Make sure your computer is as up to date as it should be.
Drivers are another one of those “computer things” that are just so much confusing magic to the average computer user.
I’ll touch on what they are and my philosophy about how and when to update them.
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The best way to update drivers is to let Windows Update handle it for you. If you need something more current or different, use the computer or component manufacturer’s tools or support sites. Aside from letting Windows Update update drivers automatically, there is rarely cause to update drivers yourself, unless you’re tracking down a problem.
Windows doesn’t know about every possible piece of hardware. For example, it knows about network cards, but not how to make every possible network card function. That’s the job of what’s called a device driver, or just drivers.
Drivers are software that translate Window’s generic instructions into specific commands to make the hardware do what it does. Each piece of hardware attached to your system requires a driver for this translation.
Some confusion comes from the fact that there are a ton of drivers included with Windows. When you install Windows, or when you add new hardware to your computer, Windows will frequently notice the change and automatically install the drivers. That’s what “plug and play” is all about: you install new hardware, Windows installs corresponding drivers, and things just work.
However, not all possible drivers are included with Windows. When you have hardware whose drivers are not supplied with Windows, the manufacturer may supply them — typically with a setup program accompanying the device — or Windows may search online to find them.
How to update drivers
There’s no single approach to updating drivers. The most common approaches are to let Windows Update handle it, or run installation or update programs supplied by either your computer or device manufacturer.
Here’s what I do.
- Back up. Depending on when my most recent automated backup was, I may create an image backup before I begin. If anything goes wrong with the update process, I can always revert to this backup. This is a case where only an image backup will do, since it includes all of Windows, including your current drivers and everything else on the machine.
- Check Windows Update. In the Windows Update settings app, be sure to look at “optional updates”, which is often where driver updates will be. Then just use Windows Update to install them.
- Check with the computer’s manufacturer. If I’m running Dell equipment, for instance, the Dell support site does a good job of leading me to the latest drivers for my hardware. In most cases, downloading and running an installer automates installation.
- Check with the hardware component manufacturer. Even though a component may be supported through Windows Update or the computer manufacturer’s site, there’s often a delay before the updates make it to those locations. The component manufacturer is the first place a driver update will typically be made available.
You’ll note that I did not list driver update services.
How not to update drivers
Keeping drivers updated, or even just knowing when and what to update, is not a simple task.
As a result, there are a number of tools claiming to do it for you. They supposedly scan your system, tell you what’s out of date, and offer to update them for you.
Note that I said supposedly. Many are scams. They often:
- Load your machine with malware.
- Lie about what you need to update.
- Claim important updates are necessary, tell you what you need for free, and then require a fee to proceed.
Even when legit, I believe driver updates are too important to trust to third-party tools.
I strongly recommend you avoid driver update services and utilities. Period.
When to update drivers
Unlike the rest of the software on your machine, when it comes to device drivers, I’m a firm believer in “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That means I don’t update drivers just for the sake of updating drivers. I need a reason.
The catch is that it’s not always obvious a driver might need updating or that something is broken and in need of fixing.
The reasons I update drivers, presented in the order in which they most commonly happen, include:
- I’m experiencing a problem that appears to be related to hardware, and a driver update might help. For example, if my network card is acting flaky and there’s an updated driver available, then updating the driver might be my first repair or diagnostic step.
- I need a feature the Windows-supplied driver doesn’t support. Hardware might be supported by the Windows-included drivers, but on occasion, the latest drivers from the manufacturer include additional capabilities or provide additional management utilities.
- The driver (or related software) notifies me an update is available. Many devices now include periodic checks for updates. They then give me the choice of installing them when available. This technically violates my “if it ain’t broke” statement, but I’ll allow these updates, particularly for non-critical devices.
- Windows Update notifies me there’s an updated driver. Windows Update doesn’t update as many drivers as you might think, or as quickly, but they do update some. When the Windows-supplied drivers are updated, I always take them.
- I’m alerted to a security issue relating to the driver. This is rare, but occasionally I’ll run across information indicating a driver has a potential security issue. I’ll consider updating, depending on the hardware and the issue.
