Hardware device drivers are integral to the functioning of computers. Whether a Mac or a Windows PC, it’s necessary for the computer’s operating system to communicate with, and control, the hardware present on the computer. A device driver is a piece of software which enables the computer’s operating system to perform this function.
Each element of active hardware in a computer requires a device driver in order to carry out its function. If the driver is missing or corrupted, that element of the computer will fail to work correctly. For example, a missing audio driver would mean the computer generates no sound, or a missing WiFi driver would mean that the computer is unable to connect to a WiFi network.
When a Microsoft Windows operating system is first installed on a computer most, if not all, of the required device drivers will be installed by default. However, it’s always possible that certain drivers may be missing, or may become corrupted at some later stage. In either of these scenarios, it’s necessary to install or update device drivers. Various methods are available to accomplish this.
Let’s look at four methods which can be used to install or update device drivers in a Microsoft Windows PC.
Update the Drivers Manually Using Device Manager
The first method for updating device drivers is the manual method using Device Manager. The easiest way to launch Device Manager is to hold down the Windows key then press X and then select it from the resulting menu. You will be presented with a window listing all the hardware in your computer requiring a device driver.
Any devices which don’t currently have a driver installed will have an exclamation mark in a yellow symbol beside them. You can expand any of the categories in Device Manager. To install or update a device driver, simply right-click on the hardware item and select Update driver. You will then be presented with the option to search automatically for drivers on the internet, or to browse your computer for drivers.
Normally you would search automatically, unless you have a disk or flash drive containing the required driver, or you’ve already downloaded the driver to your computer.
This manual method is somewhat tedious, unless you’re updating just one or two drivers. There will also be occasions when Windows is actually unable to identify the item of hardware in order to locate and download its driver. For these reasons, it may be necessary to consider an alternative method.
Update the Drivers From the Manufacturer’s Website
It’s invariably possible to download device drivers from the websites of hardware manufacturers. In the case of a laptop, this will be the laptop manufacturer and, in the case of a desktop, it will be the manufacturer of the motherboard.
If you know which drivers you require, you can simply locate the relevant section on the manufacturer’s driver downloads page, and download them from there. The drivers required can be identified using Device Manager as above.
In the case of many laptops, the manufacturer will also have provided an option, via their website, to scan the laptop and automatically install any required drivers. This option can often be found in the driver downloads section of the website.
Use Driver Update Software
Using driver update software to update device drivers is the option I least recommend. It is the most straightforward way to install device drivers, and driver update software is used by many people. Generally you can simply run the software once to update your drivers, or install it and leave it running in the background to do so continuously. The problem with this method is that many driver update programs are riddled with malware. In fact, one of the first things I do when cleaning up a client’s computer is to uninstall driver update software. Many times these programs have been installed inadvertently and they continually present nagging pop-up windows.
If you do want to use driver update software, I would recommend Driver Booster from IObit. When installing Driver Booster, take care to avoid installing the additional recommended products, unless you really want to use them.
After installing and launching Driver Booster, it will scan your computer and you will be presented with a window showing you which drivers are required.
You can then click Update Now to install the driver updates.
Use Snappy Driver Installer
This is undoubtedly the least known of the four methods I’m describing, but my personal favourite. By using Snappy Driver Installer (SDI) you can install or update almost any driver without the need to be online when doing so, and without needing to install any software on your computer.
As an IT support professional, SDI is one of the tools I always have available on a portable flash drive. I use it regularly, particularly after carrying out a fresh install of Windows on a PC. Often after installing Windows, a number of drivers will be missing. SDI has the capability to install the missing drivers without the need to locate them on the internet and download them.
SDI is a simple application but a very large download since it contains almost any driver you will ever need for use on a Windows computer. At the time of writing, it’s 21.7 GB in size and the tool is updated regularly with new drivers.
After downloading SDI to your flash drive or computer, you can launch either the 32-bit or the 64-bit version. SDI will scan your computer for missing drivers, or drivers which have updates available, and you will then be presented with a window similar to the following.
The window lists all the hardware which is either missing drivers, or for which an updated driver is available. You can then select all drivers to be updated, or specific drivers, by ticking the appropriate boxes. Then just click on Install to proceed with the installation.
If All Else Fails
Once in a while, you may encounter a piece of hardware for which none of the above methods succeeds in installing its driver. This is more likely to happen with an older computer. You can always identify a missing device driver by the symbol with the exclamation mark in Device Manager.
If indeed none of the methods described have succeeded in installing a particular driver, it will be necessary to search the internet for the driver. In order to ascertain what exactly to search for, you may need to look at the Details tab in the Properties of the relevant item of hardware in Device Manager. There are often numerous properties available on this tab, the most useful of which for this purpose is the Hardware IDs property.
You can search the internet using the hardware IDs in an attempt to locate a matching driver. Then download and install it. However, you do need to take care to avoid downloading from disreputable sites which may introduce malware to your computer.
I’ve described four different methods which can be used to install and update drivers on a Windows computer. One method is built in to Windows but doesn’t always succeed. One relies on the hardware manufacturer to provide the drivers. The third method requires the installation of driver update software, and many applications used for this purpose will introduce malware to your computer. The final method can be used to install or update almost any driver without installing any software and without the need for an internet connection. This is my preferred method and the one I use most regularly when setting up Windows computers.
This Windows device driver update guide was written by Norm McLaughlin. Norm is the founder of Norm’s Computer Services, a computer repair and IT support business in Brisbane, Australia.