What to do when Windows 11 is missing a network driver during installation

For many years, when I get a new notebook, I wipe it out and install a fresh version of Windows. There are multiple reasons for that:

  • To instantly get rid of unwanted software that takes valuable disk space
  • To avoid unwanted software draining your battery and heating your notebook (especially in the summertime)
  • To remove potential conflicts with the installed software. For example, a trial version of Microsoft Office conflicts with another office package. Even removing Microsoft Office does not help
  • To avoid problems with an installed antivirus solution. The best example is McAfee. I spent weeks or even months of my life fighting with it. It is the worst antivirus on the market. Built-in Windows Defender is much better and provides better protection

Initially, I was trying to clean up the notebook, but later I realized that I’m spending many hours and sometimes days doing it, and, in the end, I found that reinstalling OS is the fastest and the best way.

I bought this Dell notebook as a present for my relative. Just in case, I spent quite some time researching which notebook to buy and this one looks like one of the best choices. Most features I like about it:

  • Screen with 1900 x 1200 resolution. As a result, more text can fit vertically
  • Fingerprint reader
  • 3200MHz memory which is rare for notebooks
  • $899 and next-day delivery
  • Something that you can see only after you bought it: quite good quality
  • Most vendors reserve 20-30 Gb of the disk as a recovery partition, so customers can restore their version of Windows. This is a waste of space because you can restore it from a USB drive.

But Dell is one of the worst offenders that installs so much unwanted software that it will take days to clean it up. So, I didn’t even think about using it as it.

As a warning: if you don’t know what are doing probably better to ask for help. Also, in some rare cases like this, you need access to another computer with a USB port.

Probably most of you already know how to install new Windows. You run the media Installation tool from here and it will prepare a USB flash drive. Then you boot from it. For that particular notebook, you press F12 when you power it up and select that USB drive. Windows will ask you at step 3, do you want “Upgrade” or do you want “Custom” installation. Check these pictures for details. You need to select “Custom”. Then you delete everything there until you have a single block of unallocated space. After that installation as usual.

As a side note, you don’t need to worry about the Windows license as it is written into the BIOS of your notebook for most big vendors.

Anyway, in my case, everything was nice and smooth, Windows copied all files, the notebook restarted and then I got to Let’s connect you to a network page. You can see an example here.

It looks like Windows 11 don’t have network drivers and as result setup cannot continue. I personally think that it is one of the biggest issues with Windows 11 because it is not clear what to do. Most technical people will find it easily, but for less technical people it will create a lot of issues.

But if you read the text of that screen carefully, you will find advice to visit https://aka.ms/networksetup. And it is good advice, but they were lazy and created a single page for multiple issues instead of multiple pages for different issues. I’ve seen multiple pages for consoles (including Microsoft’s XBOX) and they have done a much better job. Anyway, let’s open that page. We are interested in the second to the last section called “Check and reinstall the Wi-Fi network adapter drivers (advanced)”. That section is almost correct but missing one of the critical parameters and as result, I will provide my steps.

Preparation

  1. First you need to find the correct network driver. For this notebook, you can find it here. It is named MediaTek MT7921 Wi-Fi UWD Driver. Download it somewhere
  2. Download and install 7zip which is located here.
  3. Start 7zFM and go to the directory with MediaTek MT7921 Wi-Fi UWD Driver. Select it and press Ctrl+PageDown. It will open .exe as an archive. Most vendors do this. Then find drivers. Driver must have a file with.INF extension. For me, the driver was in production\Windows10-x64\0\Drivers\Drivers.
  4. Unplug the USB flash drive from the notebook and plug it into the computer where you downloaded the driver
  5. Create some directory on that flash drive (for example drivers), then go to 7zFM and press the “Extract” button and select the directory you just created on the USB drive, and press OK. 7zFM will extract drivers to the USB drive.
  6. Plug the USB drive back into the notebook. Press Shift+F10 to open the command prompt.

Usually, Windows will assign the letter D to your USB drive. You can test it by running this command:

dir D:\

if you see the content of your USB drive then, it is the correct letter. If you see an error, then run this command:

diskpart

then type

list volume

and press Enter. You need to find the appropriate row for your USB drive. Usually, it has the label ESD-USB like in the text below:

  Volume ###  Ltr  Label        Fs     Type        Size     Status     Info

  ----------  ---  -----------  -----  ----------  -------  ---------  --------

  Volume 0     C                NTFS   Partition    930 GB  Healthy    Boot

  Volume 1         Recovery     NTFS   Partition    499 MB  Healthy    Hidden

  Volume 2                      FAT32  Partition     99 MB  Healthy    System

  Volume 3     E   ESD-USB      FAT32  Removable     28 GB  Healthy

As you can see column Ltr has the letter E for ESD-USB. It is our letter. Type

exit

and press Enter to leave diskpart. If you are not sure, just execute:

dir X:\

After you closed diskpart for every letter you see there. Instead of X put that letter in question. And then final command:

pnputil /add-driver d:\drivers\*.inf /install

Instead of D, you should put the drive letter you found in the previous step. If you created a different directory on the USB drive, then you should use that name in the command above.

If everything is done correctly then you will see a message that Windows correctly installed the driver. If not, probably you downloaded the wrong driver. You can double-check this by executing this command in your notebook:

pnputil /enum-devices /problem /ids

This command will display all devices that Windows didn’t find drivers for. You need to find the Instance ID for a device that has a Class Name as Net or perhaps Network. You see something like this:

Instance ID:                PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_24FB&SUBSYS_21108086&REV_10\3C58C2FFFF2DBFD600

Device Description:         Intel(R) Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168

Class Name:                 Net

Class GUID:                 {4d36e972-e325-11ce-bfc1-08002be10318}

Manufacturer Name:          Intel Corporation

As you can see, there is an Instance ID for the Net class, and you need part of the text until the REV block. Something like this:

PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_24FB&SUBSYS_21108086

Then try to find it on the second computer in the driver’s .INF file. If you see that line there, then it is the correct driver. But there is a chance that you have 2 network cards (or more), and you may need to install a second driver and repeat it.

After that Windows will see Wi-Fi or your local network and allow you to continue normal setup. I think Windows should allow you to specify the network driver manually at this stage to void doing all these manual steps or even better to add network drivers to installation.

Just in case, if nothing still working, you can install Windows 11 without a network as described here.

I hope it helps someone.

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