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How Do I Update Drivers on My Computer?

Make sure your computer is as up to date as it should be.

Update
(Image: canva.com)
Drivers are critically important components of your computer, but knowing how and when to update drivers isn't as easy or as obvious as we might like.
I have been reading about the importance of updating, if required, the various device drivers within a system. As I understand it, I can update drivers by identifying the driver that may require updating and then by accessing the manufacturers’ website and determining if there are any updates. If so, I believe that the update can be downloaded. Does the download overwrite the existing data within the device in question? I must confess to being a bit nervous regarding this approach and because of this, I have looked at driver update services.

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.

Drivers

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Related questions

How do I find the drivers on my computer?

Normally, you shouldn’t need to find the drivers on your computer, as they’re stored in many different places and exposed in several ways. The simplest approach is to open Device Manager, locate the device you’re interested in, and check the properties for that device. You’ll find the version of the driver software listed, as well as the location of the specific files.

Do I need to update drivers on my computer?

You generally do not need to update drivers on your computer unless you’re experiencing a problem for which drivers might be a solution or diagnostic step. Windows Update updates drivers for you automatically. Some hardware may include additional monitoring software that will either do the same, or notify you when an update is available.

How do I check if my drivers are up to date?

It’s surprisingly difficult to be sure if specific drivers are up to date. The best way is to let Windows Update check. For additional or more current updates, the most common solution is to visit the computer or manufacturer support website and manually look for updated drivers.

Do drivers update automatically?

Most device drivers will be updated automatically by Windows Update. Some hardware — most commonly hardware for which you had to separately install drivers — may include a utility of their own to automatically update drivers, or at least notify you that they are available. It’s rare these days, but there are occasionally devices for which drivers do not automatically update.

What happens if I update my graphics driver?

When you update a graphic driver (or a driver for any device), the software installed on your computer is replaced with the new version. The device may have to be restarted in order for the new drivers to take effect. In the case of graphics or video drivers, this can result in a momentary flash. In the case of network drivers, it can result in a brief drop of your connection. In rare cases, updating a driver will not be complete until your computer reboots.

What is the best software to update drivers?

The best software to update drivers is Windows itself, followed by the utilities provided by your computer’s manufacturer, and then any utilities or updates provided by the manufacturer of the specific hardware component. Third-party utilities that offer to check for driver updates are generally not a good idea because too many of them are ineffective or outright scams.

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35 comments on “How Do I Update Drivers on My Computer?”

  1. 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:
    http://www.driverguide.com/
    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.
    Mary

    Reply
  2. In reality, the ONLY driver that you should CONSIDER updating would be video card drivers, and only because certain games create problems with “older” drivers.

    Reply
  3. Carls post above is good advice, video drivers, especially if your into online gaming, will be the one driver you’ll need to keep up to date.
    Other than that, if your not having problems, don’t update a driver just because there is a newer one available 😉

    Reply
    • Reply to Kitty:
      In a word – NO.. Please follow Leo’s advice and only update drivers (or allow them to be updated) if you have an identifiable need and nothing else (such as Windows Update) solves your problem.

      Reply
  4. logical and sound advise to follow update whats critical and important only the rest only and as or when required, because if its working without malfunction there is clearly no need to change it

    Reply
  5. 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

    Reply
  6. 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.

    In a nutshell: I don’t trust them. There’s no guarantee that you’re getting the correct or most current drivers.

    Leo
    17-May-2011

    Reply
  7. I use System Mechanic. I have done so since version 7. Version 14.5 is now out. Every time I scan for drivers it has a list for me; some are older than my computer. Why is this? Can they me malware? Why would a “service” want to download drivers that are older than my computer?

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply
  12. Hi Leo,
    you sound amazing. I went through some crap recently, I complained about the problems and was
    given my money back. How does a person know who is honest anymore? I can’t get internet explorer
    to work on my pc anymore. It says my ip can’t be found. I did’nt get any help from microsoft either.
    Do you have any suggestions for me? Thanking you in advance. Kathy

    Reply
      • My Internet Explorer stopped working a couple of years ago on my Windows 8.1. (Now it is April, 2020) Trying to fix it using MS tools and the problem only became more intractable. Good riddance. There are so many other good browsers out there. My daily browser is Firefox. Backup is Chrome. And I use a privacy respecting search provider like DuckGoGo as my home page.

        Reply
  13. what do you think of glary utilities new security software “malware hunter” ? it does have the anti virus component, but it does not inactivate the windows 10 antivirus which you have mention that a third party AV would do. i have not hit the activate button, perhaps that is the difference.

    Reply
  14. 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.

    Reply
  15. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  16. 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.

    Reply
  17. 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.

    Reply
  18. Hi Leo
    I “just” now came across your website. I don’t know how, but, I just did, I “just”paid for a year of driver updat by slimware. And reading over the comments, I am not sure if I want keep this any longer than should. Please advice. Thank you.

    Reply
  19. 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.

    Reply
  20. 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.

    Reply
  21. Leo –

    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?

    Thanks.

    Reply

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