Updating Windows Drivers: When is it Needed and Why?

Anyone who is using Windows may encounter problems related to hardware drivers and may suspect it as being caused by something else. Problems in hardware drivers make Windows behave slower or show signs of hangs and freezes which others suspect as virus or malware invasion but in truth, the real culprit is an outdated driver that does not work perfectly with a new software you’ve just installed. But what exactly are hardware drivers and how can you solve problems related to these tiny software components that makes everything work in a smooth and systematic way and when is the right time to update them? These questions are answered and explained further below.

What Exactly are Drivers Anyway?

Simply put drivers as tiny software programs that help the Windows operating system communicate with all the other components such as video cards and other hardware connected to the motherboard. Windows does not know exactly how to work with the hardware installed on your computer that’s why it needs a hardware driver to do so. Since drivers are actually software, they too need to be updated so they can work perfectly with the newer versions of programs that are installed on your machine.


The screenshot above shows the “Device Manager” used to update drivers the safe “Microsoft” way which you will learn later as we move on.

When Should You Update Drivers?

The first thing to remember in updating drivers is “you shouldn’t update drivers when they are working perfectly fine”. In other words “don’t try to fix something that isn’t broken”. If you’re looking to boost the speed of your PC or laptop, updating the drivers is not actually the solution especially if everything else works perfectly fine. Most driver updates only contain bug fixes that are needed in some instances and possibly a little bit of performance boost. When you update all your drivers to the latest version, it could be possible that things would just get broken instead of being fixed. If your Windows machine is working just fine in doing different stuff then you can just skip the driver update process so you can be spared from further problems.

However, if you are still using built-in drivers (the ones pre-installed on your computer when you bought it) for some components like the video card, sound card, chipset and other networking components, updating them would really make a great difference in terms of speed and performance especially for brands like NVidia or AMD/ATI but you need to make sure that you’re getting the updates from the manufacturer’s website and not from  anywhere else. Also you need to remember that Drivers are OS specific. This means that you also need to find the right driver that is compatible to the operating system run by your machine.

Which Drivers Need to be Updated?

When updating drivers, you need to take note that the right ones should be used instead of just the latest ones. Most hardware drivers are OS-specific meaning, they only work for the operating system which is stated to be compatible with the driver itself. If you are using Windows 7 then you need to make sure that the driver is compatible to it. You also need to check if the OS version is a 32 or 64-bit version since drivers are also specific in this aspect. Also, it is not really needed that you update all your drivers to the latest version most of the time. On the screenshot below, you’ll see that the outdated or missing drivers are the ones that has the yellow “!” symbol overlay.


If you are using new PC or you’ve reloaded Windows to an old PC (OS re-installation), you need to download the right drivers and make sure that you are not using generic ones which lacks bug fixes and speed improvements. This also applies if you assembled your own PC using different hardware brands which you bought separately. For instance, your video card might be something that works with the latest games but if your driver is generic or outdated then you will not be able to get the most out of it. This is the time when you need to update its driver by getting the latest one compatible to your operating system from the manufacturer’s website.

For Brand New PCs or Laptops

In case you bought a brand new PC with Windows pre-installed in it, chances are it already contains some manufacturer approved drivers and a little bit of generic ones. Components like chipset, sound card, video card and the motherboard are examples of hardware components that have manufacturer approved drivers in most brand new PCs and laptops and updating the drivers for these components is simply done by identifying its manufacturer and visiting the website which can be found on the driver documentation when you try to identify the driver version. If you don’t know how this is done then you need to follow the steps which will follow.


Again, let me state the number one rule when updating drivers- If everything works perfectly fine then just leave everything untouched so you can be spared from more advanced problems that may come as a result of installing wrong drivers.

How to Identify Driver Versions

One way of  identifying if a driver is outdated or not is by using the “Device Manager” utility. To do this, simply open the Device Manager utility and expand any of the driver category on the list by clicking on the “>” symbol located at the left of each category then look for the one that you want to identify version for.


Once you find the drivers which you want to check versions for, simply right-click on it then click “Properties” from the options that would appear.


After doing so, the driver’s Properties Window will appear and from here, you need to click on the “Driver” tab.


From this section, you will see all the details that you would need when you want to update the driver. You can also identify if the driver is outdated by comparing the version number to the one that is available on the manufacturer’s website. You can also update the driver using a built-in Windows utility and as well as “Disable” or “Uninstall” one by simply clicking on the corresponding buttons.

How to Update Drivers Using the Update Driver Software Wizard

When problems arise with a certain device driver, you can choose to update it using the Update Driver Software Wizard which is built in on any Windows machine. To do this, you simply need to click on the “Update Driver…” button from the “Driver” tab of the device driver “Properties” Window as shown below.


Another way of doing this is by right-clicking on the device from the “Device Manager” Window then clicking on the “Update Driver Software…” option from the menu that appears.


After doing so, the Update Driver Software Wizard will pop up and ask you to either let Windows search for an updated driver automatically or just install a driver manually (if you already downloaded the driver from the manufacturer’s website). Simply click on the option that you want to execute and follow the instructions that would follow.


If you choose the first option, Windows will automatically search for an updated driver and once it finds one, the wizard will automatically install it on your machine. If this process fixes the problem that you suspect is caused by the outdated driver then that would be great but if more problems just surfaced then you can always click the “Roll Back Driver” button on the device driver properties Window to restore the driver back to its previous version before you did the update.


That’s it! You now learned what device/hardware drivers are and when you should and should not update them. Manually updating a driver will be discussed in a future tutorial since it is relatively long topic. If you encounter problems with any of your device drivers please feel free to leave a comment describing the problem on the comments section below.