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Why Older Hardware Devices Need Driver Update Checks

February 11th, 2011

device-driver-updates.jpgYou update your computer, right? Of course, operating systems regularly remind you to update when software becomes available. Users assume operating system updates include updates for other software on their computer — an assumption only occasionally true for preloaded, large software packages. In other words, where there is a distribution deal between the operating system publisher and the software publisher, updates also share distribution. Hardware, the physical aspects of the computer, are a different story.

Hardware components are linked to the computer maker, called the OEM (original equipment manufacturer), not the operating system publisher. In fact, operating system publishers shy away from providing universal compatibility. Instead, operating system updates stick to working with general hardware standards.

Over time, general hardware standards improve and produce innovative hardware devices. Software, faithfully updated by users, places increased demands on older hardware, because the software is tailored to new computers sporting the latest hardware models. Meanwhile, the user’s older hardware devices sit neglected, desperately trying to keep up with new software with only their original drivers.

A user can change this hardware fate by manually checking for driver updates. A driver is the software that lets the operating system “talk” to the piece of hardware. Ever plug in a printer or a USB mouse and nothing happens? Once you let the computer know which driver to use, the computer and hardware device can communicate and “work.” Hardware drivers come as packaged software, are available online, or included in the operating system.

Hardware driver updates occur in cycles. This means developers for the hardware only release new drivers when criteria fits their cycle. Criteria could be regularly scheduled time intervals, release of a large update to the operating system, such as a Service Pack, or when new features can be added to existing hardware via software. For example, a recent driver update for the touch pad on a 3 year old Toshiba Satellite brought multi-finger scrolling capabilities that previously did not exist with the original driver. Currently, mid to high-end laptops come with multi-touch scrolling on the touchpad as a standard function.

Massive updates of operating systems, such as new versions, will include optimal drivers for the hardware housed within the computer. Where users have to especially take personal responsibility to search for device drivers are in peripherals. A peripheral describes the hardware you plug into the computer that didn’t come in the box. After-market mice, specialty devices like drawing pads or web cameras, and printers are top examples of peripherals needing device driver vigilance. This is easily done at a trusted web library of drivers, or on the manufacturer’s website. Users should check for device drivers at least annually.

Always back up your personal files before installing new device drivers for critical hardware components. This includes updating drivers for processors, video cards, and keyboards. Watch model numbers carefully when you select and download new device drivers. You cannot use a device driver for newer hardware models if your hardware model is not included in the list of compatible devices. In fact, loading the wrong device driver, especially for critical hardware components, will “break” your computer. A driver that “breaks” the computer completely defeats the purpose of updating older hardware drivers for better computer performance.

This article was supplied by Elizabeth Ann West from Constant Content.

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