For the average PC user, drivers are a bit like the "red haired step child."

The average user knows that hardware and software such as an antivirus or Windows OS are essential to the smooth functioning of a computer.

What he may not be aware of, is that drivers are also key elements in the optimal function of a computer. And by extension, he might be blissfully unaware that drivers from time to time need to be updated after they are installed.

Therefore, now is a good time to understand the importance of computer drivers and how to manage them properly. A great place to start is …

What Are Drivers?

A driver is a piece of software that facilitates your PC hardware to communicate with Windows Operating System.

That could mean helping your PC system to communicate with your printer or helping your computer connect to the internet via your network card.

When you install Windows Operating System, drivers that are built into that software are automatically installed on the system as well.

However, there are times when you may need to install the drivers from the manufacturers' websites.

For example, Windows may only install a barebones edition of a software, resulting in the absence of advanced features for that software.

Downloading the driver from the website of the manufacturer of that software and installing it will open up more features for that software.

If It Is not Broke ..

You have heard the saying before, "if it is not broken, do not fix it." Well, this rule should be applied to your computer drivers.

While it is good to keep your drivers updated, there is no reason to obsess about it. If your drivers are working correctly, then there is little need to upgrade.

Without of course the new edition has some awesome feature or performance boost you want or if you see that an upgrade is recommended in the release notes.

There is a chance that upgrading your drivers might provide some performance boost but this is not the norm.

However, upgrading your drivers could cause some problems. In such an instance, you'll need to rollback the update.

If you are using driver update software to upgrade your drivers, a rollback can be easily purchased since such software typically provide a restore point automatically.

That said, if you are a gamer, one driver you'll probably want to upgrade more frequently is your video card driver.

An upgrade to this software typically comes with speed enhancements and profiles for new games. So as an avid gamer, you'll want to take full advantage of those features.

Bottomline, update your drivers only if you have to – for example – if your internet connection drops more often than you'd like or if your scanner does not work properly.

In these cases, try to solve the problem first by updating your drivers.

How Do I Check My Versions?

To check a version for any specific driver, you'll need to click the "Start" button on the bottom left hand corner of your screen. Then go to "Control Panel" then go to "Hardware and Sound" then "Device Manager".

You should then see a window pop up with a whole list of devices. Right click on a device and you should see a window should pop up. Click on "driver" tab in that window. The information shown should tell the version of that driver.

You can compare your installed version with the current version on the manufacturer's web site to see if there's a newer version available. You can then download the newer version from the manufacturer and install it.

I typically avoid upgrading my drivers via the "Device Manager" since I am never certain about what I am receiving.

I just downloaded the latest version from the manufacturer's website or from the driver update software I've installed on my system.

Where To Get Updates

In some cases, you do not need to do anything. When you plug in a device into your computer for the first time, Windows OS will in many cases install it's own generic edition of the driver needed for that software.

As mentioned before, downloading drivers from the manufacturers' websites might be necessary in order to access advance features of that software.

Another option is to download a driver update software onto your system. Such software will check for driver updates automatically and download updates.

Such software also provides a backup feature in case an update causes some problems.

Driver update software, such as Driver Booster Pro (the one I use), often come in both free and paid versions. Paid versions typically support more drivers updates. In other words, the free version may show that all drivers are current on a particular system. The paid version may show that in fact, ten drivers are outdated on the same system.

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