[TIP] Is it Time to Update Your Drivers?

Category: Hardware , Software

One common question from AskBob readers is “Do I need to update my drivers?” They mention popups appearing on their screen, with warnings like 'Your drivers are out of date.' Some are getting emails or even phone calls to that effect. Some users upgrading to Windows 11 have experienced driver issues. Here's the scoop on device drivers, what they are, what they do, when (and when not) to update them...

Should You Update Your Device Drivers?

One reader said “I am not even sure what a driver is, but if everything seems to be working fine, do I really need to update them?” So let's start by defining the term. Device drivers, more commonly called "drivers," are small programs that act as "translators" between your operating system and the hardware devices inside (or attached to) your computer. Every hardware device needs a driver. Your printer, scanner, mouse, keyboard, hard drive, sound 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. Device drivers are typically supplied by the hardware vendor. You've probably had the experience of purchasing a printer or mouse, and being prompted to insert a "setup CD". That disk contains the software and drivers needed to enable your device to communicate with your computer.

Device Driver Update

Windows also 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 found, you will be prompted to supply it. That driver may be on a CD included with your hardware device, or you may need to find the driver file online.

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.

Let's be clear about one thing -- those popups on your screen are ads, not dire warnings from your computer's operating system. They're pushing software that scans your computer, looking for device drivers that MAY need to be updated. Some of these products are outright scams or malware in disguise. Others are semi-legit, but misleading. The phone calls warning about missing or outdated drivers are DEFINITELY scams. See my article [ALERT] Fake Tech Support Scammers Are Calling for more on that.

Do I Really Need This Driver?

If you've determined that you absolutely need to update one or more of your device drivers, I strongly urge you to use System Restore to create a restore point first. Then if anything goes wrong, you can undo the update.

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.

WINDOWS 11 TIP: 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, but after upgrading to a newer Windows version, now it doesn't work. A quick search for "Windows 11 drivers" turned up stories related to problems with AMD chipset drivers, and availability of new Nvidia video drivers. You may need to update a driver BEFORE you can successfully complete a Windows 11 upgrade. If, during an upgrade attempt, you see 'This PC can't run Windows 11' or encounter error code 0x800F0923, or errors starting with 0xC1900101 or 0x80090011, you may have a driver compatibility problem.

Some other commonly reported post-upgrade problems are no sound, USB ports not working, or problems with screen resolution. 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. Some devices will even update themselves directly from the vendor website.

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.

One "edge case" is when you need an OLDER driver for a piece of equipment. In my article HP Playing Dirty Tricks? I described a situation where my HP inkjet printer was rendered useless by an automatic update from HP. The new driver would not allow me to use third-party refilled ink cartridges, claiming they were “damaged.” I fixed the problem by rolling back that update, and installing an older driver that did not require “new and genuine HP” cartridges.

Watch Out For These Driver Update Gotchas

There are many so-called "driver updaters" or "driver boosters" 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 correct drivers, the latest ones, or even if they are malware in disguise.

If you do need an updated device driver, 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're not sure, put down the mouse and back away slowly. Make a phone call or send an email to the support department and ask for their advice.

Here's my bottom line on driver updates: If you are having an issue with a printer, scanner, mouse, keyboard or other peripheral 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, and may do more harm than good.

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

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Most recent comments on "[TIP] Is it Time to Update Your Drivers?"

Posted by:

Gerald Rudolph
19 Jul 2023

Is OBit Driver Booster 10.5 safe to use?

Posted by:

19 Jul 2023

Gerald, I assume you are actually referring to iobit Drive Booster. The real answer is why pay for something that you can easily do for yourself.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2023

Referring to drivers, my computer is based on an Intel system and they provide an "Intel Driver and Support Assistant", which can be downloaded online (at no cost). Just a simple click on their utility and it goes to their website, analyzes your system and looks for out of date drivers, and then updates anything that's necessary. Great utility for those blasted drivers!

Posted by:

19 Jul 2023

I've been putting off Windows 11 in 7 day increments for months. Is there any way to make it go away, or should I take my chances and allow the update to 11?

Posted by:

19 Jul 2023

I will never buy another HP printer, because of the games they play to prevent (or make it difficult) to use third-party cartridges. Bye, bye HP!

Posted by:

Dave Cooley
19 Jul 2023

Great article. Thank you!

Posted by:

19 Jul 2023

How ironic that your article is full of ads for driver update software from pchelpsoft and driversupport.

Posted by:

19 Jul 2023

I subscribe to another Windows newsletter, "Ask Woody Plus". They recently discussed driver updates. Like Bob, they discouraged grabbing every driver update you are offered. They recommended going to the website of your computer manufacturer once a year or so and getting any drivers they recommend for your computer.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr. (Oldster)
19 Jul 2023

My first PC was a Gateway IBM-compatible device powered by an 8088 CPU, 640KB RAM, and MS-DOS 3.1 (or was it 3.3? IDNR). It had a 100MB MFM hard drive and a 14" EGA color display. After the hard drive on that machine suffered suffered a head crash, I learned to assemble a newer machine with an 80386 CPU and some RAM soldered to the motherboard because the MFM technology supported by my Gateway computer had become obsolete and I could not find a replacement drive. From the time I assembled that PC to this, the topic of updating hardware drivers and whether we should do so has been an ongoing discussion.

