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How To: Deal With Windows Drivers

Why Drivers Matter

If you want to get the best performance and behavior out of any Windows PC, you’ve got to get the device drivers just right. These crucial bits of software sit at the boundary between the operating system and its runtime environment on the one side, and the hardware devices that they control on the other. Unless your device drivers are working properly, you can’t begin to use the devices that they control to their fullest potential. In fact, improper or damaged drivers can have a strong negative impact on performance, where severe driver difficulties may cause a system to hang, crash, or fail.

Device drivers are readily accessible in modern Windows versions through a control panel widget called Device Manager. You can launch this utility in Vista or Windows 7 simply by typing “dev” into the Start menu search box, then selecting Device Manager from the program entries that appear.

Figure 1: Device Manager lists drivers for all installed devices on Windows

Figure 1: Device Manager lists drivers for all installed devices on Windows

In its normal operation, Windows Update detects when the device drivers on a Windows PC are older than drivers it has available. When that happens, it offers such drivers as Optional downloads that you can choose to download or not, as you wish. If Windows detects a device it can’t recognize, or for which it can’t find a driver, Device Manager will present a generic “Unknown device” entry in the “Other devices” category. If it can recognize a device by type, but still can’t find a driver, it shows a device symbol with an exclamation point on a yellow warning sign instead.

Figure 2: Above: unknown device; Below: Unrecognized USB device)

Figure 2: Above: unknown device; Below: Unrecognized USB device)