What is the Windows Hardware Compatibility List?

Definition of Windows HCL & how to use it to check hardware compatibility

The Windows Hardware Compatibility List, usually just called the Windows HCL, is, very simply, a list of hardware devices compatible with a particular version of a Microsoft Windows operating system.

Once a device has passed the Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) process, the manufacturer can use a "Certified for Windows" logo (or something very similar) in their advertising, and the device is allowed to be listed in the Windows HCL.

The Windows Hardware Compatibility List is usually just called the Windows HCL, but you may see it under many different names, like HCL, Windows Compatibility Center, Windows Compatibility Product List, Windows Catalog, or Windows Logo'd Product List.

When Should You Use the Windows HCL?

Most of the time, the Windows Hardware Compatibility List serves as a handy reference when purchasing hardware for a computer you intend to install a newer version of Windows onto. You can usually assume that most PC hardware is compatible with an established version of Windows, but it's probably wise to double-check for compatibility with a version of Windows that hasn't been on the market very long.

The Windows HCL can also sometimes be a useful troubleshooting tool for certain STOP errors (Blue Screens of Death) and Device Manager error codes. While rare, it's possible that some errors that Windows reports are related to a particular piece of hardware could be due to a general incompatibility between Windows and that piece of hardware.

You could look for the troubled piece of hardware in the Windows HCL to see if it's listed as incompatible with your version of Windows. If so, you'd know that was the issue and could either replace the hardware with a make or model that is compatible, or contact the hardware maker for more information on updated device drivers or other plans for compatibility.

How to Use the Windows HCL

Visit the Windows Compatible Products List page to begin.

The options you can fill out include the product name, company name, D & U status, and operating system.

Not sure which to choose? See What Version of Windows Do I Have? if you're not sure which operating system version you're running.

You can search the Windows HCL for tablets, PCs, smart card readers, removable storage, hard drives, etc.

For example, when looking for Windows 10 compatibility information on an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 video card, you can clearly see that it's compatible in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of not only Windows 10 but also Windows 8 and Windows 7.

Windows HCL showing NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780

Selecting the Download Certification Report link on any of the products from the list will show you the specific certification reports, proving that Microsoft has certified it for use in specific versions of Windows. The reports are even dated so you can see when each product was certified.