Auto Apply Drivers

This action relies on Plug’n’Play (PNP) detection from within Windows PE (WinPE) to scan the hardware that is present, and send this list to the Management Point (MP). The MP replies with a list of compatible drivers that are available on local Distribution Points (DPs), and the Task Sequence downloads and installs the drivers to the C: drive where they can be used by Windows the next time it boots. This action looks for matching drivers across all Driver Packages on all DPs that are accessible in the client’s site boundaries. Without specifying any Driver Packages in the Task Sequence, all matching drivers that are not disabled and not filtered out by a category are considered, regardless of what the package is named or what the original intent of the package was.

Advantages: This action requires the least amount of administration of drivers and driver packages, PNP does most of the work.

Disadvantages: Does not work with standalone media, does not detect hardware that is not present or disabled (i.e. external/USB devices, multi-level drivers, disabled in the BIOS, wireless/Bluetooth with an off switch, etc.) and does not support mass storage drivers for operating systems prior to Windows Vista/Server 2008. You have less control over driver versions, if an SCCM admin downloads different drivers and adds them to any Driver Package and replicates the package to DPs, then any Task Sequence with the Auto Apply Drivers step will find them and possibly consider them a better match. So you could have machines imaging fine one day, and then the next day problems arise or even blue screens, without the Task Sequence ever changing.

Details: The Auto Apply Drivers step in the TS performs these steps:

WinPE performs a PNP scan (devices that are disconnected or turned off are not detected)

WinPE submits the results of the PNP scan to the MP for matching

The MP returns the locations of drivers that are applicable, not disabled, not filtered out by Categories, and accessible on DPs within the current boundaries

WinPE downloads them, and depending on the OS to be installed:

Windows XP: Installs them to the correct folders under C:\Windows

Windows Vista/7/8: Directly adds them to the image’s driver store using DISM for use during Windows (mini-)setup phase

No drivers get loaded under WinPE, but the drivers are installed for the Windows PNP to find on the next boot

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Apply Driver Package

This action does not rely on PNPID detection and always installs all drivers included in a Driver Package, regardless of whether they are valid for that hardware or not. The Driver Packages should be grouped together logically (i.e. by operating system and hardware model) to avoid installing unnecessary drivers on the system (not because this would cause problems, drivers that are not needed are not loaded and just consume disk space). The Task Sequence step can be targeted at specific models using a WMI query.

Advantages: Provides the most control over which drivers and which versions get installed for a particular model, allows drivers to be installed for hardware that may not be present during the Task Sequence, and works with standalone media.

Disadvantages: Requires more up front administration to get the Driver Packages grouped, requires additional disk space on the Distribution Points if the drivers apply to more than one model and need to be included in more than one Driver Package.

Details: The Apply Driver Package step in the Task Sequence performs these steps:

Tries to find the package on a DP that is accessible within the current boundaries

WinPE downloads them (even if they are not needed or not applicable), and depending on the OS to be installed:

Windows XP: Installs them to the correct folders under C:\Windows

Windows Vista/7/8: Directly adds them to the image’s driver store using DISM for use during Windows (mini-)setup phase

No drivers get loaded under WinPE, but the drivers are installed for the Windows PNP to find on the next boot. Unnecessary drivers are ignored by PNP.

Summary

Most smaller companies and test labs can use Auto Apply Drivers, and it can work fine for months or years, but at some point a new driver could start getting detected as valid for older hardware and cause issues. Larger companies with a diverse or global administration model usually prefer Apply Driver Package. Some companies might prefer a hybrid approach, where the Task Sequence runs an Auto Apply Drivers step first to get most of the required drivers, and then runs Apply Driver Package steps for each model that requires additional handling.

Notes

The Import New Driver Wizard does not actually import the driver files into the SQL database, it only creates metadata information about the drivers and stores the path to the source files. The import source files need to remain in the same path after the import wizard is complete, since they will be used to update driver packages and boot images.

After you have imported new drivers, it’s good practice to manually verify the operating systems selected as supported platforms. This is done by editing the Properties and selecting the Applicability tab. The wizard tries to assign the correct platforms based on information in the .INF files, but these files are not always correct and often needs to be corrected to match the information provided on the vendor’s website or in the readme files.

I try to avoid adding any unnecessary drivers to the Windows PE boot images. Generally I try to use the default drivers provided by Windows PE, and only add drivers for mass storage controllers and network adapters when needed, or to improve performance. Do some benchmarking from Windows PE, and make sure the disk I/O for SATA drives averages at least 40MBps for writes and 80MBps for reads. Make sure the network I/O is at least 600Mbps on Gigabit, and 70Mbps or better on Fast Ethernet.

Both of the Task Sequence driver steps can only be ran from WinPE, not under full Windows.

For Windows Vista/7/8, all driver steps need to be added during the “offlineServicing” configuration pass of setup (after the “Apply Operating System Image” step, but before the “Setup Windows and ConfigMgr” step).

On pre-Vista operating systems, any mass storage and boot critical drivers must be installed with Apply Driver Package, not Auto Apply Drivers.

Thanks to Jason Sandys for input and feedback on this info.
http://blogs.catapultsystems.com/mlist/archive/2012/10/18/auto-apply-drivers-vs-apply-driver-package-in-task-sequences/