We’ve talked about ways to speed up an aging computer. We’ve highlighted some quick and easy ways to troubleshoot a problem with your PC. What if there was a way to accomplish both of these things and get some added features without spending a dime? Driver updates could be the solution to a problem that you didn’t even know you had.
Here is an example. I have a 2 year old Dell laptop that I am working on currently. The owner was having an issue with their wireless internet connection (Wi-Fi). The connection would drop regularly on the laptop, while all other computers in the house continued to function properly, and the only viable solution was to run a cable from the router to the laptop, which was in a different section of the house. Not only is a cable like this expensive, but there was now this horrible eyesore running across the floors of 2 rooms and a hallway. Needless to say, the owner was not happy and wasn’t sure where to turn. After about 30 minutes of testing, restarting, changing settings and getting frustrated, I decided to check for a driver update. Bingo! Problem solved.
What is a Driver?
According to Microsoft “A driver is software that allows your computer to communicate with hardware or devices. Without drivers, the hardware you connect to your computer—for example, a video card or a webcam—will not work properly.” When you first get a computer, the hardware and corresponding drivers are loaded and functioning (hopefully). Over time, you might add hardware, in which case a software installation CD handles the installation of the new drivers. You might plug in a new device, like an external hard drive or a camera. Windows automatically searches and installs the appropriate driver for you, in most cases. But there are other times when updating a driver can be both helpful and might even yield some bonuses.
After a manufacturer has shipped a product and you buy it, things change. New problems are discovered. Operating systems change or are updated. New technologies are introduced for storage, wireless networking, etc. The manufacturer updates a driver for the device to handle these changes, but there is a big problem. They don’t bother to tell you that there are new drivers! There are softwares and mailing lists that you can implement to help you get the latest and greatest information, but very few people use these tools. The only time people worry about driver udpates is when their PC or an installed device malfunctions (like the wireless networking adapter in my example).
Some driver updates are not purely the result of problems. In some cases, a new driver can unveil added capabilities or features. In the Wi-Fi example above, the installation of the new driver solved our problem, but it also gave us faster connection speeds and a new program for managing our wireless connections. As it turns out, the wireless networking adapater (the part that was causing the issues) was capable of connecting via a newly approved wireless connection standard and the driver update was all it needed to “kickstart” this new feature. The owner is now getting download speeds 3 times greater than before.
How Do I Know if I Should Update?
This is where things get tricky. It is possible to cause some damage to your system if you update using the wrong drivers. In my opinion, the safest way to check for and obtain the proper drivers for your desktop/laptop is to visit the “drivers and downloads” section of your manufacturer’s web site. Here are a few links to get you started:
- Dell Computers – Click Here
- Gateway Computers – Click Here
- Acer Computers – Click Here
- HP Computers – Click Here
What’s great about most of these sites is you can simply type in your make/model and they will provide you with the latest drivers for your hardware. They have already tested the new drivers on a PC just like yours and know that the driver will improve performance. Some manufacturers, like Dell, even have service tag codes for each PC. This means you can check for a sticker on your tower/laptop, type in the code (letters and numbers) on their web site and find the drivers you need in just a few clicks.
You might be able to find drivers on other web sites or even tell Windows to automatically locate the best driver for a device, but I would strongly urge against that. These “other services” do not know anything about your computer, corresponding components or tweaks that the manufacturer might have made to your setup. Installing a “bad driver” could crash your system or a single component. It’s best to avoid issues like this by sticking with the manufacturer’s suggestions.