Backing up your drivers will make your life easier but it's worth remembering there are no guarantees. I've yet to find a technique that always gets every file needed by every driver.
But I can recommend two approaches, either of which will get the vast majority and quite likely all of them. As an extra precaution, you might use both.
The first is a batch file called driverback.bat (if that link brings you to a web page of text rather than a file download dialog box, copy-and-paste that text into Notepad and save it as driverback.bat).
This makes for an extremely easy backup and a reasonably easy restore, although it backs up far more files than you're likely to need. However, this batch file doesn't work in Vista - so here's an alternative solution.
Running the batch file copies a great many files to a folder inside My Documents called driverback. Copy this folder to an external drive or burn it to CD for safe keeping.
To restore your drivers to a fresh XP installation, connect or insert the media containing your driverback backup. Select 'Start' and 'Run'. Then type 'sysdm.cpl' and press enter. Click the 'Hardware' tab, then the 'Device Manager' button.
Repeat the following steps for each item listed that displays a yellow question mark:
- Right-click the item and select Update Driver.
- In the resulting Hardware Update Wizard, select 'Install from a list or specific location (Advanced)' and click Next.
- Check 'Include this location in the search' and point it to your driverback folder. Click Next.
- If the installation pauses because it can't find a file, point it to your driverback folder.
If you're using Vista, don't trust the batch file, or just want two backups, consider Innovative Solution's free DriverMax (it's free, but you must register it if you wish to keep using it). Once installed and registered, it backs up and restores drivers with almost no fuss.