Where to find them and places to avoid.
Device Manager will not tell you whether or not a device driver is out of date; that’s not its job. What it tells you is if the device driver is installed and working at some basic level.
Finding out whether your device drivers are out of date isn’t simple, and neither is getting the updates.
I’ll review the options and describe what I do.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Getting Driver Updates
Driver updates, when needed, are best supplied by Windows Update or directly from the device manufacturer. Other driver-updating utilities should not be trusted. In general, however, drivers need not be updated outside of automated mechanisms already in place unless you’re experiencing a problem you suspect is driver-related.
A quickie refresher: Windows is designed to work with all sorts of hardware, even hardware that might not yet exist.
Windows manages to do this by writing programs to use a fairly generic, albeit complex, interface. When you set up the machine or install new hardware, software is installed to translate those generic instructions into whatever the hardware on the machine requires.
That low-level software that directly controls your hardware device is called a device driver, or just driver for short.1
For example, your video card’s driver knows how to translate generic Windows instructions to “draw a pixel here” or “change the resolution to this” into the specific instructions required by the specific video card in your computer. Different video card, different driver, but Windows programs still do the same things in the same generic way.
Some key points:
- Drivers are software.
- Drivers are specific to the hardware for which they’re designed.
- Drivers, like any software, can have bugs and security vulnerabilities.
That means that every so often, they need updates.
Is a driver out of date?
The real question is “How do I know if there’s a more up-to-date version of the device drivers installed on my machine?”
If the drivers were installed with Windows itself, your answer is very simple: Windows Update will handle any updates for you. That’s all most people need to do.
If your drivers were not installed as part of Windows — and it can be hard to tell — things get more complicated.
There are several third-party tools that may tell you, and I never, ever use them.
I find most to be the classic “we’ll tell you what’s wrong for free, but if you want us to fix it, it’ll cost you money” model. There’s not really anything inherently wrong with that approach, but it certainly rubs me the wrong way. Some are scams or close to it.
So I avoid the entire class of scanning tools falling into that model. I recommend you avoid them as well.
When it comes to drivers, not knowing if a driver is out of date doesn’t really bother me much.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but if it’s broke…
I look for driver updates only when I’m trying to track down a problem with a specific driver or device.
In other words, if things are working, I leave well enough alone.
I realize this is at odds with a message I and others harp on: “keep your system as up to date as possible.” My rationale is this:
- The majority of drivers are already handled by Windows Update. While newer drivers are often available directly from hardware manufacturers, issues dealing with security — the only thing I care about, if I’m not having other problems — are more than likely pushed through the Windows Update pipeline.
- Drivers not handled by Windows Update are so diverse that targeting any one of them for a potential security vulnerability just isn’t worth the hackers’ time. Effort spent creating malware for a specific video driver, for example, targets only those people with that driver, and then only if the driver is not updated by Windows Update.
- Historically, driver updates are risky. Driver updates that come directly from manufacturers often don’t have the wide breadth of testing that ensures they’ll work properly on all machines. Put another way: updating drivers without reason can be risky.
Where to find drivers
As I said, I don’t recommend paying driver download utilities to do the work for you. Some may be legitimate and work, but in my opinion, it’s too risky for a couple of reasons:
- They may not be legitimate or work.
- You don’t know where they get their drivers, or if the drivers they provide are actually up to date.
If you’re going to go somewhere other than Windows Update for drivers, I recommend only one destination: the hardware manufacturer.
Start with the computer manufacturer, especially if yours is a name-brand computer. They often provide all the drivers on their support site. Others will point you to the component manufacturer’s site, perhaps even directly to the page you need.
If the computer manufacturer doesn’t help with either direct downloads or pointing to the right component manufacturer, then this gets old very fast, which is another reason I only recommend doing it if you’re actually chasing down a problem you’re having with a specific piece of hardware.
If that’s not the case, then the best place to get driver updates is simple: nowhere at all.
Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.
I'll see you there!