When I got my first car (a '65 Chevy BelAire station wagon), my Dad taught me to change the brakes. While teaching me to do that, he told me "If if ain't broke, don't 'fix' it!." That admonition has stuck with me over the years even though I'm not sure I really remember how to repair a set of drum brakes any more. That is how I deal with any device today regardless of its technology (electronic or mechanical). If it's working O.K. I leave well enough alone. If it acts up I try to find out why and fix it. If for some valid reason I can't fix it or the repair costs more either financially or in required effort than what I end up with is worth to me I replace it. When I replace a device or component, or get anything new/newer, I always try to get the best I can afford even when it hurts a bit. I have found that I get the best bang for the buck in the long run and the item ultimately ends up costing me less over its usable lifetime by doing so.

This policy has served me well over the years. Essentially, when it comes to device drivers in any of my PCs, I adhere to my Dad's original admonition "If it ain't broke, don't 'fix' it!" and when I see a system notification to update some driver (such notifications usually refer to a specific device category if not the attached device in question) and there is no update in Windows Update, I go to the manufacturer's/seller's support website to look for an update. I have seen those so called 'free' driver updater adds almost since the Internet was new and in every case, the app scans the system then tells me I have old/at risk drivers, and wants me to pay to get newer drivers. Anytime I see an add that is purportedly for something free, then asks for money, I don't "back away slowly" like Bob recommends, I "get the h*ll out'ta Dodge" as fast as I can, and I don't look back. I suggest you do the same.


Ernie (oldster)

Posted by:

Gerald Rudolph
19 Jul 2023

Mike, IObit Malware Fighter 10 is Free. Thanks anyway

Posted by:

19 Jul 2023

HP printers: Yes, they play that dirty trick. However, other brands I've had seem to do something similar.
Iobit Driver Booster: I've had that a long time. On pretty rare occasions it says there's an updated driver for something. I've let it install. I haven't noticed either any real improvement or any sort of malware. (Thank goodness.) However, Driver Booster also regularly prompts me to upgrade so I can install eleven (yes, 11) drivers to upgrade my gaming experience. I don't play any games other than solitaire on my computers!

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr. (Oldster)
19 Jul 2023


Since your computer is asking you to upgrade to Windows 11, I'll assume that it meets or exceeds the Windows 11 system requirements here. If you are using the latest version of Windows 10, and you are satisfied with it, there is no practical reason to upgrade until Windows 10 reaches its EOL (end of life) and AFAIK you can enable all the security features available in Windows 11 in Windows 10. The difference is that you have to enable those features manually including those found in the UEFI (the new equivalent of the system BIOS) screen. Since I only use Windows 10 on my older laptop PC that will never meet the Windows 11 system requirements because its CPU is too old, I'm not plagued with those notifications and I don't know how to disable them. (You may find a solution by searching for how to disable those notifications online).

I use Windows 11 here on both my desktop and my primary laptop PCs. I like the Windows 11 user interface and the transition was not too difficult for me but YMMV. Nowadays, when I try to do anything at all complex in Windows 10 on my older laptop PC, the user interface feels a bit kludgy to me but that may be due to the age of my older laptop PC. Any complaints I may have about either OS have more to do with the way Microsoft handles advertising by putting adds everywhere in the OS regardless the version. The only conceivable advantage I can see to upgrading to Windows 11 now is that you won't see all those nagging notifications anymore.

The safest way to really know what to do is to install Windows 11 in a virtual machine so you can try it out without making any changes to your computer. The single caveat to this approach is that Windows 11 will run notably slower in the VM than it would if installed on bare metal, replacing Windows 10. I use Oracle's Virtual Box here to create virtual machines. It's user friendly and relatively easy to use. If you choose that route, when you go to the Virtual Box download page, download the installer for Windows Hosts AND (further down the page) the VirtualBox (version number here) Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack. It will be useful after you create the VM.

I hope all this is helpful


Posted by:

Joe Peters
20 Jul 2023

How about using CCleaner for driver updates? Sometimes, CCleaner’s recommended driver update won’t install.

Posted by:

Don Mosburg
20 Jul 2023

Hello Is there anybody out there? Has anyone ever heard of PCMatic? They watch out for me and all my computing needs including out of date drivers and some other stuff. I bought an evergreen subscription in 2012 and still rely on them to keep me from stranding myself on a deserted island with internet and a self fouled up laptop. They have added services that keep me smiling without knowing why! PCMatic is the ulltimate computer accessery! Next time Donald Trump is our president, he should buy PCMatic services and hand them out to his loyal supporters and true patriots that love these United States and need them to be great again

Posted by:

20 Jul 2023

Thank you Bob for another very informative article! I use C Cleaner, and it is a good software package; however, I am hesitant to use its driver updater. Perhaps someone here can answer, is that particular driver updater any good? Thank you!

Posted by:

20 Jul 2023

I agree with Bob: if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
The exception in my case has been from time to time with video card drivers - sometimes an update has been needed to obtain extra functionality, eg custom resolution or extending a desktop across two monitors.

Posted by:

27 Jul 2023

Absolutely: If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
If you're not tech savvy, don't mess with drivers.
If you can't deal with computer disasters, you have no business updating drivers. Don't let any magic tool "automatically" change your drivers - that includes a Windows update - ESPECIALLY a Windows update. Got it?

Posted by:

12 Aug 2023

How do we know what Windows Update is updating before the Win update program starts to run? As far as I am aware Win Update just starts to run and you are informed not to switch off your PC, if there is a way to vet the updates prior to the update starting it would be nice to be able to select the updates which you think are of benefit to your PC, and as these Win updates are quite frequent it would also be nice to be able to find past updates on your PC and Zap the ones not needed or taking up space

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