New NVIDIA driver updates are always good

Pros and Cons: How useful are driver updates?

Michael Rupp

Update drivers as soon as possible or wait as long as possible? Only the optimal update strategy makes the most of the hardware and avoids possible driver cliffs.

EnlargeThe currently installed version of a device driver is always in the device manager.
© Chrupka @ Fotolia.com

For old hands on PCs, the principle still applies today to keep the drivers installed on the PC system up to date.

When it comes to driver updates, two camps are widespread: One is blindly importing every new driver for their hardware in search of more performance and hoping for a speed boost, more stability and additional functions. The others, true to the principle of “never change a running system”, skip every driver update and click away the corresponding update notification messages. They only look for a fresh driver when there are specific problems.

The optimal driver strategy lies in between and makes the procedure dependent on the respective component: With graphics cards you should update the drivers regularly and with SSD drives it is absolutely advisable to import the latest firmware promptly. For the other PC components, driver updates are only recommended if the device in question no longer runs smoothly, if you are planning an operating system upgrade or if you need a function that should be included in the new driver according to the manufacturer's description. As long as the device works flawlessly, there is hardly any reason to install a fresh driver.

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When drivers improve the performance of your computer

In the case of SSDs, new firmware can optimize the data processing speed and help to improve the service life of the drive. Graphics cards and mainboards in particular benefit from a driver update. Real increases in performance can only be expected with graphics card and chipset drivers, rarely with the other PC components. Unlike with graphics cards, manufacturers only implement fundamentally new functions in such drivers in isolated cases, and there are usually no overclocking options. The focus is on eliminating bugs, making small adjustments to new models and sometimes adding a few functions.

Regardless of the device type, it is advisable to download and install the latest driver from the website of the respective manufacturer when installing a new PC component for the first time or immediately after the initial setup.

EnlargeThe previous driver version is available again after a subsequent Windows restart.

Check out new device drivers before installing them

As a user, you have no guarantee that a newer driver will not cause new problems, for example due to programming errors or incompatibilities with other system components. In this respect, it is important to carefully weigh the possible advantages of an update with the possible risks. You can minimize the risk of trouble with a new driver version by briefly researching the relevant information before the update. A quick search engine query or a look at the support forum of the respective manufacturer can help. In the event of problems, forum posts by affected users are usually the first to be found. Ideally, the manufacturer specifies on its website exactly which new features a driver offers compared to the previous version. Corresponding information can be found either directly with the download or in the release notes (also "Version History") for the respective driver file or in the attached Readme file. For driver updates that are imported using the online update tool, the relevant information can usually be found in the update tool.

Find the right drivers for your hardware with tools

The Windows update installs some, but by no means all, driver updates as part of optional updates. You are fine if the manufacturer of the PC components includes an update tool that automatically searches for a driver on the Internet and installs it.

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Collect device information: Most devices require you to obtain driver updates yourself. First, find out the name of the device in question, which Windows displays in the Device Manager. You can also find out the specific device designation in the free Speccy system information tool. USB Deview helps with USB devices: The freeware shows in a table all USB devices currently and previously connected to the PC with name and model.

You can read the current driver version in the Device Manager after double-clicking on a device on the "Driver" tab. The free Driver View summarizes the version information for the drivers in an overview.

Search update: Use this information to look for a newer driver on the device manufacturer's website. The appropriate rubric is usually called "Support", "Service" or "Download". There is often a search form in which you can enter the type designation. Check the device name to make sure you have selected the correct driver and download the driver file.

EnlargeWith an update manager like Updatestar Drivers, you are releasing responsibility for driver setup.

Load simple basic driver or large driver package

In the case of printers and scanners in particular, two driver variants are often available for download on the manufacturers' websites: a basic or minimal driver and a complete driver package. The differences can already be seen in the file size: While the basic version is often only a few MB in size, the complete driver suite requires a multiple of storage space - some driver packages have a size of 100 MB and more. If you opt for the basic driver, usually only the driver libraries required to control the respective device are installed, but not the additional software for designing printouts or for scanning documents. These additional software modules are only included in the large driver package. If you don't need the additional programs anyway, we recommend the leaner basic driver.

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How to install a new device driver in Windows

Once the download is complete, unzip the driver file, if necessary, then start the installation process by double-clicking on the setup program, which you normally recognize by the exe file extension.

The tip of always removing the previous driver from the hard drive before installing a new driver dates back to Windows XP times and is out of date. In Windows 7, 8 / 8.1 and 10 it is almost always unnecessary to uninstall the driver.

React correctly if the new driver does not run smoothly

The previously installed driver version can easily be retrieved in Windows. To do this, go to the relevant hardware component in the device manager and double-click on the device name. In the new window bring the tab “Driver” to the front and click on “Previous Driver” - in older Windows versions the menu item is still called “Installed Driver”.

What to think of update tools

Most device manufacturers leave the installation of fresh drivers for the hardware components present in the PC or connected to it to each user independently. Update managers such as Drivermax, Updatestar Drivers or Driver Easy want to automate the import of new drivers and promise to always keep your PC up to date. With just one tool, all Windows drivers should remain largely up-to-date. To do this, the programs scan the current drivers of your computer and determine which of them are out of date by comparing them with an online database.

You then have the option of reinstalling the drivers or updating the old ones. When using such tools, keep in mind that you are largely releasing the responsibility for the drivers in your system. As a user, you cannot check how up-to-date the update database is, and you do not have full control over the driver selection.