The Only Safe Way to Update Your Hardware Drivers on Windows

By Chris Hoffman on November 9th, 2015

motherboard

Want to update your computer’s hardware drivers? Don’t use driver-update utilities. Avoid bad freeware-download sites, too. Get your driver updates from Windows Update or your device manufacturer’s website.

Hardware drivers are the bits of software Windows uses to communicate with your PC’s hardware. Device manufacturers create these drivers, and you may sometimes need to get the latest versions.

Should You Update Your Drivers?

In general, we don’t recommend updating hardware drivers unless you have a reason to. The driver for the SD card reader that came built into your computer is probably just fine. Even if the manufacturer does offer a slightly newer version, you probably won’t notice the difference. There’s no reason to obsess about having the latest hardware drivers for every component in your computer.

But there are good reasons to update your drivers. In particular, gamers will want to keep their graphics drivers as up-to-date as possible to ensure the best graphics performance and least bugs with modern games. In other cases, you might need to get the latest version of a hardware driver if the current one is causing problems with your computer.

If you do want to update your drivers, skip the driver-updating utilities. We can’t repeat that enough. Go right to the source for your hardware drivers. This means the hardware manufacturer’s individual websites and MIcrosoft’s Windows Update.

Update Your Hardware Drivers With Windows Update

Assuming you’re using Windows 10, Windows Update will automatically download and install the latest drivers for you. Windows 7 and 8 provided driver updates via Windows Update, too, but Microsoft is being much more aggressive about this in Windows 10. It all happens automatically. Even if you install your own hardware drivers, Windows will automatically overwrite them when a new version is available.

This is the automatic, set-it-and-forget-it solution. You don’t need a driver-updating utility because Windows has one built-in.

On Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, hardware drivers appear in the Windows Update interface as an optional update. If you want the latest hardware drivers, be sure to go open Windows Update, check for updates, and install any available hardware driver updates.

These are coming through Microsoft’s Windows Update servers, so they should be fairly stable and solid.

Update Your Graphics Drivers

For graphics drivers, you can use the control panel included with your graphics drivers to check for updates them. NVIDIA, AMD, and even Intel provide control panels that can automatically check for and download the latest graphics driver updates for you.

Just open the NVIDIA GeForce Experience application, AMD’s Catalyst Control Center (soon to be “Radeon Software Crimson”), or Intel’s Graphics Control Panel — whichever is on your computer. These often appear in your system tray, and you can usually find them with a quick Start menu search.

You could also just go straight to the source here. Head to NVIDIA, AMD, or Intel’s website to download the latest graphics driver package for your hardware and install it.

Even if you’re using Windows 10, you’ll probably want to do this — at least, if you’re a gamer. Windows 10 won’t be automatically updating graphics drivers every time NVIDIA or AMD releases a new version. These updates are really only necessary for people playing PC games, after all.

Use the Manufacturer’s Website

For other drivers, go straight to your hardware manufacturer’s website. If you have a laptop or a prebuilt desktop PC, go to its manufacturer’s website and look up the driver-download page for your specific model of computer. You’ll usually find a single web page with a long list of drivers you can download. New versions of these drivers are posted to this web page when available, and you’ll often see the dates when they were uploaded so you know which are new.

This is also the place you’ll generally find BIOS and UEFI firmware updates, but we don’t recommend installing these unless you have a good reason to do so.

If you built your own desktop PC, you’ll have to download the drivers for it from each individual component’s website. For example, go to your motherboard manufacturer’s website and look up the specific model of motherboard to find your motherboard drivers. Repeat this process for each individual hardware component.


The good news is that you don’t have to do most of this. Windows — especially Windows 10 — will automatically keep your drivers reasonably up-to-date for you.

If you’re a gamer, you will want the latest graphics drivers. But, after you download and install them once, you’ll be notified when new drivers are available and be prompted to download and install them.

For other driver updates, you can simply check the manufacturer’s website for new versions. This isn’t usually necessary, and you don’t need to do it unless you have a specific reason to do so. Windows will keep your hardware drivers up-to-date enough.

Image Credit: Quasic on Flickr

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 11/9/15
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