Risks of updating drivers
Microsoft takes a lot of heat for releasing software that isn’t quite ready. Without debating that, it’s often due in part to the reliance on the drivers and software created by others, such as hardware vendors. As you might expect, there are vendors with good reputations for producing quality software, and others without.
Unfortunately, driver problems often manifest to users as “Windows problems”.
Driver problems resulting from an upgrade are not unheard of, and the symptoms aren’t always as dramatic as a blue screen of death. I updated drivers for my wireless network some time ago, and suddenly the network would drop whenever I left a Remote Desktop Connection. It was annoying, but I lived with it until I had time to reinstall Windows from scratch.
Hence my “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Driver updates should be painless, and should result in things getting better. Most often they do. Sometimes they do not.
To answer another part of your question: a driver update will replace the previous software, but if the update happens properly, settings and configuration information will be preserved. Sadly, that too is at risk if the manufacturer does a poor job of providing their updates.
28 comments on “How Do I Update Drivers on My Computer?”
A few weeks ago I asked a question about running a command line prompt about “driver query” and getting over 200 drivers listed for my XP Pro. My question was, “How do you know when to update all those drivers?” I ran a scan through:
and it gave me about 30 “needed” driver updates. I ran just the first one on some unknown piece of hardware and I had major startup problems. Luckily I made a system restore point and rolled everything back. Moral of the story: as Leo said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Can I rely on software such as ‘Driver Max” or “RadarSync” to update my drivers correctly?
Keep in mind though, Windows often will not find the best driver for your device. You’ll notice this if you get a certain type of hardware with a lot of extra features, the windows plug and play will make it work, but with out these features.
The only way to fix this is downloading driver direct from the manufactures website.
Here’s a list of different types of device drivers
you forgot to mention a fourth way on “How to Update”. there are lots of third party sites like:
[link removed] that keeps lots of info on different manufacturers. that can save you time if you need to check different device drivers.
Driver Booster (2) is – as far as I can tell – a great utility. I have used it for some time now (over 2 years), with no probs/issues at all (its also free).
It even has ‘create a restore point’ ability (before install) that is a) pretty useful, and b), has been entirely unused as yet.
It also has a very good ‘editors rating’ on CNET too.
I accidentally installed a windows 7 com port driver on a windows xp system and it would no longer see the cd rom drive. The secondary ultra ata channel driver would not share resources.
That was a bitch to fix, but I did it.
I’d try uninstalling the driver according to the instructions in this article.:
To the left of this article is an ad for driverassist. Your article states you don’t believe in these type of programs. Just for curiosity, why is this ad there?
Love your site and your helpful information. I’ve used it many times to help me out–latest was your backup videos. The backup worked this time. Only time will tell if it works though. I’m hoping I will never find out.
Google controls the ads that display on Ask Leo!, not me. They use contextual advertising, meaning that they try to place ads that somehow relate to the topic discussed on the page. Thus a page discussing the evils of driver update programs may, ironically, end up with ads for driver update programs. More here: https://askleo.com/whats_the_difference_between_an_ad_and_your_recommendation/
I agree with Leo and the replies about updating the video driver. I would also recommend using the free utility “Double DrIver” to backup all of your drivers in one go, with the option to restore any or all when needed. This is particularly useful when re-installing the OS.
Even though my speakers are connected I get no sound, when I turn on the computer I hear a loud thump from the speakers , but cannot get any sound, I have windows 10.
This article gives troubleshooting tips for analyzing why you might not be getting sound and steps to take to remedy the situation:
I have an old Smart Computing article which advises before installing a new driver uninstall the old one as the drivers may conflict. What does Leo recommend?
It’s not always necessary, as if it’s a driver for the same device, it should replace the older driver, but if you are having problems with the update, it might help to uninstall the older driver. The same generally holds true for program updates.
Thank you, most appreciated.
HP computer would not turn on and then off no matter what we did and our niece’s hubby said to unplug stuff and let it sit. It turned on today, but it kept saying that Chrome download.drivers is putting that in our computer. Putting what in our machine?
I want to type a hospital to see whether I should go and to Rosetta Stone to see whether they have a teaching NEPAL CD.
Should I X out all the Chrome stuff so I can use my computer? The HP is still doing stupid things. As you can see I’m 77 and computer ignorant. Sorry to bother you. HELP THIS ONE ADDED A BIT MORE.