Download (right-click, Save-As) (Duration: 7:13 — 7.9MB)
Footnotes & References
1: You may also hear the terms “hardware driver” or even “software driver”.
15 comments on “Where Do I Get Driver Updates?”
“There are several third-party tools that may tell you, and I never, ever use them.” There is one possible exception to that. Some laptops and brand-name desktops come with driver update programs for the specific drivers for that machine. They are downloaded directly from either their own website of the component manufacturer’s website. Even then, as Leo said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The odds of a bug are low but not zero.
Your advice on the driver update programs is ‘Spot On’, Leo. I have tried at least 3 driver update programs from very reputable software companies. While they usually recommended the correct update, they occasionally miss-identified the correct update resulting in failure of the device. I found that the PC manufacturer is the best source for driver updates even long after the PC warranty has expired.
It’s hard to know if your driver is current if you don’t know what drivers are installed on your PC, what version they’re at, and what company wrote them. This info and more is easily provided by DriverView from http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/driverview.html
Yes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I do a lot of tinkering as background work to my IT support work. I’ve found hundreds of ways to screw things up and updating drivers, although not inherently bad by itself as an exercise, opens up potential other problems. Unless something is not working or seems to be slower or flakier than you remember, leave it alone. And as for external ‘Driver update’ sites, as Leo says, “…some of them are scams, or close to it”. (Similar to the FREE Virus scan sites one of my clients visited today and which is causing me grief even as I type now)
Having been in the computer repair business for several years now I’ve found that 99% of these ‘driver update’ programs are either total scams or want a lot of money for something that YOU can do for free, usually in minutes.
First, I highly recommend only getting updates, whenever possible, from your computer’s manufacturer’s website (usually on the ‘Support’ page). If they don’t have current updates (and believe me – some don’t) I usually use C/Net’s Download.com site or Softpedia. They often still have drivers for older computers that the manufacturers have deleted from their servers long ago.
You can also try Intel and Nvidia (providing your computer uses contains these components – many do). They can usually, with your permission, scan your PC to see if they have available updates.
When you use the ‘Search Automatically’ option in Device Manager Windows is only searching in Microsoft Updates archive, not the entire internet as it sounds!
As Leo said – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I have had one or two difficulties with driver updates.
My last laptop supposedly had an Nvidia graphics card, but installing the Nvidia drivers caused severe problems – I had to use the drivers from the laptop manufacturer’s website.
It also seems that the drivers from Microsoft are written by them, not the hardware manufacturer, so may or may not work in specific instances.
Herein lies somewhat of a rub…if you have Windows 10, you get automatic updates regardless of whether you want them. If your device manufacturer says X driver is the best for your situation and you installed that and Microsoft sends Y, then you may have a problem. If you use a program supplied by the device’s manufacturer to automatically update it could go back and forth. This was a major mistake made in the name of trying to keep all 10 installations running in about the same state, whether or not it would be the best answer.
This is why I went back to 7. Windows 10 even installed from a thumb drive after the Get 10 app told me the video card would not do, and that should have been my sign. Those of us that like having some degree of control over how our computer works have problem with that and those who don’t have a clue how their computers work get up in arms and claim Microsoft said they would have no problems.
And yes, always know your hardware. Go to the websites and find what you need. Save it, whether you backup (as we all know we should) or not. Save all the disks you get with it, if you do get any. Eventually you may have to reinstall anyway (hard drive may fail, you may not be able to save Windows after all) and having those drivers will make it a lot faster when you do.
First of all I seemed to have misplaced the last reply (it’s for Bob) but I also have to ask you if you’ve tried to install the scanner in XP compatibility mode?
I do keep an XP machine for what I need to use and can’t run otherwise, although it’s down to just a scanner like you. It seems to be harder to find a standalone scanner that isn’t combined with a dubious printer and fax “all in one”. So I completely understand your plight.
