Take the 2-minute tour ×
Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've just installed Windows 7 on my PC.

I went online to look for drivers. For my motherboard, Foxconn offers LAN drivers, on-board audio drivers, and chipset drivers. And for my graphics card, Nvidia offers a graphics card driver, obviously.

But then I stopped and wondered... what benefit would I gain from installing them?

  • The LAN cable is plugged in and I'm online; no problems there.
  • The on-board audio is working fine.
  • A quick Google tells me that a chipset is responsible for moving data around my motherboard – which seems to be happening OK!
  • And my graphics look perfect.

So why should I install the drivers? What would they give me, other than badly designed "management" interfaces, and pointless "notifications" whenever I plug in an audio jack?

If there are different considerations for each of the components – chipset, audio, LAN, and graphics (and any others you think I should be aware of) – please break it down in your answer.


Update: I've had a couple of answers already, saying that I'll get better stability, bugfixes, etc.

Can I slightly expand my question... Can I get all these same benefits if I install the drivers via Windows Update? And if I do this, would I avoid having to install the vendor-specific UIs, which I find so annoying?

share|improve this question
3  
Updated drivers usually contain one or more of the following: better exception handling, bug fixes, more features, greater stability, greater efficiency. There is usually no good reason NOT to update when you have the option. –  MaQleod Sep 8 '11 at 21:27
2  
Don’t forget better performance. –  Synetech Sep 8 '11 at 21:29
3  
While installing new video card drivers is a must, keeping the "default" lan/chipset drivers is fine 99.99% of the time –  Andreas Bonini Sep 9 '11 at 0:38

6 Answers 6

up vote 25 down vote accepted

The generic drivers are often provided by the manufacturers themselves, but they are specifically designed to get the system working at all, not necessarily working well. Further, depending on the component, they may outdated and can not only run slower than with a newer driver, but also have bugs that may have since been fixed. Plus, you may think that your system is old and newer drivers are unnecessary since the current/old/generic ones worked just fine last year, but consider bugs that lead to exploits which could allow an attacker to do something to mess up your system: you may not have changed anything with your system, but the outside world has changed, thus requiring a newer driver to patch the hole.

  • Your network card may be working, but with the generic drivers, you may not have functions like wake-on-lan or the ability to shut it off when in standby.

  • Your audio card may be working, but you may only have 2-speakers or lesser volume controls with the generic drivers.

  • Your graphics may look fine, but you may have poor 3D performance, or limited resolutions, or fewer configuration controls without the drivers from the manufacturer.

  • The generic drivers for your chipset may be working, but specific drivers for it may enable some functions that the generic ones do not provide.

The built-in drivers let you install Windows, boot up, and do some basic things, but for the best performance, the most “customizability”, and the most stability, you will want to install the most updated, specific drivers for each component.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for mentioning the common source of the stock drivers. If only I could give another vote for the rest of the answer! –  Windos Sep 8 '11 at 21:40
    
@Windos, I think many people believe that Microsoft actually writes the drivers that come with Windows (which of course is ridiculous; they may have written certain component ones, but they could not even if they wanted to—which they don’t). :-) –  Synetech Sep 8 '11 at 21:45
1  
I tend to agree but drivers from the vendor websites sometimes go a bit overboard with "customizability" installing bloated configuration widgets that most people will never use. –  Alexandre Jasmin Sep 9 '11 at 7:51
1  
@Alexandre, sadly, I have found that to be true. ATI has become notorious for that (I recall much hatred towards the CCC), and some NIC drivers have excessive config panels, and Creative’s drivers have those multitudinous annoying skinned apps. –  Synetech Sep 10 '11 at 16:54

Regarding graphic card drivers...

If you are gamer, both nVidia and ATI are optimizing their drivers for (popular) AAA games. For example, if Super Computer Game 3 hits the stores today, in a week nV and ATI might ship new version of drivers which will increase your FPS (frame per second) or in some other way improve your gaming experience.

Example of Release Notes (nVidia, driver version 280.26)

share|improve this answer

It's possible Windows 7 had all of your required drivers built in (it seems to be pretty good for drivers.) Updated drivers however could increase the device's efficiency, performance or fix an error/fault the manufacturer has found with the old drivers.

Have a look in the device manager and see if there are any "unknown" devices. If there are just install the drivers needed for them.

Personally, the only drivers I update from what comes with Windows 7 is chipset and graphics. Anything else I only install if, like I said above, it shows as unknown in Device Manager.

Also, it is often possible to unpack a driver package and have deice manager/the new devices wizard search for the driver directly, avoiding the horrible packaged software/management utils.

share|improve this answer
    
I should note: if Windows Update offers an updated driver, I do let it download and install. –  Windos Sep 8 '11 at 21:30
1  
I avoid drivers offered by Windows Update. For some reason they tend to cause problems. But I do take that as an indication that I need to visit the manufacturer's web site and get their latest. –  Joel Coehoorn Sep 8 '11 at 22:46

While Windows 7 does come with an impressive array of adequate default drivers, these default drivers may not include for support for advanced features specific to your hardware.

In reality, you should only update hardware drivers if the following is true:

  • The hardware is malfunctioning
  • Windows blue screens
  • The hardware performance is lacking
  • Features specific to your hardware are unavailable or not functioning correctly.

It's usually best to use the manufacturer's drivers for the graphics adapter because the function of each iteration of graphics chipset is so specific the default Windows drivers may not be adequate in the long run (not to mention all the bugs the manufacturer works out of the driver set).

I personally use the install disks for all the hardware I install and don't update unless it's necessary. In the case of graphics cards, I use the disk and immediately get the updated drivers from the website.

To each their own, your mileage may vary.


Edit: Apparently I did not provide sufficient explanation of my position.

Because, as with all software, drivers can have bugs and/or cause compatibility issues with other drivers. Even with Windows' ability to rollback drivers it is easier to use the drivers that are known good than to update, test, revert. This is especially true with production systems where having the thing work reliably is more important than having the latest/greatest drivers/software.

share|improve this answer
    
"In reality, you should only update haardware drivers if the folliwing is true:" ... Thats an interesting view but you haven't explained. Why not? –  James Khoury Sep 9 '11 at 3:11
    
Edited to better explain. –  Justin Pearce Sep 9 '11 at 14:30

They may work but they may not work to the best of their ability.

For instance if you don't install your GPU drivers you won't be getting full 3D acceleration and the fans won't be able to function as there is no proper connection between the hardware and OS.

All in all, drivers help you get the most out of your hardware. Windows 7 provides drivers to let you see the Windows 7 experience right away without tinkering too much. From then on you can install drivers as necessary.

share|improve this answer

You can generally avoid the Vendor UIs (which I agree are annoying) by installing just the drivers. Some driver installer packages offer this, allowing you to forego their applications and interfaces. But for some you'll need to extract the drivers and then use the Update Driver function in Windows to install just that driver.

Or, you can install the full driver package with all it's junk and then disable the startup of any driver-related applications and services (Intel and HP both like using services) using a tool such as AutoRuns.

These are the methods I've used to get the benefits of the full driver without having to deal with the cruft so many manufacturers think you really want and need.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.