[SCAM?] Time to Update Your Drivers?

Category: Software

Lately, readers have been asking me if they need to update their drivers. Do popups keep appearing on your screen, with warnings like 'Your drivers are out of date'? Are you getting phone calls to that effect? 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?' Here's the scoop on device drivers, and when to update them...

Should You Update Your Device Drivers?

Let's be clear -- those popups 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 The phone calls warning about missing or outdated drivers are DEFINITELY scams.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 recent article [ALERT] Fake Tech Support Scammers Are Calling for more on that.

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 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.

Device Driver Update

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).

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?

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. It's also a good idea to make a full system backup, in case you have a hard drive failure which requires re-installing Windows from scratch.

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 or Windows 7. You upgrade to Windows 10, 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. 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" 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.

Here's my bottom line on driver updates: 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, and may do more hamr 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 "[SCAM?] Time to Update Your Drivers?"

Posted by:

26 Jan 2018

Thanks so much for a very informative email. I had always had a lot of questions about driver updates,and you have answered most of them.

Posted by:

Dr. Sheldon Cooper
26 Jan 2018

I agree with your "if it ain't broke don't fix it" recommendation. However, if/when you do need/want to update many drivers, I've had good luck with Driver Booster from IOBit. These are the same folks who provide Advanced System Care and I believe you have recommended ASC in a previous article. Just like ASC, DB is a free version, and has a paid version with more features.

Posted by:

26 Jan 2018

google snappy driver it a free driver updater. I use it all the time. If I fresh install windows i need drivers that windows don't install. this get it all

Posted by:

26 Jan 2018

There are some legitimate companies that sell driver updaters(AVG/Avast, Auslogics, etc). But you are correct that you don't need them. First, Microsoft will pretty much update your drivers for most hardware(but not all automatically, especially for security updates. They get the legitimate drivers from the manufacturers. And as you said, if you are suspicious that your driver is out of date, go to the manufacturer website and check there (usually under the support tab).

But if your hardware is working fine, there usually is no reason to update a driver. Many drivers support multiple models and versions of hardware. So when a new model comes out, they will release a new driver. But you don't need it if you don't have the new hardware.

As Sheldon said, "if it ain't broke don't fix it". That is especially true with drivers.

However, sometimes something important is needed. I expect we will see a number of updates for the the "meldown" and "spectre" security issue. But watch out. There are already scam fixes out there that install malware. Only accept fixes for this from Intel, Microsoft, your PC manufacturer, etc.

Posted by:

26 Jan 2018

thank you dr Sheldon cooper, I have often wondered about advanced system care & driver booster , you have eased my mind.

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
26 Jan 2018

I have had calls about needing to upgrade my drivers.
Then they asked me what version of MS Windows I am running.
And they hung up on me when I replied I run Linux... ;-3)

Posted by:

26 Jan 2018

Driver Booster is great for updating drivers and rarely, if at all, sends a bad driver or a harmful driver down to it's users ... I have 7 computers and use Driver Booster regularly and have only had problems with 1 of the 7 after updating. I no longer have the computer that had the problems and each of the seven I now have, have no problem with Driver Booster. But I do really dislike the way that Iobit places ads on my desktop to "upgrade" to the pay version or to download some other piece of software that I do not want to download and use. This is irritating. So I like (free) driver updaters, but I'm looking for something else to replace Driver Booster. Snappy Driver (from SourceForge.net may just be the application, but I must test first.

Posted by:

26 Jan 2018

I have used Iobit Driver Booster for years. I have had no problems updating drivers with it when they any available. Yesterday it updated the Realtek high def. audio and AMD high Def. audio and the sound on my external speakers sound more powerful than ever. What a difference an update can make.
For some reason, they boosted with power and I am loving it. So don't fear to use it. It has never damaged my computer. But the advice from Bob is good as always! Thank you, Bob!

Posted by:

26 Jan 2018

It's not uncommon for major Windows updates to break things that had been working great, by downloading and installing newer device drivers. I often get calls from people with computers that are several years old, complaining that their touchpads, displays, etc. are rendered useless each time Microsoft sends out a big one.

You can only prevent the routine Windows updates from overwriting your preferred drivers. There is no way to keep major updates from ruining your day, so I advise folks to keep copies of their older working drivers on a USB stick, for re-installation if a machine gets screwed up. (Of course those often still exist in the Windows.old file, but you'll likely sleep better knowing that you've got your backups somewhere other than on the harddrive and can lay hands on them quickly - if needed.)

Posted by:

26 Jan 2018

I no longer purchase any HP equipment because of their dirty tricks especially HP printers.

Posted by:

27 Jan 2018

I concur with the very first comment. Your articles are so very informative even the one on fake support services. I am familiar with that alarming feeling in the middle of trying to get assistance. If they are from India or even in India I find that suspect and annoying.
Thanks As Always,

Posted by:

Wild Bill
27 Jan 2018

Note in passing: Some driver updates are to extend functionality to newer processors and chipsets, as
they come available. If you are not the proud owner
of such a new piece, then the update functionality
may well be moot (or worse). As many have already
said, "If it ain't broke...".

Posted by:

27 Jan 2018

Bob, that is the most understandable explanation of what driver's absolutely ARE and what they actually do I've ever read. Thanks from a reader that grew up well before the digital age arrived.

Posted by:

Stan G. Duncan
27 Jan 2018

I just want to agree with what Sheldon and others have said above, that the Driver Booster program of Advanced System care has seemed to serve me well for many years. It doesn't pop up often, but every now and then it will say that this or that driver has been updated (and occasionally it will say "to click" here so that it can update its database). It's free, reliable, and I'm convinced a number of my programs run better because of it. If you get the paid version, you get other kinds of services, which I'm sure are good, but for basic updating, it's pretty good.

I was surprised that you didn't mention it or any of the other "brand name" driver updaters. Not everything that you get an offer for is a scam.

Posted by:

27 Jan 2018

Is there some kind of a rivalry going on with your informative blogs? It seems that each new topic outdoes [?] the previous one.
I am with those who have already voted for your wise words about "it isn't broken, why fix it?"...unless, of course, if driver update is security related.
A noteworthy hail should always go out to the old reliable >ControlPanel>DeviceManager>RightClick:Properties>SelectDriverTab for details and/or if properly working, etc.

Posted by:

27 Jan 2018

I cannot play my music on my HP Laptop, ever since it was upgraded to Windows 10! Even music from my SD card or USB Thumb drive will not play. The message on the monitor says something went wrong, unable to play this file!! Please help!
Thank you.

Posted by:

28 Jan 2018

You may wish to review your hardware settings within Win10:
In "Settings" menu from TaskBar>Click "Bluetooth&OtherDevices" icon>Select "SoundSettings" link on right side of the screen > The new pop-up window should have multiple tabs (x4) one of which is the "Playback device" settings/selection>You can 'Configure' or select 'Properties' of the current default device or change the default to the proper output device. I have had occasions where the default playback device may have been changed [for some reason] during updates/upgrades. In the 3rd tab at top, select the one that states "Sounds", which will enable you to test sound output from your selected (or default) playback device, for confirmation. You can achieve similar changes via ControlPanel as well as the "Settings" gear icon.

Posted by:

19 Feb 2018

This article should have appeared in December 2013. In January 2014, I made the mistake of clicking on one f those "Microsoft...recommended" ads. Some of us learn the hard way.

"Let the buyer beware." Advice I followed...until this ad appeared on a source I mistakenly trusted 100%.

Live & learn. A wiser but older fool.

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