Where To Get Device Drivers

The Manufacturer vs. Device Driver Download Web Sites

Strip away the tech jargon that’s often used to describe device drivers, and you’re left with pretty much nothing more than small programs that serve a specific and important function—helping an OS (operating system) speak to the hardware connected to a computer. As an example, think of Windows as the contractor of a construction project, the computer as the construction site, and a digital camera as a subcontractor hired to perform a service. The foreman making sure everyone is on the same page is the device driver; the only guy who can make sense of what Windows and the digicam are trying to say to each other.

Despite the importance of the purpose drivers serve, relatively little has been written about them through the years. In fact, many users remain unaware of their existence until encountering a driver-related hiccup, which can be serious. It’s not impossible, for example, for a corrupted or outdated driver to cause complete system failure. Fortunately, most problems are less severe, although an incompatible video card driver that leaves your monitor screen black or an outdated printer driver that botches an important print job are still formidable obstacles to have to face down. Thankfully, you can fix many driver-related problems by downloading an updated driver from a device manufacturer’s Web site (look in the site’s support section). Better, these updated drivers often contain functions and performance benefits that the device didn’t have when the manufacturer originally released it. Beyond manufacturer sites, device drivers are available through Windows and from driver download Web sites and third-party developers. Attach an external hard drive to a Windows Vista machine, for example, and Vista will likely have a signed, or certified, driver among the stash of thousands of drivers the OS preinstalls that will enable the device to work. Further, Microsoft constantly adds new drivers to Vista’s reservoir through Windows Update.

Drivers from third-party developers, meanwhile, are typically optimized to squeeze better performance from a device or resolve issues the manufacturer has yet to resolve. OmegaDrivers.net, for example, is a longtime supplier of optimized drivers for video cards. Another example is NGOHQ.com’s NGO Nvidia Optimized Driver, which is “a modified version of the Nvidia ForceWare driver” that’s “especially suited for enthusiasts and gamers who want to have the best gaming experience.” Although third-party drivers can be beneficial, know that most thirdparty developers have no affiliation with manufacturers. In 2008, for example, Daniel Kawakami received kudos from fellow users for independently releasing drivers that fixed instabilities between Creative Labs sound cards and Vista. Kawakami also caught the attention of Creative, which initially voiced its disapproval and asked Kawakami to cease distributing the drivers.

Wanted: A Good Driver
Although Windows and manufacturer Web sites are typically the best sources for updated drivers, driver download Web sites are arguably the most convenient route, due largely to the thousands of manufacturer-created drivers they offer and organize for dozens of devices all in one location. These traits come in handy if you’re moving from an older OS to a newer one and need to find multiple drivers at once or if you need a driver for an older device. For example, say you buy a printer at a garage sale, but the original software disc containing the device’s driver is long since gone, and the manufacturer went belly up years ago and no longer supports the printer. Chances are still good that you can find a driver for the printer at a driver download site and get the printer running. Driver download sites essentially come in two varieties: those that let you search and download drivers free and those that let you download drivers with a string attached. That string might include anything from having to register a free account to paying a daily, monthly, yearly, or one-time access fee. Other sites may scan your system to identify your devices and find bad and outdated drivers free, but ask you to pay a fee before installing the replacement drivers. Yet other driver sites tout themselves as a resource for drivers, but instead only attempt to sell you software. Another characteristic to keep in mind about device driver Web sites is that although most let you search for drivers among a vast array of devices, not every site archives drivers on its own site. Many instead just link you to the manufacturer’s site to get the driver. As such, it’s not uncommon to find broken or outdated links. Also, some sites that do archive drivers may not have the most current driver. The following driver download sites are ones we’ve found to possess enough positives to make them worth exploring.

DriverAgent.com
If you don’t mind paying someone to do your driver dirty work, Driver- Agent, owned by BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) maker Phoenix Technologies, is a well-known option. Finding a driver at the site means first downloading and running Driver-Agent’s driver scan utility, which installs as a plug-in for your browser. The utility performs a scan of your system to identify the operating system and connected devices and to seek out good and bad drivers on your computer. The utility then presents the findings in a list that includes a pie chart that visually depicts the percentage of good vs. bad drivers. DriverAgent offers replacement drivers for those it deems as bad, but you’ll need to fork over $29.95 first. That buys you unlimited driver downloads for a year for up to 10 computers.

DriverSearch.com
DriverSearch.com doesn’t appear to be more than a Google-like search engine for drivers, initially. Dig deeper and there’s plenty worth exploring. To search for a driver, just type a company or product name in the search engine field and click Driver Search. Each result that DriverSearch.com returns contains a link to available drivers for your chosen device. Conversely, clicking the Driver Sites link presents a list of nearly 20 searchable hardware categories, including BIOS Drivers, Camera Drivers, etc. Either method eventually leads you to downloading driver files from DriverGuide. Although DriverSearch.com’s design looks a little long in the tooth, it’s logically organized and easy to use.

DriverGuide.com
DriverGuide has been in the device driver business for years, and the site is dripping with information that reaches far beyond drivers. Unfortunately, the site is a bear to navigate, and trying to download even one driver can be a confusing, lengthy process. More positive is that DriverGuide’s driver database numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Downloading a driver entails first completing a free registration that somewhat annoyingly involves clicking through multiple pages of sponsored product offers. Once registered, you can download five drivers per week from a limited portion of DriverGuide’s 400,000-plus driver database. Downloading more drivers from an expanded pool requires a Plus ($6.95 for two days or $29.95 annual) or Pro ($49.95 a year) plan. DriverGuide does offer a free driver-scan utility bundled in a ToolKit package. The utility displays your system’s installed devices and drivers, but downloading drivers from within the utility and using certain ToolKit functions means paying for a plan.

WinDrivers.com
WinDrivers.com bills itself as, “the world resource for Windows tech support and drivers.” Spend a few minutes on the site, and it’s hard to dispute the claim. WinDrivers.com’s tech support offerings—BIOS, DLL Files, Identify Hardware, Networking, Hard Drives, etc.—alone make the site a valuable resource. A Driver Updates section, meanwhile, not only organizes drivers by the month released back to 2004, but it also includes recent releases for BIOS, firmware, virus, and threat alert categories. WinDrivers.com falls under the umbrella of Internet.com, which by default puts tons of tech-related information within reach, but driver downloads do require a free Internet.com account.

Behind The Driver’ s Seat
Other driver download Web sites that we’ve found worth exploring include
Softpedia.com (free; softpedia.com), Techspot.com (free; techspot.com), and Driversbay.com (free; driversbay.com). Whether you download drivers directly from a manufacturer or driver download site, however, it’s important to remember to regularly check that your drivers are up-to-date in order to get the maximum performance, functionality, and protection for your devices.

Source of Information : Smart Computing / January 2009

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