Third-party, automated driver-update sites sometimes cause more trouble than they cure — but there are safer alternatives.
Plus: What to do when XP’s Windows Update fails; successfully reusing Office product keys after an upgrade; and small, nimble PDF readers.
Best source for finding hardware drivers
Reader Chuck Takacs is seeking the best way to keep his system drivers up to date.
- “Recently I’ve been updating all of my hardware drivers on my PC. But then I started looking for software or services for this task. I found two free ones, but I’m wondering whether there’s anything better out there?
“I’m hoping there’s an easy way to automate driver updating, just as Secunia PSI automates security updates. I was hoping it would be free, too, but I would be willing to pay a little for something that’s good!”
Is your hardware malfunctioning, Chuck? If it is, you have a good reason to try a newer driver. Otherwise, my personal rule of thumb is: If a driver ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
In fact, the only time I update hardware drivers is when either my hardware isn’t working properly or I’ve been notified that a current driver contains a serious security vulnerability. (I might also update drivers when preparing for an OS upgrade, as discussed in this week’s Top Story.)
If I do need to update a driver, I do so manually; I never let Windows Update — or any other tool — routinely or automatically update drivers on my systems. That’s because most drivers now ship in all-in-one software packages that cover multiple (perhaps dozens) of different products. A change in any one of the included products means the unified driver package gets a new version number — even if your specific driver hasn’t changed at all.
Constantly updating drivers — due to nothing more than a changed version number — can mean removing and adding low-level software to a system for absolutely no valid reason. Automated update apps and sites might end up churning your system as they repeatedly try to add the “latest” driver. That’s not a recipe for long-term stability and success.
For more info on why I think automatic driver updates can be a bad idea, see the July 26, 2012, Top Story, “Software that updates your other software”; scroll down to the section subtitled “Why newer versions aren’t always better.”
All that said, if your hardware is malfunctioning or you have a driver with a security flaw, your best bet is to go directly to the hardware vendor’s site and use its tools to obtain the official, authorized, manufacturer-supported drivers for your system.
Every PC maker I’m aware of offers free, online driver support. For example, here are sites for the top five vendors:
- HP Support and Drivers
- Lenovo Support and Drivers
- Dell Drivers and Downloads
- Acer Drivers and Manuals
- Toshiba Product Support and Downloads
If the PC vendor’s site doesn’t have the driver you need for a problematic component, check the site of the company that made the component. For example, if you need a driver for an Intel system board, visit the Intel Driver Update Utility page. If you have an AMD-based system, visit AMD’s Support & Drivers page — and so on. Most component manufacturers also offer their drivers for free.
Once again, I don’t recommend using any third-party, automated driver-update tools or sites that might routinely “update” a system simply due to changing driver-version numbers. Remember my rule: If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Manual fixes for a failing Windows Update in XP
Stan Gershon is trying to keep his XP system updated, but his copy of Windows Update isn’t working properly.
- “I have several Windows updates that will not install (actually, one does install but then reappears). I tried manually downloading and installing them — but no luck. I posted queries on various forums but received no replies worth considering. (I was told to reinstall Windows!)
“I run XP Pro on an Intel Quad Core system with plenty of RAM. Any help would be appreciated.”
822798, “You cannot install some updates or programs”; the fixit is toward the bottom of the page.
If that doesn’t work, two — more-manual — fixes can usually set things right.
First, try reregistering Windows Update’s key components.
- Step 1. Open a command window; Click Start/Run, then type cmd and click OK.
- Step 2. Go to the system32 folder, where most of the Windows Update components are kept. In the command window, type cd c:\windows\system32 and press Enter.
- Step 3. Temporarily stop XP’s Update service: in the command window, type net stop wuauserv and press Enter.
- Step 4. Reregister XP’s Windows Update core components: in the command window, type the following commands, one by one, pressing Enter after each:
regsvr32 /s wuapi.dll
regsvr32 /s wuaueng1.dll
regsvr32 /s wuaueng.dll
regsvr32 /s wucltui.dll
regsvr32 /s wups2.dll
regsvr32 /s wups.dll
regsvr32 /s wuweb.dll
- Step 5. Restart XP’s Automatic Updates service: in the command window, type net start wuauserv and press Enter.
- Step 6. Exit the command window: type exit and press Enter.