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How to Update Your Graphics Drivers for Maximum Gaming Performance

nvidia-graphics-card-header

A graphics driver is the software that allow your operating system and programs to use your computer’s graphics hardware. If you play PC games, you should keep your computer’s graphics drivers updated to get the best performance out of your hardware.

We have previously advised you to not compulsively update your drivers – most hardware drivers that come with your computer or through Windows Update are fine. However, graphics drivers for your NVIDIA, AMD, or even Intel graphics hardware are a big exception.

Image Credit: Carles Reig on Flickr

Why You Should Update Your Graphics Drivers

Updates to your computer’s motherboard, sound card, and network drivers don’t generally give speed improvements. They will often fix rare bugs – and maybe even introduce new bugs.

However, this is not the case with updated drivers for your graphics card, also known as a GPU or video card. NVIDIA and AMD both frequently release new graphics drivers that often give major performance improvements, particularly for newer games. With Intel getting serious about integrated graphics performance with their upcoming Haswell graphics architecture, they are now starting to release more frequent video driver updates, too.

Here is a snapshot of the changelog from NVIDIA’s most recent graphics driver package, released on January 5, 2013:

nvidia-geforce-driver-performance-improvements

These sorts of performance increases in updated graphics drivers are not uncommon. While newer games like Far Cry 3 saw significant improvements (up to 38% on some hardware), even older games like Skyrim and Starcraft II saw a significant increase in performance.

NVIDIA may be overstating the performance increases you will get, and it probably won’t be as pronounced on older graphics cards. Even so, these are still significant improvements. Some newer games may refuse to run with old, unoptimized graphics drivers installed.

Of course, if you never play PC games on your computer and don’t care about 3D graphics performance, you don’t really need to update your graphics drivers at all.

Identifying Your Graphics Card

There is a variety of ways to identify your computer’s graphics hardware, including third-party system information utilities like Speccy. However, you can get this information right from the Windows Device Manager.

To open the Device Manager, press the Windows key to open your Start menu, type Device Manager into the Start menu, and click the Device Manager shortcut. (If you are using Windows 8, press the Windows key, type Device Manager at the Start screen, select the Settings category, and click the Device Manager shortcut.)

launch-device-manager-in-windows-8

Expand the Display adapters section to see the manufacturer and model of your computer’s graphics card.

device-manager-display-adapters

If you see both Intel and NVIDIA hardware on a laptop, your laptop is using NVIDIA’s Optimus technology to intelligently switch between its better-for-battery-life Intel graphics and better-for-gaming-performance NVIDIA graphics. In this case, you will want to update your NVIDIA drivers to boost your gaming performance.

Getting the Latest Updates

For some types of graphics hardware integrated into laptops (also known as notebook GPUs), you may not be able to get drivers straight from the manufacturer. You may have to get updated drivers from your laptop manufacturer, and they may not regularly release updates.

However, you can generally get updated graphics drivers from your graphics hardware manufacturer’s website:

You will have to select the exact model of your computer’s graphics card, which is displayed in the Device Manager window.

Some manufacturers may have update-checking utilities that automatically check for new graphics driver versions and alert you to them, such as the NVIDIA Update utility, which you can access from the NVIDIA Control Panel application (select Help > Updates) if you have NVIDIA graphics hardware.

nvidia-update


If you have older graphics hardware, bear in mind that it won’t be supported forever. Manufacturers eventually move older hardware to a stable driver release that they stop optimizing and updating. If your graphics hardware is five years old, it’s very likely that optimized drivers for it are not longer being released. How long your hardware is supported is up to its manufacturer.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 02/1/13

Comments (16)

  1. michif100

    Win 8 and Radeon HD4770.
    Having bluescreens using the AMD Legacy drivers.any recommendations?
    Thx

  2. Andrei

    i can only use one release of drivers for my Radeon HD 5770, otherwise BSOD or a striped screen. theres lots of people with the same problem.

  3. roy

    I use a HP Pavilion DV7 3020ea Laptop. It uses Nvidia 230m graphics card. Using Nvidia 230m driver updates causes attack of the Blue screen some days after installing. This has happened several times
    as I have eventually had to reset to factory setting. The same thing happens with windows 7 updates. I now use the old drivers provided by HP, although very much older they cause no problems. So for me I have to disagree with your article.

  4. Straspey

    My experience has been similar to roy above, on my HP desktop.

