21 March, 2015
By Joe Callison
You may have experienced a pop-up ad while browsing the internet that says you have “X” number of out-of-date or missing drivers, or something to that effect. These ads are trying to get you to buy their driver updating software that will automatically scan your computer and search the internet for updated drivers. In order to decide if you would benefit from a product like that, you need to understand what a driver is and why it would ever need to be updated.
What is a driver?
A driver is software that enables your computer to communicate with the hardware connected to it, such as a printer, scanner, mouse, video card, etc. The Windows operating system includes basic drivers for most hardware, and more can be added by checking for Windows updates. If one can’t be found, Microsoft suggests that you find drivers on the disk that came with the hardware or on the hardware manufacturer’s website. Note that the website may have newer drivers than were on the disk that shipped with the hardware. Microsoft also has a Windows Compatibility Center (just search with your browser for the link or use the search at the top of the Microsoft.com home page) where you can search using the name of the hardware and it will indicate if the device is compatible with your Windows operating system and will have a link to the manufacturer’s website.
Why update a driver?
In general, you should only need to update a driver if the hardware is not working properly with your computer. This could be because of an update of Windows or another program, or installation of a new program or other hardware, causing the existing driver to no longer work properly. An updated driver may have been released (or will be released in the future) to fix the problem. This is not a very common occurrence though, in my experience.
Since drivers are usually updated to fix a specific reported problem, if you do not have the problem it will be of no benefit for you to update. In fact, a driver update just might create a new problem with your computer. I have personally experienced that with an attempted video card driver update.
Why use driver updating software?
There are pros and cons to using driver updating software. The primary benefit would be convenience, since you do not have to identify the hardware or search the internet for the driver. The software does it for you. Whether it is worth paying for that convenience, considering that it should rarely be needed anyway is up to you. There are potential pitfalls in using this type of software. Besides possibly causing a problem by updating a driver that did not need to be updated for your computer to work properly, much of the driver updating software out there is of ill repute. For some rather strong opinions that may give you some insight, see the following link:
My biggest concern with driver updating software, even from a reputable source, is that the latest available generic update out there somewhere on the internet may not work properly with my particular computer system. If you have a computer from Dell, HP, Toshiba or other manufacturer that puts together a complete computer system, they will have shipped it with drivers that should work together and with the operating system properly. If you want or need to update a driver for hardware that came with the computer, then your best source is your computer manufacturer’s website.
If you replace hardware or install new hardware from another source, then you should use the latest driver from the manufacturer’s website for that particular hardware. If you use a generic driver from other than the hardware manufacturer, you will usually see a disclaimer similar to the following:
“The software drivers provided on this page are generic versions and can be used for general purposes. However, computer original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) may have altered the features, incorporated customizations, or made other changes to the software or software packaging they provide. To avoid any potential installation incompatibilities on your OEM system, we recommend that you check with your OEM and use the software provided via your system manufacturer. We or the computer original equipment manufacturer (OEM) may not provide technical support for some or all issues that could arise from the usage of this generic version of software drivers.”
That disclaimer clearly describes the risk of using generic drivers, although sometimes you have to take desperate measures if there are no other options that will work for you.
For guidance on updating a driver manually, see the following links:
For Windows 7:
For Windows 8.1:
A final note on drivers:
If you have a 32-bit version of Windows, you MUST install 32-bit drivers. If you have a 64-bit version of Windows, you MUST install 64-bit drivers. This is different than software programs, where 32-bit programs CAN be installed on a 64-bit version of Windows, but not vice versa. How do you know which version of Windows you have? Just click on the Start button, click on Control Panel, click on System and Security, and then on System. You can also click on the Start button, right-click on Computer, and click on Properties.