Windows

Keep device drivers updated with Windows 7 Device Installation Settings

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz examines the benefits of allowing Windows 7 to detect and install updated device drivers and shows you how to enable or disable this feature.

During the Windows 7 installation procedure you encountered the dialog box shown in Figure A, which prompted you to choose how you wanted the operating system to install updates. When looking at this prompt, chances are the first things that came to mind are system updates, security updates, and general patches, and so you chose the Use Recommended Settings option. However, in addition to the standard fare, there is another kind of update that Microsoft can deliver -- device driver updates.

Figure A

When you install Windows 7, you will need to choose one of the update settings.

As you probably know by now, Microsoft Windows 7 comes with a huge database of device drivers, allowing you to install and use just about any known hardware device. Once a device driver is installed, the operating system will essentially add it to a watch list and can regularly check Windows Update for new or updated drivers.

Of course, when it comes to using the device drivers that Microsoft provides, there are two schools of thought. The first is that getting the drivers from Microsoft is a good thing because you can be sure that the drivers have been through Microsoft's testing procedures and are certified before they ever make it to Windows Update. The other school of thought is that getting device drivers from Microsoft is a bad thing because they are essentially stripped-down versions of what the device manufacturer provides.

Other considerations fall into the categories of installation and ease. Device drivers from Windows Update are automatically detected and installed with little effort on your part. To find device drivers manually you have to remember to check device manufacturer's Web site often to look for them and then you have to manually download and install them.

Now, depending on what school of thought you subscribed to when you first encountered the dialog box shown above, you may have chosen the Use Recommended Settings option, which delivers driver updates along with operating system update, or you may have chosen the Install Important Updates Only, which does not deliver driver updates. Regardless of which option you initially chose, maybe you've changed your mind since then. Fortunately, there is a little-known feature called Device Installation Settings, which will allow you to reconfigure Windows 7's ability to detect and install updated device drivers.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll examine the benefits of allowing Windows 7's to detect and install updated device drivers. I'll then show you how to enable or disable this feature.

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What's to gain?

Let's take a closer look at the benefits of allowing Windows 7 to detect and install updated device drivers. When configured to do so, this feature will allow Windows to automatically download not only device drivers, but also high-resolution icons for the devices attached to your system along with detailed information about the device.

For example, on my test system, I access Devices and Printers on the Start menu and I can see high-resolution icons for the attached devices, as shown in Figure B. You can see that the IntelliMouse Optical is selected and some details appear in the status bar. However, if you click the device icon, you get much more detail, as shown in Figures C and D.

Figure B

The Devices and Printers window can display high-resolution icons for attached devices.

Figure C

When you click an icon, you may find much more detailed information about the device...

Figure D

...as well as links to the manufacturer's Web site.

Accessing Device Installation Settings

You can change Windows 7's ability to check Windows Update for new or updated drivers and icons by launching the Device Installation Settings feature. To do so, right-click on your computer icon in the Devices and Printers window. You'll find a context menu that provides you with easy access to a host of features, including the Device Installation Settings feature, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

This context menu provides you with quick and easy access to a host of useful features.
When you select Device Installation Settings from the context menu, you will see the Device Installation Settings window, shown in Figure F. If you want Windows to automatically download device drivers, you would select the Yes, Do This Automatically option. If you select the No, Let Me Choose What to Do option, you'll see that there are three levels to choose from, including the Never Install Driver Software from Windows Update. There is also a check box to configure the use of high-resolution icons for devices.

When you are finished configuring your settings, just click the Save Changes button. You may encounter a UAC prompt, and if you do, you will need to respond accordingly.

Figure F

The Device Installation Settings window allows you to change the way that Windows updates device drivers.

What's your take?

When it comes to using the device drivers that Microsoft provides, which school of thought do you support? Now that you know about it, will you use the Device Installation Settings feature to change your device driver update setting? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

Also read:

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

47 comments
DBAdministrator
DBAdministrator

If there is a problem with the way the article says to update drivers: how about a detailed article about how to do it right?

za5g
za5g

The reality is that the Microsoft make a very good job to create, maintain and to update the huge ammount of millions of device drivers to work with Windows! Issues or not, device drivers from Microsoft or Manufacturer, there so many variables and nobody can say what is the best combination! We have to take care/backup our systems/documents and to make - hopefully - the right choice :)

Scott R.
Scott R.