    Fortunately, in my case I was able to resolve the problem by doing a system restore to a couple of days before I installed the NVIDIA updates – which restored the original on-board HP drivers – and they still work fine – especially since I don’t use my PC for “gaming” purposes.

  5. GraveDigger27

    For the guys who were having issues with their AMD drivers (I’m assuming they have desktop systems not laptops) I would go to the AMD website and download the latest Catalyst drivers (13.1) and then install those – I’ve done it on my system (Radeon HD 6870 running Windows 7 64-bit) and haven’t had any blue screen issues. Make sure that you get the correct drivers for your system (including what version of Windows and if it’s 32 or 64-bit…) and UNINSTALL the previous driver before you install the new driver software.

    You might want to be sure that you’ve created a system restore or have a recent backup or disk image of your existing system prior to making any changes to your setup.

    Unfortunately there isn’t a good way of doing the same on many laptops – unless the laptop manufacturer has updated the drivers for your system on their website the ones from the GPU may not be installable (I can’t download the Radeon HD6370M drivers from AMD to run on my ASUS laptop – it’s not compatible…)

  6. Thomas

    And if you are using Nvidia GPU, make sure to give ‘Nvidia Experience’ a try, it’s a new tool from Nvidia (still in beta – but works very well). It ease the update of graphical driver and as recommend the best graphical settings for the most popular games based on your hardware.

    Check it out : http://www.geforce.co.uk/drivers/geforce-experience

  7. Tony

    this is good advise any thoughts on nvidia beta drivers ?

  8. michel

    I refuse to update my nVidia drivers any more, because every time I try it, it’s a nightmare trying to get my system working again.

    If your video works, leave the drivers alone.

  9. JD Rosen

    Usually these driver updates will catch a couple low priority updates, they take an incredible amount of time splattering huge amounts of personal info around. And will stall they computer completely with failed installations. They wipe out what was working and leave you with a non working computer. Having out dated software is better than something that does not work at all.

  10. Marlena

    I’ve never had any problems with Nvidia drivers at all I’m running the latest Nvidia beta release of 29 Jan. I’ve not seen a bsod on any of my machines in many years. No idea why people are having massive problems.

  11. Sharon

    I have tried to update the graphics in my old Gateway 506GR desktop. It has an Intel integrated graphics card dated 2004 (!). Whenever I tried to upgrade, the PC would no longer recognize my LCD monitor, which I have been using since 2008 (which itself came to me refurbished and two years old at that time-you may note the sorry age of everything I am using). It sees it as a CRT analog with a 4:3 ratio. I tried everything to get the display back to widescreen, the desktop fonts and icons go midget size on me–in other words, I’m guessing my graphics card is so old it just simply can’t be updated even though one was available on the Intel website..

    I do enjoy playing PC games and everything has been back to normal since rolling back the update. So after a number of years have passed, I’m guessing it’s no longer possible to do a driver update. Just wanted to recount my experience.

  12. Anon

    Heh. Funny story, actually. Just yesterday, I updated my video drivers to fix some Firefox compatibility and a performance boost. Instead, things got EVEN WORSE. So I installed even older drivers that came with the hardware, and now everything works even better than before.

    tl;dr: Sometimes you’re better off downgrading in the first place.

  13. pbug56

    I have a laptop with ATI graphics, with HP provided drivers that are far older then the laptop. HP has not offered newer ones (though the laptop is only a year old) and the existing drivers tend to have TDR problems with Chrome, and the errors always lead to BSOD’s. ATI graphics have had these TDR problems for years and AMD has not provided a fix, so when I built a desktop I went for Nvidia, whose drivers are easy to do updates for.

  14. Sam

    Updated my GeForce GT 640 LM driver with the help of this post. Thanks

  15. michif100

    Can confirm that the 13.1 catalyst is now working Fine on my machine!
    Thanks GRAVEDIGGERZ27, I didnt Even Check for New versions because I had something in mind that 12.6 was anounced to be the Last Version for all that HD cards!

  16. Little John

    I could write a book about video & printer drivers troubles, from BSoD to fixing the problem. I update my video drivers on Windows 8 then my audio for steaming radio stations stop working. Installed the MS driver for my video card and now I have working online radio. Since I don’t play games, but like the speed of video when working with Excel or Word. I love to work on driver problems since I make my living by working on troubleshooting the driver problems.

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