Updating Windows Drivers: When Should You?

Updating Windows Drivers: When Should You?

Updating Windows drivers isn’t an exact science, by any stretch. Generally, a driver update should be applied as soon as it’s available, but there are some circumstances in which that might not be desirable. Typically however, you’ll be wishing for a driver update long before one is available!

The Hunt For Windows Drivers

If you find a driver update for your hardware, read a bit about the driver before installing it. The driver update may “repair” a function that you don’t or can’t use, or it may apply only to certain usage circumstances that don’t affect you. In this case, applying the driver update immediately probably isn’t necessary.

If the driver update resolves issues that affect you, make sure your system is patched to the revision level required by the driver update before installing the new driver. It sounds silly, but I’ve encountered computers that are missing several OS revisions but have the latest driver (which may or may not work properly). In short, make sure your system meets all the OS requirements for a particular driver before downloading and installing the driver update.

If, for some reason, you’re holding off on patching your system, you may also have to hold off on updating your driver until your system issues are sorted out. For example, you may have some specialized software or hardware that will only work with a particular revision of the operating system. Updating the operating system may introduce instabilities into your software or hardware or may render your specialized goods inoperable. In this case, there’s not much you can do except wait until all of your devices can be safely updated.

Windows 7 does allow you to run an XP emulator. Depending upon your configuration issues, this might be an option that will enable you to keep both your newer and older devices happy. For XP emulation to work, your BIOS needs to support virtualization. You’ll also need licensed copies of Windows 7 and Windows XP. Your older devices can be used under XP and your newer devices can be run under Windows 7. It’s not a perfect solution, but it may be enough to allow you to keep critical hardware running until you can find a suitable Windows 7 solution.

If you have real concerns about applying a system-level revision, make a backup of your system before upgrading/updating it. Be sure your old driver is included in this backup. Patch the system as needed, then apply the new driver. In a perfect world, everything should work, but when this isn’t the case, you may need to revert to your previous operating state.

Generally, your system will work best if it is kept up-to-date for both system patches and driver revisions. You can set your OS to update automatically. You can also control which patches are applied automatically and which require your approval. Using a product like Driver Detective, you can also have this automated peace of mind, knowing your drivers are updated as soon as revisions become available.

Photo Credit: Florian, via Flickr