There isn't an honest IT person out there that would recommend using Windows/Microsoft Update to update device drivers. You really are leading people down the wrong path here.

sc3reface
sc3reface

Some old device drivers are not detected by windows update

l_burleson
l_burleson

When I click on a device icon, I do not get any options as shown in the Figure E. Thus, I never can select "Device installation settings."

lammwa
lammwa

...over 10 years of MS OS's on my self-built computers, have supported thousands of clients in that time frame (currently in corporation with over 25,000 of them!) and I remember the majority of problems caused by using manufacturer provided "crap". From video adapters to NIC's to specilaized use adapters (external SCSI, serial devices, etc.), etc., etc. I've always found the "generic" MS drivers to be the most stable (although not 100% of the time...) and have never missed any "stripped away" features. The only problem we ever encounter now are drivers for "out dated" hardware (spend a few bucks and get rid of that 10 year old USB-1 flatbeb scanner or 5 year old external hardrive - it's probably full anyway!) or very new hardware (often with video cards) that do not yet have an MS version. Damn, I must be doing something correctly...guess I should switch to Linux :-o

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

all drivers update pages on most major PC mfg. (Dell, HP, IBM/Lenovo, etc.) have basically the same phrase: if your system is working correctly you don't need to update the driver only update drivers to solve a problem with the current driver or if a security issue has been addressed by the update

Harry44Callahan
Harry44Callahan

I think that what most are missing here is that you can get plenty of bad drivers from anyone, including the manufacturer. Anyone that hasn't had a bad driver from a the manufacturer hasn't worked with computers very long. As an owner of a PC service, I've had plenty, and found the only way to update a driver is to make sure you can revert back to the old one. Be sure to have a good backup plan whether you're getting the drivers from MS or the manufacturer.

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

"...update a video driver i ended up with 640X480 and 8 colors...." Yes, with Windows XP. I have never seen it with Windows 7.

rtroy56
rtroy56

Letting Windows Update automatically update device drivers is amazingly dangerous, IMHO. It often installs incorrect or out of date or less functional drivers. Try to only get such updates from the manufacturer.

pgit
pgit

The dozen or so times I allowed windows to update a video driver i ended up with 640X480 and 8 colors. Like running windows 3.0 on a 24 inch LCD screen. Best to not let the customer see that. Easy enough to roll back, if someone has been smart enough to enable restore points. For other drivers I really haven't "updated" from windows but more like "installed" missing drivers after doing a clean reinstall of the system. That is very convenient. I wish literally every driver there is would be made available this way.

jrbber
jrbber

as an end user, the last thing I need is for the OS to "take over" and create another "issue" that I then have "undo" to get back to being productive. Agree with others here that controlling that feature or having it displayed as in XP before I make the decision is the only way to have it. and automatic bios updates---------- Well, I think not.

SkyNET32
SkyNET32

Plus custom built machines. XP was really bad as well, but 7 isn't much better in my opinion. I'm not sure why, maybe Greg is right about MS taking the manufacturers driver and stripping it down. I don't know why they would waste time doing that, if that's true, I would think it would be better for MS to look out for manufacturer's device drivers and pull those into Windows update and serve them to the user, especially since most folks go to the source anyway (nVidia, ASUS, etc) and get it from there, manually. As far as "testing to make sure they are 'Windows certified' ", the above companies test their own drivers, so why do double duty? If the manufacturer tested out their drivers for their hardware products, no need for MS to do it. I always tell folks to get them from the manufacturer, if its a custom built machine, or to get them from say, Dell, or HP. I think MS would do a better service if they could grab an updated driver for say, that new AMD GPU and pull it from amd's website into Windows update. Philip

petermcc
petermcc

I'm not in for the MS bashing but I have fallen victim to the Win 7 SP killing off the video driver. Staking your reputation on an OS with a huge range of hardware to deal with seems like asking for trouble. Their track record is not without blemish but their rep can survive it whereas I can't afford to lose a client. If you are based on the client site you might go for it but if you operate on a drop-in basis then it's a "courageous" decision.

davidjbell
davidjbell

Hi Ocie3 There are two ways you can restore previous drivers. The easiest way is via Device Manager. Select the device and under Properties/Drivers click 'Roll Back Driver'. This has worked for me when MS downloaded a bad nVidia driver. The second way is to do a System Restore.

naplesjoe
naplesjoe

I'm a bit perplexed with the usual MS bashing comments. I think you folks think everything in this world should be perfect, especially anything MS puts out. Windows is and always has been an operating system for the masses. It is by design flexible enough to work on a multitude of different manufacturers products and run most any peice of crap software some geek wants to market. To expect perfection is unrealistic to say the least. If you want that, buy an Apple product. Ooops! There are issues there also, not? So far for me, everytime an update was installed that didn't work, Windows removed it and reverted to the old driver. Are you wizards missing something? Of course I use my computers for productive work, not silly kids games. So TR, keep up the good work. Some of us appreciate it.

mbkavka
mbkavka

I will be honest here. I can't trust the Driver Updates from the Windows Update site. Video Driver updates tend to blow up the video subsystem. Audio Driver updates cause quirks with the audio subsystem. Drivers for mouse, keyboard, NIC and Monitor are about all I do. Oh, and the fact that so much hardware, Windows can't find drivers for anyway doesn't help. Good in theory, bad in practice.

