Keeping drivers up-to-date

Question: What is a driver and how do I update it? —J.H.

Answer: If you’ve been having computer problems and someone suggests
that you “update your drivers”, but you don’t have a clue what that means, you are not alone. A lot of new computer users have trouble with the concept, but take heart—it’s not hard to learn.

First it’s important to understand what a driver is.

A driver is a file on a Windows-based personal computer that controls an internal or external device, such as a modem, video card, scanner, or printer.

So a driver is what “drives” that device. Windows uses drivers to help the computer communicate with various gadgets attached to it.

Windows 95, 98, ME, NT/2000, and XP all come with built-in drivers and often will automatically install a driver when a new device is added if the driver is already in the Windows driver library on the machine.

Occasionally, however, the system won’t recognize a new device, and that’s when you’ll need to install a driver manually from a floppy disk or CD, or from the internet.

Sometimes it’s better to use a driver provided by the maker of the device than to use the built-in Windows driver. It may be more up-to-date and better written.

You may also have to update a driver if a device is working strangely. The odd behavior may be the result of a bug in the existing driver.

To update a driver, you’ll need to retrieve it from the device maker’s website. Most peripheral makers have a support or customer care area on their website where you’ll find driver files (among other things). Drivers also come on floppy disks or CDs that come with the device, although it is better to get the latest driver from the device manufacturer’s website.

If you need help in finding a driver, check these sites:

Before you find the right driver, you’ll need to figure out the make and model of the device you are updating. This usually isn’t hard. The information is typically contained in the manual of the device, or it could be somewhere on the device itself (such as peripheral devices like printer or scanner and some other devices).

If the device is attached inside the computer, like an internal modem or video card, you can usually find out about it using the Windows System Information program on your computer. To get to it, click the Start button, then Programs, then Accessories, and then System Tools.

Under System Information, a list of devices and their various names will appear under headings on the left side. For example, click the plus sign (+) next to Components and then Display to see which video card is installed, or click CD-ROM under Multimedia to see which CD-ROM drive is installed.

Once you have the device name, you’ll be able to find the correct driver on the manufacturer’s website. When you click on the file containing the driver package, your web browser will ask you whether you want to run or download the file. Choose to download it, and then specify a folder on your computer where you want to save it.

A lot of people choose to save downloads on their desktops – click the desktop symbol on the top right of the download box. In Windows 95/98, the desktop icon looks like a tiny blotter and pencil. In Windows ME, click the desktop icon on the left column of the dialog box. If you have Windows XP, click the symbol that looks like a folder with an up arrow in it. Do this repeatedly until “Desktop” shows as your selected folder. This will allow the driver package to be saved to your desktop so it will be easy to find.

Once you’ve specified where the file will go, click OK, and the driver will then download. When it tells you it’s finished, close your web browser and create a folder on your desktop. To create a folder on your desktop, right-click with your mouse on the desktop (any place on your desktop or wallpaper that doesn’t have an icon or anything else already on it), and choose New and then Folder.

Enter a name for the folder—something like driver files to make it readily identifiable in the future.

Now, right-click on the downloaded file and hold your mouse button down and drag it to the folder. Release the mouse button and select Move. The file will be moved to the driver files folder.

Now open the driver files folder by double-clicking on it, and then click the file you downloaded. The file will expand and uncompress all the items inside it and list them in the driver files folder. Sometimes, it won’t uncompress because it is in ZIP format. You can tell this by its .zip extension. You can use an unzip utility such as StuffIt Standard for Windows. In Windows ME and XP, ZIP file management is built into the system.

Now comes the part where you update the actual driver. Open your Control Panel (click Start, then pick Settings, then Control Panel). Double-click the System icon and choose the Device Manager tab. Find the device for which you want to update the driver. Click the plus sign (+) next to the various categories, click on the device you want to update, and then click on Properties and the Driver tab.

Then click the Update Driver button. A dialog box will walk you through the next steps of the process. Choose Display a list of drivers…, then choose the Have Disk button and use the dialog box to find the driver files folder you created on your desktop. Choose the .INF file in that folder and click OK. The system will update the appropriate driver. If there is more than one .INF file, try each one until you get a successful installation.

Finally, reboot your machine so that the new driver can take effect.

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