Microsoft Windows update lists an optional driver update available: nVidia
Geforce 8800 GTX display software update size 110.5 Mb dated 4-22-2010.
Should I download and install these kinds of optional driver updates? My
graphics card is working properly, why should I install something that might
mess things up?
In a case like this, there’s certainly some merit to the “if it ain’t broke
don’t fix it” approach that you’re suggesting.
In fact, you don’t have to take the update – that’s one reason it’s marked as
However, I typically do, and I’ll explain why.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Driver updates can be tricky beasts. Because they deal with hardware at a
fairly low level, they can have a fairly dramatic impact on system performance,
both good and bad.
“The latest drivers” – which you’ll often hear people like me mentioning as
we troubleshoot various problems – are typically those offered by the
manufacturer of a particular piece of hardware. In your example, the latest and
greatest is likely available at nVidia’s own web site.
thought other than to click ‘yes’.”
It’s important to realize that’s not what you’re probably
getting from Windows Update.
Those “latest and greatest” from the vendor sites are typically just that –
the very latest. I tend to shy away from them unless I’m specifically
troubleshooting a problem that they stand a chance of correcting. Why? It’s
difficult to quantify, but to put it vaguely, they make me nervous; they’re
often “too new”. While they’ll have gone through the manufacturer’s own testing
and quality assurance process, that can vary dramatically from vendor to
vendor, and often doesn’t take into account the wide variety of systems and
configurations that are out there.
That’s where Microsoft’s Updates come in.
Before a driver shows up in Windows Update, not only will it have
(presumably) passed the manufacturer’s own testing, but Microsoft’s as
One of the things that Microsoft does take into account when testing Windows
or any component of Windows is the massive variation in hardware and software
configurations that are out in the “real world”. In fact, it’s one of the
reasons that it takes Microsoft so darned long to release software: the amount
of testing required is simply staggering.
The net result for me is that by the time something shows up on Windows
Update I’m fairly confident that it’ll probably work. In fact, I’ve had some
annoyances I’d been living with disappear after taking optional driver updates
to my system. I guess that’s some positive reinforcement.
Now, of course, the Microsoft haters will point out repeatedly and
vehemently that update so-and-so completely hosed their machine, or that
Windows Update regularly causes them grief.
And I certainly can’t dispute that.
Systems have become so complex that getting anything absolutely positively
100% correct for absolutely positively 100% of all possible machines – and in
particular doing so in any reasonable amount of time – is simply impossible. So
it becomes a situation where someone literally has to say “good enough” when it
perhaps fails only 1 out of a million machines instead of 1 in a thousand.
I’m making all these numbers up, of course, but consider – one in a million
is pretty darned good. Chances are that you’d never run into it, right? Now
figure that according to Microsoft predictions by now there are well over a
billion Windows installations. (*) That means that if there is a problem on 1 in a million
machines then 1,000 machines will see it.
If you’ve got one of those 1,000 machines it doesn’t matter that the odds
were in your favor by a huge factor, you still have a problem.
That’s what confidence means. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have a problem,
it means that you probably won’t have a problem.
And if you’re truly concerned, then you also control the steps you can take
- Backup first. Naturally, you should be backing up regularly
in which case this isn’t an additional step, but either way it’s
the step that can save you from almost anything, including an
optional driver update that causes you problems.
- Skip it. It’s optional. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I’d have missed out on a couple of annoyances being resolved, but they were
only annoyances – perhaps the risk of larger problems it too concerning for
you. No problem: skip it.
Me? I backup of course. Every night. Should I end up being “one in a
million”, I’m covered.
In fact, backups cover me for so many other types of problems that are
much more likely, I don’t even give that optional driver update much
thought other than to click “yes”.