Should you update your drivers?

February 16, 2010

Drivers are little software programs that tell windows how to talk to hardware. For example, if you purchase a new printer, you have to install the driver for the printer so that Windows will know how to talk to your new printer so you can actually print to it.

In the example of the printer, that is a piece of hardware on the outside of your computer, but there are several pieces of hardware on the inside of your computer that each need their own drivers as well.  This can vary from computer to computer depending on what expansion cards are plugged into your computer, but every computer has at least these devices that need drivers:

Motherboard chipset
Ethernet Port (AKA LAN or NIC)
Video (AKA Display)
Sound (AKA Audio)

As I said, your computer may have additional driver requirements, but these are the basics that all computers have. When you purchase a computer, the drivers are already loaded so that your computer is operational. When you add new hardware like a printer or a wireless card, you will need to install the CD that came with the device. That will install the drivers and often will install additional software that the device uses.

Over the years of ownership of your computer, Windows is updated, a lot of your software is updated, but your drivers generally are not updated. Some printers come with software that automatically updates your printer driver, but the 4 basic drivers listed above are generally not updated.

So the question is, should you update them.  The answer is not to bother updating your drivers unless you are running into some sort of problem. If you play games that have intensive graphics, then you may need to keep your video driver up to date in order for newer games to work.

Several of our customers have installed these programs that are supposed to automatically detect what hardware you have and download and install the latest drivers for them. Some of the better known driver update programs include Driver Detective, Driver Genius, Driver Agent, and Driver Guide. These types of programs sound like a really good idea. And they are a good idea. The problem is that it’s pretty common for one of these programs to download the wrong driver for your hardware. Then things stop working and it can cause a big mess. Because of this, we don’t recommend using these programs.

If you really want to update your drivers, the best way to do it is to have a list of EXACTLY what hardware you have. This means you need to know the make and model number. Then go to the manufacturer’s website and download the latest drivers.

If you have a Dell computer, you can go to Dell’s website and type in your service tag and it will give you a list of all of the drivers for your system. You can then download and install them. This would only include drivers for the hardware that came with your system. Any additional hardware you added later, like printers, would not be there. You would have to go to the hardware manufacturer’s website for your printer to get those drivers.

But again, we don’t recommend that you update your drivers. Drivers should generally only be updated if you are experiencing some sort of problem. If you really want  your drivers updated, it would be better to have us do it to avoid problems.

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