Installing the latest device drivers is an essential task for keeping your system running at peak performance, but almost all of the driver update solutions out there aren’t actually free. Thankfully, Device Doctor is absolutely, completely free to use.
We have had a few readers point out that the software is no longer totally free, and tries to get you to install some junkware as well. We will have to remove our recommendation.
Device Doctor comes in two flavors—the regular installable version, and a portable executable that you can throw on a flash drive and use anywhere. Let’s dive right in…
Using Device Doctor
This is one piece of software that couldn’t be simpler—there’s just one screen, and after clicking the Begin Scan button you should see a list of drivers that need updating. You can then click the Download update on each one to actually grab that driver.
On the download page, you’re prompted to download the driver installer and install it manually. It’s not as slick and automated as solutions from other vendors (like Driver Scanner from Uniblue, a sponsor of How-To Geek), but that’s actually one of the things we like about Device Doctor—it puts you in control of your drivers. Did we mention free?
Because there are just so many devices and drivers out there for PCs, you might find that Device Doctor points you to the wrong driver, or an outdated version—and if that happens you should make sure to report an incorrect driver with the link on the driver download page:
Since Device Doctor is still a very young software, feedback from users is very helpful, and over time the kinks will be worked out.
STOP! Before You Install Drivers!
You should always take a time-out before you install a new driver and create a System Restore point, which will enable you to quickly roll back in the case of a failure. We simply cannot state this more strongly! Here’s some walk-through articles explaining how to do so:
Now that you’ve done that, we can proceed.
Actually Installing the Drivers
For the actual driver installation, in some cases Device Doctor sent us to a nice, easily installable executable—just run through the wizard and you’re done…
In other cases, however, the driver was a zip file that needs to be installed manually.
To install new drivers manually, just right-click the device in Device Manager, choose “Update Driver Software” from the menu, and then pick the “Browse my computer for driver software” on the first wizard page.
The rest is pretty self-explanatory—browse to the folder you extracted the drivers, and run through the rest of the wizard.
So, How Well Does It Work?
In our testing, Device Doctor worked really well for our Windows XP test system—it found 9 drivers that needed updating, and we verified that they were indeed the correct drivers. The actual scan takes only a couple of seconds, and since you don’t even need to install the portable version, it’s not going to clutter up your system with extra nonsense.
For our Windows 7 x64 test systems, it didn’t fare quite as well, with a couple of drivers that were not correct, like this PS/2 keyboard driver, which is obviously for XP:
Since this software is still essentially in “beta”, we can forgive a few mistakes here or there, but we hope the driver checking process becomes a lot more accurate in future versions. Drivers are an essential part of Windows, and you don’t want to go with the wrong ones.
The Device Doctor people assure me that they are adding thousands of new Windows 7 drivers each week, so the problem should work itself out.
What Drivers Should I Update?
This brings up a good point—you don’t need to worry about updating every single driver on your system all the time, like that PS/2 keyboard driver we just mentioned. Here’s the drivers that we do recommend keeping updated:
- Network Card Drivers – Especially as time goes on, wireless network card drivers need to be updated for better support and reliability.
- Video Card Drivers – Every gamer knows that having updated video card drivers can be the difference between 100 and 500 nerd points. Also, better drivers make your system faster.
- Chipset Drivers – You’ll be surprised how much difference the proper SATA drivers make on system performance, or the latest motherboard drivers make when dealing with system sleep issues. Personally I grab these from the manufacturer site.
- Sound Cards – Keep them updated!
How to Check the Version of Your Installed Drivers
Updating your system drivers is all fine and good, but how do you know what version of the driver you already have installed? If you don’t want to install any more software, you can open up Device Manager, find the device in the list, and choose Properties from the right-click menu.
We’ve already explained how you can view the installed list of drivers the easy way, but it’s good to know the manual method as well.
You’ll note that on the context menu you can choose to “Update Driver Software”, which will pull down the latest Microsoft-certified drivers from Windows Update. Unfortunately, Windows Update is often way behind when it comes to driver updates, and doesn’t always carry the manufacturer drivers that sometimes add extra functionality.
On the Driver tab you’ll see the driver maker, date, and version. What you should keep in mind is that Microsoft makes their own drivers for some popular devices, but you can switch to the manufacturer driver instead, which usually is updated more frequently. This means that the current driver version won’t always have the same version numbering sequence as the manufacturer driver.
More About Device Doctor
We spoke to the guys that actually make Device Doctor, and they assured us that Device Doctor is completely free, and will continue to always be completely free. In order to pay the bills (we’re talking about a lot of bandwidth required to run their service), they have advertisements on the driver download page, but they also accept donations.
They welcome your feedback—it’s only with feedback that they can make the software better and provide a great, free service to everybody. You can report incorrect drivers on the download page, or leave suggestions on their forum—the more that everybody reports mistakes, the more accurate the detection will be in the future.
Programmer by day, geek by night, The Geek, also known as Lowell Heddings, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 11/24/09