SKDTech
SKDTech

My only issue is that I tend to use the drivers from Nvidia for and Windows Update is always at least a few versions behind. That and it will try to install "new" drivers for any network devices I have disabled. Otherwise I have not had any problems with it.

dogknees
dogknees

I've had a lot of trouble with "updated" drivers under Win7 x64. Many of them don't work reliably under this OS and the "update" trashes my PC. Given that I work on computers all day, when I get home to discover that MS have trashed the drivers for my sound card and TV tuner, and I can't watch TV without spending an hour reloading the versions that work, I'm not a happy camper.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I was honestly impressed by the ability of Win7 to get any device I own up and running on the first boot. This does not mean that I want it to automatically push an update that could brick my devices. I like to be notified of updates and there are some stock drivers that I use that could benefit from this update service. The settings need to be granular and managed. There are certain devices that you must use the developer drivers for and there are certain devices that have extra features only available through a control panel that installs with the manufacuter's drivers. These helper applications usually get an update along with the driver and I don't want MS to ruin this for me.

daverrr
daverrr

This caused big woes on my HP laptop. I made the mistake of letting this automated process take place. This process tried to update my bios and rendered it a paper weight. Even though i told it not to update any bios files ever. I did manage to get it replaced through HP tech support but this was not without issues. If your laptop/computer is working never update your bios, I now turn off all updates for my system. If there is a driver change is needed i will download it and do it manually myself. Trusting these updates is a huge mistake. It has been for many years to trust these wizards. Until MS can fix there huge amount of holes in there O/S then it will still continue to be issues regarding these.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you let Microsoft update your drivers or do you do it yourself? I let Microsoft update everything but video drivers because I prefer the Nvidia supplied reference drivers.

pgit
pgit

Figure E shows a 'context menu' which you get with a right (or "alt") click.

blarman
blarman

I've had the opposite experience - especially with my home PC configured for high-end games like StarCraft II, Neverwinter Nights II, etc. Everything was working great using vendor drivers, then after a Microsoft update - now I get nasty artifacts that render the games unplayable after only a few minutes in the game. And try as I might, reloading the vendor's drivers doesn't work - there is some OS patch screwing things up. Similarly, on another laptop I had, I lost the sound after a Windows update. I've tried everything there, and am going to be forced to try rebuilding that laptop from scratch (again) to restore functionality. From a professional standpoint, every time a new version of IE comes out and gets automatically installed by Windows Update, I find that my mission-critical programs no longer function. I wish I had had your success with Windows Update. I don't trust it any more than I can throw it.

stdo57
stdo57

thats because of the oem and the devices that ms supports, fallow ms and that will go away.

Ocie3
Ocie3

Thanks for your remarks. I have used each of those methods at one time or another. If Windows installs a bad driver, I usually use Device Manager to "roll back" to the previous driver. If I've downloaded a driver from a firm's website or ftp server, then I make a Restore Point before I install it (which can be done automatically, too). If the driver is bad, then just return to the previous Restore Point.

stdo57
stdo57

ms supports xfire now not nvidea

stdo57
stdo57

most people dont keep up on whos company each supports and ms has switched from nvidea to amd due to performance and compatability and on more than 1 company and device. alot are using obsolete devices and wonder what is hapenenig and old software. hp has always had problems and dont thik it is ms but the hp sytem itself,

blarman
blarman

It's not bashing to state when you have had problems with any particular product's features, and Windows Update is one I give the decided thumbs down to - especially in the area of drivers. If it ain't broke - don't mess with it! One of the major problems is Microsoft's so-called Driver Signing, which is nothing more than extortion of developers. You have to pay $1000 and wait weeks just to get Microsoft to look at your driver and issue a digital stamp of approval, but does Microsoft actually support the device? No. Generic drivers should be the responsibility of the OS to maintain (generic USB bus, basic mouse, keyboard, default 800x600 monitor, etc. All others should be left to the device manufacturers to control, which is why you start seeing the major manufacturers of PC's like Dell, HP, and others including update utilities on their PC's now. They, too, recognize that Microsoft's update process for drivers is only about 50% reliable, whereas the drivers they release have been built specifically for certain PC's and certain hardware and have been tested rigorously to meet customer expectations of 100% reliability. They can also release these drivers without having to pay Microsoft to endorse them and make them available via their websites. It is NOT unrealistic to expect drivers to work. It is NOT unrealistic to expect the update process to work - especially for signed drivers. Microsoft shouldn't even be touching the unsigned drivers and offering them via Windows Update.

dogknees
dogknees

When there are no caveats in the description of it's behaviour, then I can and do expect it to work correctly every time. As a developer, if my products failed as often as driver updates kill my PC, I'd be out of a job. I don't consider it unreasonable to expect MS to be at least as good as I am. They designed the system to work this way, they get to make it work reliably.

