Updating Your Drivers

Find out why drivers need to be updated and how to update them.


You'll often hear help desk technicians throw around the word "driver" like it's going out of style. If you've ever heard the term driver and wondered why a golf club had anything to do with your computer, then you're not alone. Its name isn't intuitive; a driver has nothing to do with golf or even a car when applied to computing.

A driver is a piece of software that usually links a hardware device -- keyboard, mouse, monitor, joystick, graphics card, or whatever -- to your computer. Every device has a driver that translates program commands into something a device can understand. The easiest way to understand this is to think of a driver as something that allows your computer to directly interface with its hardware.


Why do you need new drivers?


You don't really have to download new drivers unless you install new devices or experience other problems: unexplained crashes, games that don't work, tweaked monitor appearance, and so on. For this reason, it's thought that a driver is often the last resort while trying to troubleshoot a computer.


Companies frequently release new versions of drivers that are more compatible with devices, or respond faster, or are otherwise improved. If you want to optimize your computer's performance -- and aren't afraid of a possibly buggy or incompatible driver -- go ahead and update.


How to get new drivers


The support or driver pages of a device manufacturer's website will always have updated drivers. Here's a geek tip: If you don't download drivers that are less than a month old, you'll usually avoid buggy drivers that haven't been fully tested. Some driver bugs usually don't appear until real world users finally get to download and install them.


To update or get drivers, you need to know the exact name of a particular device. For example, we know our sound card is the Creative Sound Blaster 16 Plug-n-Play. It helps to know this information before trying to update a driver. If you accidentally install the wrong driver for a piece of hardware, you could render it useless.


Find exact device name


If you don't know the exact name of a piece of hardware, that's OK. You can get this information from the Device Manager.


Here's how to access the Device Manager:

 

Left-click your Start menu.
Mouse-over Settings and select Control Panel.
Double-click your System icon to launch your System Properties.
Click on the Device Manager tab.
Select the device you'd like to learn more about and click on the Properties button.
Look for the make and model of the piece of hardware.

Install new driver


Once you locate the correct driver from the Internet, you need to install it. Most drivers install themselves, but if not, download the driver into a folder you can remember (for example, a "drivers" subfolder within a C:\downloads folder), unzip or unstuff it if necessary, and manually install.


Hopefully, the driver update you downloaded will be a self-extracting executable. If it is, the file should end with an .exe extension. Just double-click the file and it should take care of the rest. If it's not an executable, you'll have to manually install the new driver.


Manually install driver


To manually install a new driver you're going to have to open your System properties again. A quicker way to open System properties is to press Windows+Pause/Break or to right-click on My Computer and select Properties.


Once System properties opens, click the device driver you'd like to update and press Properties. When the specific device properties opens, click the Drivers tab and then the Update Drivers button. Let the wizard walk you through installing the new driver.

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