First, thanks for all the advice and tips over the years Leo. I’m more of a reader than a commenter but as I think this is an important issue here’s my tuppence worth. For quite a few years now I’ve been the ‘go to guy’ for friends and family. Whether it’s a Pc or a laptop, Drivers have always been a problem, especially when someone has an old but much loved machine. The older the machine, the harder it has become to source the Drivers. I have tried probably every Driver program out there over the years and the vast majority are scams.
Then, about 18months ago I think, I came across a program called SlimDrivers (free version) from SlimWare Utilities. I downloaded version 2.3.1 and saved it to a usb and it has served me well ever since. It has even found the missing drivers for a 10 year old laptop that I couldn’t find anywhere.
When installing it don’t forget to untick ‘My Pc Backup’ and it will also direct you to download the latest version which I never bothered to do as the version I’m using works perfectly well. Also go into it’s settings and untick ‘Run at start up’ and when you’ve run the program it remains open in the notification area so you might just want to right click and exit out of it.
When installed, just run a scan and it will list all your missing Drivers. You can then download and install them individually and create a restore point for each one (or not) if you wish. I usually leave the top two until last and I definitely create a restore point for these as they are usually the Audio Driver and the Graphics Driver. These have always been the hardest to source but can also cause the most difficulty if they are the incorrect version. That said, I’ve had no difficulties installing either of these Drivers to any machine missing the Driver. I’ve only had a problem when I’ve attempted to update an existing Driver to a newer version but having already created the restore point it was never a great problem. Also, when using the program to check for Driver updates as opposed to finding missing Drivers, Slim Drivers also tells you if the Driver you already have installed is newer than the version you are about to install and you can therefore cancel the particular update.
This program has done what I need it to do on any machine that I’ve used it on and personally once my Drivers are up to date I usually go into ‘Programs and Features’ and delete it once it’s done it’s job
I hope some of your readers may find it of use.
“In other words, if things are working, I leave well enough alone.” – That’s absolutely the best advice, with one exception: if you’re a serious PC gamer, you’ll likely want to get the latest drivers from your video card directly from the manufacturer as these will enable you to alter the graphical settings and will likely provide better in-game performance.
A couple of points worth noting in relation to the drives supplied via Windows Update: 1) They’ve been Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) tested and so may be less likely to cause problems than drivers obtained from other sources; 2) They’re supplied in a stripped-down form: they’ll enable your hardware to work, but will not necessarily include the control panels and tools that would be bundled with the drivers from manufacturers’ websites. For example, with the WHQL drivers, you’ll likely not get the utility that tells you whether your printer is low on ink or the control panel that enables you to alter your video card’s settings. Some people will not want those control panels and tools; others will.
“I avoid the entire class of scanning tools that fall into that model.” – Yeah, me too. IMO, there absolutely no circumstances in which it makes sense to use these tools. The best advice is to avoid them completely.
Hi, I hope you are doing well and healthy. Concerning drivers. I have an old HP mEDIA cENTER that had XP on it. Ii had problems. I tried an XP iso to refresh it. But some of the drivers were not loaded and I couldnt find them as I am not as experienced as you (and others). Are Windows XP drivers available? This is more of a nostalgic thing for me as my first good computer was this one and I want to get it back into shape for just playing around with it, and maybe leaving it to my grandchildren to play around with. They have Linux Elementary on them right now, and everything works.
Linux has a lot of good learning software and Linux itself can be a great learning experience for your grandchildren.
I would check the hp site to see if they still have any of those drivers available.
That point : «You don’t know where they get their drivers, or if the drivers they provide are actually up to date.» is so true.
Many years ago, in the 90’s when I was still clueless about PCs, I tried a driver updater. It detected that an up to date driver was «out of date» and replaced with one that was a full TWO major version older than the current driver. Apparently, it checked only the minor version number. The current version was something like 220.127.116.11 and the version in it’s catalogue something like 18.104.22.168. Drop the major version and you get : .0.1.1 VS. .3.0.2.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
True, but how do you know it ain’t broke? Sometimes, there are security vulnerabilities which can leave your machine exposed to malware.