Driver Updates

November 7, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers, Hardware, Online services, Security, Software | 1 Comment

Keeping your computer up-to-date helps keep it reliable, more secure, and bug-free. Windows Update will keep Windows and some related tools like IE current. Even if you don’t use IE, you should keep it current due to its close ties with Windows. Tools like Secunia PSI help review your other software, including links to the makers updates. You especially need web tools like Java, Flash and Acrobat to be current.

But what about drivers? Drivers are pieces of software that communicate between computer devices and software. They translate what the software needs into hardware commands and vice versa. A printer driver, for example, allows a Word document to be converted into a paper document. (printed) Every component inside your computer and every item you attach to it needs drivers to work. A typical computer has many, many drivers.

There is some debate about updating drivers. Some feel that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If your computer is working fine, don’t mess it up. Others note that driver updates can include bug fixes, security patches, and added features. An ideal tool would allow us to  easily update drivers but roll them back if there’s a problem.

Worse, updating drivers can be a fiddly job.

First you have to exactly identify the device you need drivers for. This means the make and model of the original component. Free tools like SIW can help a great deal. I can remember having to open up the PC and look around with a flashlight for the part’s model number.

Next, you have to go digging in the manufacturer’s web site to look for updates. (Support, Downloads section typically) By manufacturer, I mean the original maker of the component, not the assembler of the PC, like Dell or Sony. While the assembler often has component updates, they don’t usually keep them updated for more than a few years.

And you have to do this for each device, not knowing if it needs updating or not. Complicating the issue is web sites and software that purportedly offer to help but are actually scams to feed you ads or infect your computer. You can see why many don’t bother.

Recently, a friend’s computer was randomly blue-screening with little consistency. After checking the hard drive (chkdsk), system files (sfc) and memory (diagnostic), I looked at driver update utilities.

Several forums recommended the free SlimDrivers. It not only found out-of-date drivers but it offered links to manufacturers updates. (not its own or second-hand sites) Click the link and it will ask you to set a restore point (recommended) and will back up the old driver. Then it downloads and starts the install which you take over to completion.

I noticed a few people complained it wanted you to reboot the computer after. This is normal. For Windows to enable a new driver, you have to restart the computer. It’s also a good idea to reboot as you go along rather than in one big go after a lot of updates. Then, if there’s any issue, it’s easy to roll back the problem. While update problems are not common, they’re much easier to fix this way.

A few notes on installing Slimdriver:
– When installing, it preselects installing AVG toolbar. Just deselect that. (all too common)
– When you finish installing, deselect Run Now. It won’t work well without Admin privileges. Run it after from the Start menu so you can approve them.
– It sets itself to start with the computer. You really don’t need driver updates except occasionally. After starting the program, select Options (the toolbar gear) and deselect ‘Run at Windows Startup’. Then click Save.

As this Major Geeks intro indicates, start at the top and work down. Some drivers will update in groups. And note that the Uninstall menu is for uninstalling driver updates, not the program.

I would recommend getting Windows updates from Windows rather than using other tools.
Happy computing!

UPDATE: ran into a little gotcha on one system that it’s good to be aware of. System started bluescreening some weeks after driver updates. Analysis pointed to a driver issue and the IRQ pointed to the video chip. Video driver was current. However, an ATI driver for an ATI chip may not actually be the right one. If it’s an onboard multimedia chip, most common in laptops, the scenario might be specific to the maker where a generic chip-manufacturers driver is unsuitable. Make sure your video driver is coming from the system maker rather than the chip maker in that case. When I installed the seemingly older Sony video driver for that system, the problem was resolved.

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  1. As a followup, I used this tool on a Sony laptop with an included tool for updating drivers. It found 19 drivers out of date! One Intel turned out not to be (it warned me). In another case, the audio components called 2 updates which appeared to be the same, though named differently.

    But still I had all these updates done, with restore points, driver backups, and reboots in about a half hour. I have spent hours just trying to find one correct driver.


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