Should You Update Your Drivers?

Category: Hardware

I've seen ads for software that scans your computer, looking for device drivers that need to be updated. I'm not even sure what a driver is, but if everything seems to be working fine, do I really need to update them?

What is a Device Driver?

Device drivers, commonly called just "drivers," are small programs that act as translators between your operating system and the hardware devices it uses. Every hardware device needs a driver. Your printer, scanner, mouse, keyboard, hard drive, graphics card and network adapter are all examples of devices that require a software driver in order to respond to commands from the operating system.

For example, when you hit the Print button, Windows issues the generic command "print," and a device driver translates that command into the specific instructions needed by your particular make and model of printer.

Windows comes with a vast library of drivers. When Windows is installed, it scans your computer for attached devices and tries to match them with drivers from its library. Likewise, when you plug a new device into a Windows system, Windows looks for an appropriate driver in its library. If the right driver for a device is not in Windows' library, you will be prompted to supply it (typically, on a CD included with your hardware device).
Device Driver Update

Install the driver and you're done, right? Well, not always. Hardware makers do issue updated drivers occasionally. Whether you install them or not is up to you.

Do I Really Need This Driver?

Most driver updates are performance-enhancers. They may fix minor but irritating glitches in previous versions. Often, these glitches are so minor that they pertain only to particular PC models and do not affect the majority of users.

Sometimes you'll need to update a device driver if you move to a newer operating system. For example, you might have a printer or scanner that worked fine under Windows XP. You upgrade to Windows 7, and now it doesn't work. A quick trip to the vendor's website should help you find a driver written specifically for that device and operating system. In most cases, you will simply download and run an EXE file to install the new driver, then restart your computer. If that's not the case, look for instructions on the vendor's site.

A few driver updates patch security vulnerabilities that might enable bad guys to infiltrate your computer - if they bothered to take advantage of the vulnerabilities. It's just not worth a hacker's time to write a virus targeting the driver for one of several thousand devices. Beside, security-related driver updates generally find their way automatically onto most users' systems via Windows Update.

Most people don't bother looking for driver updates unless they are having a problem with a hardware device. After all, it isn't broken, why fix it? By the way, Windows Device Manager is not a reliable indicator of whether your drivers are up to date. Device Manager tells you only whether a driver is working, not whether it's the latest and greatest version.

Watch Out For These Driver Update Gotchas

There are many so-called "driver updaters" available online. These programs scan your system's drivers, tell you which ones are out of date, and offer to fetch and install the latest drivers for you. Sounds neat, until you realize there's a fee for all of this. Then you may also realize that you have no way of knowing whether the drivers installed by such services are really the latest drivers, or even if they are malware in disguise.

Don't just Google the name of your device and download a new driver from the first website that pops up. Aside from Windows Update, the only trustworthy source of drivers is the support website of the hardware manufacturer. If you are having an issue with a particular device, look for a more recent driver on the maker's site. But updating drivers just for the sake of "keeping current" is not worth the effort.

Do you have something to say about device drivers? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Should You Update Your Drivers?"

Posted by:

George
25 Aug 2011

I have worked with computers since the early 1960's and never update a driver unless the hardware is not working properly. I have found that sometimes the purported manufacturer's driver does not work correctly and have had to find the actual manufacturer and obtain a driver from them.
This is particularly the case with new operating systems (like Windows 7).


Posted by:

Ronald Houts
25 Aug 2011

Is there a free or low cost reliable driver updater avaiable?


Posted by:

Doug
25 Aug 2011

Bob, I have a "why" question for you. Why do device manufacturers drop legacy device drivers from their website. They've got to know that some of their devices are still in service in somebody's machine. Just consulting failed searches on their website would tell them so. Are they trying to save server memory space? Maybe trying to cause a device to become obsolete so that a new one would be required? Ten or even 15 years of availability doesn't seen unreasonable to me. By keeping the drivers available, maybe in a sub-category named Legacy no-longer-supported, they could help those who are tempted to buy service from third-parties whose names include: xxxMax, xxxxGuide,xxxxDownload, xxxZone, etc. I admit I've resorted to third-party services in the past and then held onto my seat in hopes that the posted/shared driver was not corrupt or worse.
Don't you just love "why" questions?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Your suspicion about planned obsolescence is probably the best answer.


Posted by:

Peter Scheffler
25 Aug 2011

Updating my drivers was recently a big help for me. I was getting a Windows STOP error (Blue Screen of Death) numerous times a day that said I might have a problem with a device driver, but it did not specify which one. It also could have been bad memory or perhaps other things. After trying many solutions, none of which worked, I was about to reinstall Windows. (I couldn't even restore to any of my restore points.) While starting to delete items I did not want to back up before I reinstalled, I came across one of the driver update programs I had subscribed to when I had had problems a couple of years ago but had forgotten about. I resubscribed, and it found several drivers I could update. I know it cost me a few dollars when I could have hunted for and then searched through the various websites for my devices, but it was well worth it to save the time. And yes, it did solve the problem. Knock on wood, no occurrences for two weeks now, even when I max out my memory and CPU. Having dodged a bullet, I'm investigating the best way to back up everything not already on my external hard drives in case I do need to reinstall.


Posted by:

R Henry
25 Aug 2011

Point well taken, although Secunia PSI 2.0 is free, effective, mostly automatic, and patches potentially harmful vulnerabilities. I have no affiliation with Secunia.


