The Windows Resource


Updating Drivers

Drivers are small pieces of software that tell Windows or an application how to make use of your computer's hardware.

For gaming it is must to keep your drivers up to date, newer drivers can improve performance, fix bugs and add new features etc.

Generally speaking it is video drivers that give people the most problems with games, such refusing to load, crashing, showing graphical anomalies and so forth.  This is largely due to the speed of development, video can outpace other areas of your computer hardware several times over, so people can find themselves several versions behind in just a few months.

This guide will take you through the steps of installing a driver, and will cover the two different ways to install a driver.  The most common way these days, with a setup program that does it all for you, or using the built in Windows driver installer.

Finding the drivers you need

The first part of installing drivers is to work out what drivers you need, this can be very daunting at first.  With drivers for every single little piece of hardware in your machine.  If you're not sure what hardware is in your machine check out the 'Determining Your Computer's Hardware' guide.

It's then a case of going to their websites to find the drivers, here are some common ones who make graphics, audio and chipsets:

ATI Graphics Website
Intel Graphics, chipsets Website
nVidia Graphics, chipsets Website
VIA Chipsets Website
Matrox Graphics Website
S3 Graphics Website
SIS Graphics Website
Creative Sound Website

Some computers require drivers from the actual computer manufacturer rather then the component manufacturer.  For example a lot of laptops have special drivers you need to get from whoever made your laptop, like Dell for example in which case you should visit their website or contact them to find out where to get the drivers.

Let's go!

To start this guide off I'll be updating the drivers for my ATI Radeon 9800 Pro.  The two most important manufacturers for graphics hardware are ATI and nVidia.  They both make things easy by having actual setup programs that do the hard work for you.  Luckily more and more manufacturers package their drivers with setup programs.  It's just a case of downloading the driver, uninstalling any previous versions of it, rebooting and installing the new one.

Finding the driver

Anyway here I am on ATI's website in their driver section.  I clicked Windows XP and went across from there.  nVidia have a similar setup to this.

OK let's download

We want to save the file onto our computer so we can get to it easily later.

Saving driver to desktop

Let's save it to our desktop so we can easily find it later.

Now, we could go ahead and install the driver now.  But we're not going to.  In my experience it's always best to remove any previous version you had installed, we can do this with the Add/Remove Programs for drivers that have their own setup systems.

Removing the old drivers
Click for a larger image

To get to the Add/Remove Programs click Start
-1) Then click Control Panel
--2) Click Add/Remove Programs
---3) Scroll down until you find the driver itself, or a general uninstall point and click remove.

It's then best to reboot your machine.  When it's finished rebooting Windows may try to install the drivers automatically, if you're using SP2 (you should be!) it will ask what you want to do, just close all that and get it out of the way.  We'll then want to run our driver setup program.

Running the driver setup program

Double click the driver itself.  If you're running Windows XP with SP2 then you may get the above caution window up, yes we do want to Run it so let's get on with it.  The setup program will then usually ask you to extract the files, find a location (you can delete them later) and it will then kick in it's installer, follow that through and when it's done, reboot your machine.

You'd now have the latest video drivers installed.

Drivers - the other way

It's not always that simple.  As I said above, most drivers behave like the example I just gave.  Some don't, I'll deal with these below.

Windows itself comes with a wizard which can search the drivers and install either what it thinks is the best one, or you can manually install a driver.  This usually starts when you add a new piece of hardware to your machine.  You can update drivers using it with the Device Manager.

To bring up the Device Manager.

1) Click Start.
-2) Right-click My Computer.
--3) Click Properties.

This will bring up the System Properties.

--4) Click the Hardware tab.
---5) Click Device Manager

This will bring up a new window called the Device Manager which lists all pieces of hardware in your computer.

----6) Expand the category using the + icon next to the text.
-----7) Right-click on the individual piece of hardware and click Update Drivers.

Hardware Update Wizard

We're presented with two options.  The first 'install the software automatically' will make the wizard scan your CD-ROM drives and other locations for drivers.  If it finds something it will then install it.  All straight forward.

Well there's no fun in that, so let's do it the manual way!  Click 'Install from a list or specific location'

Hardware Update Wizard Advanced

The first option we see here well let you tell Windows where to look for the driver, it will then automatically work out if there's a better match then what you've already got installed, if there is it will go ahead and install it.

If however you want to tell Windows what driver you want installed, be it an older driver or one it wouldn't automatically decide was a better match, there's the other option.

Hardware Update Wizard Advanced 2

This is what we get after selecting the 'Don't search' option here Windows lists what it thinks it a good driver for the device, it may sometimes list more then one driver.  It also tells us that the driver is not digitally signed. 

Basically a signed driver, one with the WHQL has been tested by Microsoft to ensure it is compatible with Windows.  In practise it's always a good idea to use a signed driver, but it's not always possible.  My Nebula Digital TV card which I'm using for this demonstration, doesn't have any signed drivers.

There are three things we can do here, click next and install the driver that Windows thinks is best, uncheck the Show compatible hardware box (you don't really want to do this).  Or click the oddly named 'Have Disk...' this finally allows us to manually point to a location and manually tell Windows what driver to install.

Hardware Update Wizard Advanced 3

Up pops a new window asking where it should copy the manufacturers files from.

1) Click Browse.
-2) Locate the driver in the new window and click open
--3) Click ok in the original window.

Away it goes and installs those drivers.

Last updated 2nd of January 2005.