Thank you for the clear explanation on drivers. Best explanation of how it all works. Some state you have to remove old ones first? My problem is after updating to windows7 I cant print as a communication problem. I have deleted printer installed latest drivers and tried old ones but no luck. The printer works when linked to another computer running Windows 7 so I am at a loss. Any comments would be gratefully received.
I stumbled upon your site and maybe you can help. I used to run power director 12. by cyberlink which quit working with error code eC00C0005 Transcoding engine’s front end stream error saying file broken , file missing, or out of memory. I bought power director 17 as I thought that would correct issue but same think happens. I cannot burn DVD. Could this be a driver issue? I am running Hp computer three years old and met specs for program. Using Windows 10. I am going crazy with this issue as I make DVD’s for my 13 year old Grandson’s basketball team. Any advice would be appreciated. Cyberlink is trying to help by email.
After crashing and breaking old computers one I thing i understood is that always check your updates, there’s nothing wrong to just check it and of course Do Not Trust other utilities that aren’t connected with your PC manufacturer.
After all, intel got its own sources and AMD got its own sources so there’s no point of using other 2nd or 3rd parties (I don’t use MAC, so sorry). But this excludes windows optional update in the setting, that update is a big NO. Of courses might be different for others, but that optional update got 99% chance to make your pc turn into a blind fool who lost its own OS key.
Hi. When I used Windows 7, I took only the Important updates, none of the Optional ones. I’m guessing this enabled me to avoid any driver update, as I subscribed to your “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy for drivers. That guidance has served me well.
Now in Windows 10 Home (version 1909), I understand we don’t get to pick and choose the updates we want. My first Win 10 update included what I think were several driver updates (“Intel Corporation – Extension”).
Going forward, do you suggest I (try to?) avoid any further driver update offered by Windows by selecting “No” for the Change Device Installation Settings option? Or, should I just accept all the driver updates?
I generally accept all updates offered by Windows Update, and recommend same. (It’s going out of your way to get drivers elsewhere that should be done only as needed.)
I concur 100% with your comments. I am an old guy and I have been computing forever (Commodore Pet et. al.). Anyway, I have NEVER had a driver issue. My devices have always worked fine. I do Windows Updates but not the optional ones.
Leo, I know dll files are sometimes shared between different software, but are drivers shared between different pieces of hardware?
Not in general, no. Drivers are hardware-specific. That’s kinda the point. (Though drivers for multiple pieces of hardware from the same manufacturer probably share components, and there’s probably also driver-level support code within Windows that could be shared by various drivers.) It’s complicated.
I recently experienced a problem. After searching for a solution, one of the most common suggestions was to update the graphics driver. I let Windows search for the latest driver and it installed one that was 3 years older than what I’d been using. Off to the manufacturer’s web site to download the current driver, only to find it was no longer available. (I have an old PC.) After that, I searched for the driver manually, but then started getting concerned about the safety of the sites where I found it. Next, I looked for reviews of driver updater software and downloaded/installed DriverBooster Free. It has many very good features including letting you choose which drivers to update after a scan is performed, letting you choose between a stable or performance rated driver, and creating a restore point. I chose to only update the graphics driver which, interestingly, was the one Windows replaced. There’s also an option to schedule scans (or not).
Two caveats: during installation, it suggests you install two other programs (which I unchecked), and you have to be careful not to install the free trial of the Pro version.
The caveats are important. As you know I’m not a fan of driver update utilities, so this isn’t a path I’d recommend myself. Iobit’s been around a while, so I’m leaving the link, but everyone who follows: always be skeptical. And back up first if you use this or any driver update utility.
Once in a while I get a pop-up from Driver Support One to update my drivers but I haven’t clicked on it.
Should I? Let me know.
Nope. I do NOT advise using driver update utilities. If the pop-up is within a browser, it’s just advertising. If it’s actually from your machine, you may have something installed that perhaps you shouldn’t. Run malware scans, and possibly consider this article: https://askleo.com/how-do-i-remove-pups-foistware-drive-bys-toolbars-and-other-annoying-things-i-never-wanted/