Posted by:

Lucy
25 Aug 2011

I am now wary of ever updating a driver after my experience. I bought a new laptop and used the Microsoft wizard for transferring everything from the old laptop to the new one, via a flash drive. I then took the old laptop back to its original factory settings so my kids could use it. I reinstalled only what was needed from original software dvd's and downloads of updates, but now the touch pad does not work properly at all. Somehow in all the downloads, I suspect a newer version of the driver was installed. (I wish I knew if it was possible to separate out just the old touch pad driver from the wizard info on the flash drive and get the touch pad back to how it was. Ideas anyone??? )
This is a great site .... thanks Bob.


Posted by:

Andy
25 Aug 2011

I agree totally that these programs are not worth it. I managed to get a trial version of one of these so called Driver finder/updaters. Out Of the driver updates that it suggested for the "Out of Date" drivers, about HALF were the WRONG driver and some of these recommended drivers were out of date themselves!!!
I did complain about this but the company, even though they confirmed that they had received my email, NEVER replied. I wonder why!!!


Posted by:

paleolith
25 Aug 2011

One time I was stupid enough to update a driver for my chipset. My PC refused to boot. I had to restore an image backup. I agree with Bob: don't update your drivers unless you have a bonafide reason.


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
25 Aug 2011

Bob, I agree with you, totally. If, your device is having issues, go to the manufacturers website & look for 'updated' drivers. If, there are none, than you fairly well know, that it may be time to get a newer device.

As to Secunia PSI, I have used it & it is for keeping 'security' updates on programs, not devices. Secunia PSI is a security program. Programs do not need to have driver updates, they need security updates. Drivers & driver updates are for devices (mice, keyboards, Video Cards, Sound Cards, so on and so forth), only.

However, I did find that, Secunia PSI works very well, to the point that if, you have several 'legacy' programs, there isn't a solution most times. What you must do, to stop getting 'warnings', is to list the program as 'Ignore'.

I stopped using Secunia PSI, due to the fact that I was getting tired of using the 'Ignore' feature, more than I was 'updating' security issues, with programs. I know, that I probably need to rebuild or upgrade my older computer, but, right now, money is tight.

One note about Secunia PSI, is that it did not seem to be a resource hog! I really liked that. It simply ran 'quietly' in the background & worked.

Very rarely do you find geeks using any program, that is a 'general fix all and do all' in one program. Oh, geeks will use plenty of programs to 'assist' them, but, when the real thing needs to be done, they usually look at the manufacturers website's support area, to find their answers.


Posted by:

Wayne
26 Aug 2011

I have used SlimDrivers (which is free) for the past few months . . . initially found several drivers were out of date . . . installed them one by one . . . no problems.

Became aware of this utility from

http://www.pcworld.com/article/218635/free_slimdrivers_helps_keep_drivers_working.html

Give this link a read and maybe try it.


Posted by:

John Mihaljevic
26 Aug 2011

Drivers, like any sofware, need to be obtained carefully and safely, then kept up-to-date equally carefully and safely. There shouldn't be any problem if software is acquired from trusted sources, such as FileHippo or CNet. Nor should there be any problem with software recommended by trusted and reliable informants, such as yourself.

Problems arise when software, of any kind, is acquired indiscriminately, from possibly dubious sources.

JUST BE CAREFUL.

Specifically, I use SlimDrivers, from www.driverupdate.net, to keep my drivers up-to-date. Even the free, manual, version is easy to use, and causes no problems.


Posted by:

Steven Latus
02 Sep 2011

You may also want to back up all your drivers with a program such as Double Driver (freeware), downloadable from http://www.boozet.org/dd.htm.


Posted by:

update drivers
02 Nov 2011

I download driver scanner to update my drivers to the latest version, and the performance has got a great improvement. In fact, whatever you want to get hp support drivers, dell support drivers, other brand dirvers,the update driver software can provide you the best services. The driver scanner can be downloaded and tell you how to update drivers in detail.


Posted by:

Tom Bremeier
30 Jan 2012

Is there a technicions software that will check all hardware and/or drivers in a desktop system?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Secunia PSI does that for application software. Not sure if it does drivers.


Posted by:

Danshuz
17 Jan 2013

I am using a 6 year old HP laptop. (I am not a geek). Last winter I was having the Blue Screen of Death and freezes. Then I downloaded a free scan from UniBlue. I had 11 outdated drivers which they replaced. My computer performance improved. Twice I had problems because the automatic scan replaced a driver that altered peformance. I turned off the program b/c it was slowing down my computer by running in the background. Considering your comment abt avoiding such programs I do not know whether to renew.It did work for me. Thanks Bob for your column, you are going to make me a geek, which I would love to be.


Posted by:

Bill Veik
16 Feb 2013

SlimDrivers has worked perfectly. Set restore points before each attempted driver download/install.


Posted by:

Pierre
17 Feb 2013

I am using a FREE driver scanner from https://www.slimwareutilities.com/ and till now I did not have any complaint. Any experience from users is the most welcome.


Posted by:

Springbob
21 Mar 2014

Ref. "driver updaters" and other not-so-nicers on the web. Following your (or was it Leo`s?) advice I look for Manufacturers` genuine URLs. They`re getting harder to find among all the free-loaders. Why-oh-why don´t the real ones come top of the Google list, through sheer force of hits? Maybe it`s because Manufacturers employ inept PR agents.

eg. Flash player download is generic. Adobe Flash player download is not. Adobe could have registered Flash playr (or some other nitch) to protect us and also, their product integrity.


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