Step by Step Instructions on How to Update Windows Device Drivers
1. What is a Windows Device Driver?
A windows device driver is a software script that interfaces computer hardware with the Windows operating system. Without the appropriate software driver, Windows can't make efficient use of the new hardware.
2. How do I know a device driver isn't working correctly?
If you buy new computer peripherals and install or attach them to your computer and they do not work, or they do not work correctly, most likely you have device driver problems.
For example, if you buy a new printer, plug it into the wall, plug it into your computer (or use a wireless connection), print out a test page, and you get garbled or unusual print, more than likely you have a printer driver problem and need to update your driver.
Another example. You buy a new video card and install it in your desktop. You plug your monitor into your new video card. You turn on your computer and boot up your favorite game. As soon as your game boots up, you get a frozen screen or the black screen of death (BSOD). More than likely you have a video driver problem and you need to download an updated driver.
Or you can open up Windows Device Manager (described in the next paragraph) and your device either is not listed or it indicates your device is not working properly.
3. How do I know I need an updated driver?
First you should check your current device driver to see if it has been properly installed by Windows. Click on Start/Control Panel/Devices and Hardware/Device Manager.
Above is the Windows Device Manager screen for my laptop. Clicking on the arrow to the left of the device category will open that device category and then individual devices can be clicked on.
You can see that I have selected the ATI Mobility Radeon Device (my laptop's video card) from the Display Adopter Device Manager Category.
Before we go on, look at the device window and you will see that the Device Status is, "The device is working properly." This means that Windows is correctly communicating with the device and there is no apparent driver problem. It does not necessarily mean that the best or most current device driver is in use.
To examine my video card's device driver, I select the Driver tab at the top of the device window.
The ATI Radeon's Device Driver Tab. This tab tells you the driver's provider, date, and version number. Also, notice the five different selections that can be made to manage the Driver.
4. What do the options on the Device Driver Tab do? Let's take a minute and discus each of the 5 different selection options on the Device Driver Tab:
a. Driver Details - This gives more specific information on the driver, which would mostly be used by those needing driver programming information.
b. Update Driver - This button leads to two choices. The first choice allows you to initiate an internet driver search similar to that performed by Window's Update. The other choice is to initiate a driver search on your computer, this choice is useful if the driver has been downloaded on your hard drive or if you have the driver on a CD.
c. Rollback Driver - Allows you to restore a previously installed driver, if in fact there was a previous driver, and the old driver was not deleted. This is very handy for cases when you update a driver that doesn't work right with your system (see Microsoft's article, "Roll Back a Device Driver to a Previous Version",
for more information.)
The problem with driver rollback is that you have to be able to boot into Windows to use it.
d. Disable. Disable is usually used because Windows is using the wrong driver for the device or the device is malfunctioning and you have to find a new driver.
e. Uninstall. This erases the driver from your system. Uninstall should only be used if you know you will not use a driver again. Note that this will keep you from rolling back a driver, so this option should seldom be used.
Tip 1: Using System Restore to Rollback Drivers
So what do you do if you can't boot into Windows because you messed up your video driver and all you get is a black screen?
Answer: You reboot your system and start tapping the F8 key until you get to the Windows Advanced Boot Options screen, then cursor down to the "Boot last known good configuration" option and hit enter. This should boot your computer up with your old video driver.
If this doesn't work reboot your computer and tap the F8 key while your system is rebooting, this time choose "Windows Safe Mode with Networking" from the Advanced Boot Options screen. Then type System Restore in the Windows Start/Search Screen. Choose a restore point prior to your last save if possible. Reboot your computer and let Windows boot normally.
Hopefully System Restore loaded your old video or other driver that was keeping your system from working. NVIDIA has specific instructions on how to use System Restore to rollback drivers for all versions of Windows. In addition please see our article,"Ten Ways to Recover Your System When Windows Crashes", if you need further explanation of how to reboot a crashed system or how to use System Restore.
5. Where can I download drivers, if I need an updated driver?
There are four methods for obtaining updated drivers.
a. From the Device Manufacturer's CD. Use the hardware manufacturer's CD to load the driver into Windows. If you have a CD it should have instructions on how to use it.
b. Run Windows Update. Windows Update will recommend updated drivers for your installed devices if it is able to find them. If you have Windows Update set to run on a continuous basis (which you should) then you can assume Windows has updated your drivers to the best of its ability already. So running Windows Update, or Update Driver from the Device Driver Tab will probably not result in an updated driver.
c. Download from Device Manufacturer's Web Site. You can go to the device manufacture's web site and see if they have an updated driver for you to download.
d. Use a Driver Update Program. You can use a device driver update program to find the drivers and to keep your drivers up to date. These programs query a database of updated drivers and make recommendations as to which drivers need to be updated on your computer.
These programs are especially useful as a computer ages, as device manufacturers will go out of business and their drivers are no longer centrally managed. Also, computer manufacturers are less than diligent in keeping all peripheral device drivers updated on computers they manufacture.
I would recommend Uniblue's DriversScanner driver update program to you. To find out more about this program, please see our article, Uniblue DriverScanner Review.
6. Some final advice. Whatever method you use to update your drivers, make sure you set a System Restore point before updating your drivers in case you need to use System Restore to rollback your drivers.
Also, I would recommend to those using driver update software to systematically update a few drivers at a time, and to keep a record of which drivers were updated, in case it becomes necessary to rollback a specific driver.
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