Ocie3
Ocie3

Quote: [i]".... So far for me, everytime an update was installed that didn't work, Windows removed it and reverted to the old driver. "[/i] How did you configure Windows to do that? Which versions of Windows have that "feature"? I've never found such a feature in Windows XP (32-bit) or in Windows 7 (64-bit). (I am not someone who considers himself a "wizard" and no doubt my questions reveal that I am not one.) In my experience with Windows XP, Windows Update offered three "optional" driver updates respectively for the monitor, the printer, and the mouse. Each of them caused problems for which there was no remedy, other than manually replacing each one with the driver that was previously installed. So, I have configured Windows 7 to never install driver updates automatically. I assume that they will be offered as "optional" updates -- although the wording for that option, in the context in which it is presented, could imply that they will not be offered at all. (So it appears to me to betray a hostile attitude from MS). If Microsoft Update or Windows Update presents a driver update as an optional update, then I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. That said: so far, the Windows 7 updating procedure's attempt to install each of three downloaded important updates has failed (out of a long list of updates which it installed successfully). Microsoft tech support continues to insist that if I simply run Windows Update again, then it will download the failed updates and install them. Unfortunately, though, Windows 7 has [b]never[/b] done that. As far as I can determine, once an update has been downloaded, it is never offered subsequently, for any reason. MS tech support did find a separate way to update the software with two updates which Windows 7 failed to install. The procedure was long and somewhat complex, and, frankly, there was no way to independently verify that the software was actually updated with those patches. However, the 90-day "free" support period has expired; I am not going to pay MS $60/hour to figure out how to install the third failed update that has occurred since then. What really irks me is that MS will not acknowledge that running Windows Update again to re-install a failed update does not cause it to be downloaded again. So MS has not done anything to remedy it.

stdo57
stdo57

I built my new system with asus mb and win7 64 and have none of your problems due to the fact that intel now suports amd video and in xfire but has left nvidea behind you should fallow up to find what you need at this time because things are always changeing and ms is not your problem most likley.

Dzmitry Z
Dzmitry Z

Great article, didn't know about that feature. I would use this feature if driver updates were presented in the same way as windows updates: 1. Get the update list. 2. Present the list to me. 3. I choose what to install. Done deal. On a second thought, would the driver updates be presented in exactly this way if I enable driver updates and have "notify before install" enabled on windows updates?

stdo57
stdo57

you do know that intel went with xfire insted of nvidia sli

stdo57
stdo57

older cards i think

stdo57
stdo57

totaly agree. use ms on most but some take certain chioces that ms dosnt give

imsoscareed
imsoscareed

You definitely should update your BIOS but don't let Windows do it, do It manually. I maintain over 1500 computers update the BIOS regularly. I HAVE NEVER HAD A BIOS UPDATE GO BAD. NEVER!!!!!!!

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

First you said Intel, now you say MS? Microsoft supports everything. I am currently running an NVIDIA graphics card in an Intel Motherboard with Win7x64. Never had a single problem, in fact it works very well.

stdo57
stdo57

sounds like i net connection to me

Dzmitry Z
Dzmitry Z

As far as I know, MS doesn't charge for issues related to updates. Maybe something has changed recently? Also, for any updates that don't install automatically, I download and install the update manually. So far every one of them surrendered following this procedure.

Dzmitry Z
Dzmitry Z

Ok, so all I need now is to get rid of all the PCs in the office and buy new ones. Sounds good! Who's sponsoring?

Dzmitry Z
Dzmitry Z

That reminds me: One time, I was on the phone with another company, which happened to be unionized. Their lunch break was from 12:00pm to 1:00pm. The second noon hit, the guy on the other end hung up the phone. We were in the middle of the conversation!

Ocie3
Ocie3

I reported the most recent Win7 update failure to tech support before the 90-day support expired. We exchanged a couple of initial messages on the issue. Then the support expired before the issue was resolved, and MS tech support ceased to reply to my e-mail messages which were sent in reply to them.

Dzmitry Z
Dzmitry Z

In the profile it says: Location: hillsboro, Oregon, United States How do you know he/she is foreign? And why Hindu? English is not my first language, but I try to at least proof-read what I write... B...

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

He may lack sense and English skills but I'll bet you would fail at the Hindu spelling B.