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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)
  • nodeffect
    Not all latest drivers are good, some might be unstable than the previous one. Anyway, good article about windows drivers.
    Reply
  • "dev" doesn't always work. On mine system it launches Adobe Device Manager.
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    hoping that ATI reads this.
    Reply
  • For atheros drivers check the unofficial driver site at http://www.atheros.cz/
    There are many atheros drivers whih are more current.
    Reply
  • aBg_rOnGak
    Why must the writer list shareware only? There are free alternatives worth mentioning out there...
    Reply
  • smokinjoe
    As a Dell shop at work we just have to check with Dell for drivers. In some cases we can get drivers from a newer version of the same product to work. At home I have moved laptop and desktop to Mac OS X and the server is a NAS or Linux solution.

    With a Mac the worst thing you can do is buy dodgy hardware and load the vendors driver, now you have similar problems as a Windows machine with dodgy drivers. :-(
    Reply
  • hangfirew8
    Dell often has good driver support for their systems, sometimes they are the only source of an updated driver for a certain component. However if they never sold a system with a newer O/S (such as Vista or 7), it is very unlikely they'll list any drivers for that O/S. And of course for video drivers, they typically list one ancient one. So even with Dell you sometimes still have to hunt.
    Reply
  • hellwig
    Dell isn't always so great with updates to their drivers. I tried installing a driver for the wireless network card on my Latitude D600 (yes, it's ancient). They released about a million different configurations of the latitude, and probably a dozen different wireless cards were included. Luckily for me, I worked around the issue by discovering the wireless didn't work because someone had pulled the card, but man, was it ever a pain trying to figure out what I needed to download if I did have a wireless card.
    Reply
  • dioxholster
    Why do people like to keep updating their driver? unless its a graphic card with new games every year then no need to keep messing stuff up. If it aint broken dont fix it.
    Reply
  • shadowmaster625
    I ran the intel driver update utility, and IE8 popped up a message asking if I wanted to allow system requirements lab from "Husdawg llc" to install. I figured it was the Intel utility, but since a google search yielded almost nothing on Husdawg, I just said screw it. Screw Intel anyway. A company like intel should not be using shady names like that.
    Reply