for several years and is a dedicated network adapter driver installer that supports a wide array of ethernet and Wifi adapters for offline installation. Although several sites list it just as an ethernet driver installer it does actually detect and install wireless drivers as well. 3DP Net is loosely based on Driver packs so the around 100MB executable file you download needs to be extracted first before the detection and updating program can run.
When you run the downloaded EXE it will ask for a location to extract the files, make sure the target has at least 1GB of free space as that’s about the size of all the extracted files. After that the updater program will run and popup a small user interface with a list of network adapters on the system, if there is already a driver installed it will show the version number and date. To switch between adapters if you have more than one, click the green plus button and a selectable list will show on the right.
Click on the network adapter in the main part of the window to begin the install, it uses the standard Microsoft Driver Package installer to install the driver so it’s just a case of clicking Next and then Finish when the process is complete. To install another driver select it from the right hand list to bring it to the main window, click it and go through the same process. 3DP Net also includes a driver backup and restore option for any driver on your system, not just network related drivers. It works on Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1.
2. Snappy Driver Installer
Snappy Driver Installer (SDI) is developed by a former coder of Driverpack Solution that became unhappy with the direction it was going and decided to create his own driver updater. The result is a program that’s small, fast and supposedly has one of the most accurate driver detection algorithms around. It relies on Driver packs similar to those found at Driverpacks.net although a driver pack downloading tool is included which uses Bittorrent to download the archives seamlessly in the background.
To get the ethernet or Wifi driver for your offline computer SDI has to be run on a computer with an internet connection first, extract the downloaded zip and run the executable. At the top it will say updates are available and to click on the bar to download, when you do that an Update window will pop up. Select the 4 LAN packs in the list (3 if you don’t want the XP pack) and/or the WLAN pack if you want to install a Wifi driver. Click OK and let the files download.
Once that’s done and the new driver packs have been indexed, close the program and take the SDI folder to the offline computer and run Snappy Driver Installer again. Within a few seconds your network adapter should appear along with the option to install the ethernet and/or wireless driver, simply tick the required driver and press the Install button, a restore point is optional. The driver(s) will begin to install and within a matter of seconds your network should be up and running complete with a working driver.
Being based on driver packs, you can download all the packs you require to create your own complete offline driver package and let Snappy install all of your missing or outdated drivers. During testing it does indeed appear to be quite accurate with its detection routines which is good when it comes to correctly identifying more tricky drivers. A complete 9GB package is available via torrent on the product download page. Driver installation is supported from XP up to Windows 8.1.
3. DriveTheLife for Network Card
DriveTheLife calls itself the world’s leading Windows drivers update software, which is quite a claim. Two different versions are available which are the standard cloud based version that will go online to detect and download the drivers and the DriveTheLife for Network Card version that includes common ethernet and Wifi drivers in the download package for offline usage. Simply download the setup file of around 120MB and install the program. It should automatically detect any missing network drivers during the install/setup phase.
Unfortunately on our laptop, DriveTheLfe for Network Card didn’t detect that both the Broadcom Ethernet and Intel wireless adapters had no installed driver. Ironically a popup appeared recommending we try DriveTheLife for Network Card! The listed feature “All commonly used network drivers are integrated” isn’t helpful if it doesn’t say what the commonly used drivers or brands are. Things were slightly better on another PC when it installed a missing Realtek LAN driver but even that gave us problems when the program crashed causing Explorer to also crash.
You may have some better luck with DriveTheLife For Network Card but our experience was very hit and miss, and there’s a fair chance it might not detect you have network adapters with no installed drivers. As a result it should be used as a last resort if other solutions here fail. The online DriveTheLife might be better but can’t be used when you have no working internet connection. Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8/8.1 are supported.
DriverEasy is one of a sizeable number of cloud based driver updating applications. What makes this program more useful is DriverEasy has an offline mode that allows you to scan the computer without a network driver, then read the scan log on a computer with an internet connection to download the required driver. DriverEasy is free to use but has some restrictions unless you upgrade, one being the download speed limit of around 80KB/s.
A drawback is the DriverEasy program has to be installed on both the offline and online computer. First install to the offline computer and run the program, click the Tools menu button and then select Offline Scan. Click Next and then the Browse button to choose a save name and location such as a USB flash drive for the scan file, finally click the Offline Scan button. The .deos file will be saved ready to load into DriverEasy on the other computer.
To do that, install and run DriverEasy on the internet enabled computer, go to Tools > Offline Scan and choose Upload Offline Scan File. Click Next and Browse for the .deos file you just saved, after clicking Next again the program will list any missing drivers it found from the scan file. Download the ethernet or wireless driver, if there are more than one they’ll be downloaded in turn. The resulting driver file will likely be a setup executable or a zip containing a setup file or a batch script, copy/extract the file(s) to the target computer and execute to install the driver.
On our test laptop DriverEasy found and installed the Intel wireless driver fine but missed the Broadcom ethernet adapter, not perfect but at least it gave us one working network adapter to go online with. DriverEasy works on systems from XP up to Windows 8.1.
Final Note: While the above methods are useful if you have a system without a network driver installed, you can obviously choose to backup your driver first if you are still using the operating system before a reinstall. Something like Double Driver or Driver Backup! would be good programs to try. Another option is trying a Windows PE distro which might have compatible network drivers already integrated allowing you to go online and download third party network drivers or even one of the tools above without needing another internet enabled computer.