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Best Driver Update Software
The Best Driver Update Software of 2017
We tested and reviewed the best driver update software because many of these programs provide an easier way for novices to update drivers if they find the Windows Update tool clunky. After multiple rounds of tests, Smart Driver Updater came out on top as the best driver update software overall because it was the best at finding outdated drivers and providing trustworthy sources for updating them. The automatic update function and modern, intuitive interface also make it ideal for novice computer users.
If ease of use is your priority, then our pick for the best interface design is Driver Reviver. It's colorful and easy-to-navigate interface is both pleasant and easy to use. It was also one of the best performing products in our test, finding 110 out of 277 outdated drivers.
Our value pick is WinZip Driver Updater. At about $10 less than most driver update software, it was still one of the best performing apps in our tests. Unfortunately, it is ripe with bloatware. You have to be careful while installing it because it repeatedly tries to install additional apps to your computer – software that you probably don't want that can have a major impact on your PC's performance.
With our picks in mind, it's important to note that driver update software is part of a notorious industry that many IT experts argue preys on the fear and ignorance of novice computer users. The fact is, you don't need driver update software. Windows has even defined driver update software as potentially unwanted programs (PUP software). This is due, in part, to the fact that the Windows operating system can keeps your driver software current, and current drivers can be downloaded directly from manufacturer websites for free.
Also, it's important to understand that updating driver software isn't a quick fix to a slow computer and likely won't produce the performance improvements that these companies often claim. In fact, updating some drivers, especially ones from untrustworthy sources, can cause more problems than they fix.
Understanding Driver Software: What to Know Before You Buy
Most people pay little attention to drivers and have little understanding of what they are. This is because they work in the background, allowing your hardware to perform as it was designed to in conjunction with your computer. Unfortunately, many of the developers of driver update software take advantage of this general ignorance. So, before you decide to purchase these products, you should have a basic understanding of drivers.
What Is a Driver?
Whenever you connect new hardware (any physical device: graphics cards, printers, keyboards, etc.) to your computer, driver software installs to help the hardware function appropriately within the ecosystem of your computer. For example, every time you plug in a new USB drive, you see a quick notice that your computer is installing the driver. Once the driver is installed, you can access the information on the drive and save files to it. Without that driver, your computer can't see the USB drive and has no way of knowing what to do with it, making it nothing more than a small piece of plastic and metal sticking out of your computer.
To Update or Leave Be?
Manufacturers develop driver software to ensure that their hardware runs effectively and can communicate with your computer. However, as with all types of software, there are often updates made to the drivers to help the hardware run more effectively or to keep up with performance demands of other software. Usually, these updates are downloaded and installed automatically by your Windows Update tool, especially if you have Windows 10. But depending on your preferences and settings, some drivers can become outdated.
Sometimes the updates are meant to fix bugs that have been reported by users. For example, let's say a printer tends to overheat and catch fire whenever it prints more than 50 pages at a time. After hearing complaints from people who have nearly had their home offices go up in flames, the manufacturer realizes there is a bug in the driver that keeps it from communicating potential overheating to the printer. The company will then update the driver so it tells the printer to adjust its speed when it receives a large printing job, keeping it from overheating and catching on fire. If you don’t download the updated driver, you're playing with fire, literally.
This example is, of course, extreme. Most hardware isn't a fire threat, but the example shows how fear is often used to scare you into thinking you need to buy driver update software. The truth is, updating most drivers has very little impact on your computer's overall performance. Most are updated automatically by Windows Update, unless you change the preferences in the settings. Even then, you should really only worry about updating drivers when your hardware isn't working correctly. For example, if you're unable to transfer files from a digital camera to your computer, it could be because the driver is out of date. But, as mentioned, you can download the updated driver from the camera's manufacturer.
In fact, the only time you should really be concerned about regularly updating your driver software is if you have a graphics card for gaming or for use with graphics-related software. The demands of games and software for 3D modeling and video editing constantly increase. As such, drivers for graphics cards are often updated to maintain performance as software demands more. That said, these updates are mostly automatic.
Risks of Driver Update Software: A Continued Warning
All the driver updaters we reviewed are safe to download and use. However, you still need to be cautious when you use them. Updating drivers can potentially fix computer problems, but the app may prompt you to download the wrong drivers from untrustworthy sources, which can make things much worse. Some include bloatware, which can significantly impact your computer’s performance, and others have aggressive upsell notices prompting you to upgrade the software or purchase the manufacturer’s other programs. Many portray the problems they find as much worse than they actually are, making it seem like your computer is on the verge of crashing if you don't upgrade and update drivers.
Use these programs with caution and you should be fine. If you use these apps, always back up your drivers so you can reverse any problems updating them may cause. Also, always check the source of the updated driver – if it doesn't come from the hardware’s manufacturer, don't update it.
Driver Update Software: What We Tested, What We Found
The best way to evaluate driver update software is to see how well each product identifies and updates drivers. To test this, we added 226 outdated drivers to a test computer. We then installed the driver update software, scanned the computer and recorded the number of issues it found. It's really that simple.
Since Windows 10 automatically runs driver updates with Windows Update, out-of-date drivers are highly unlikely on this version of the operating system. As such, we tested on a computer running Windows 7. This older version can also update drivers using Windows Update but not with the same effectiveness as Windows 10.
Once the software identified and diagnosed the outdated drivers, we looked at the resolution options each program provided for updating them. In particular, we noted if the program showed each driver’s version information and the source of anything new it would download.
None of the driver updaters found all the outdated drivers on our test computer. In fact, the best performing product, Smart Driver Updater, only found 126 of the 277 outdated drivers. Just consider that for a moment – the best performing product in our tests only found 45 percent of the drivers it should have.
Ease of Use
Your techy computer friends don’t use driver update software, and you're never going to find these apps on an IT manager’s computer. This software is designed for novice computer users. As such, they are all easy to install and use. The best products, however, provide more customization options.
All the programs we tested have modern interfaces, with large, clearly labeled buttons. Most of the updaters can also back up and restore your existing drivers, which is critical if the app downloads the incorrect update. In addition, you may not want to update every driver, so being able to exclude them is important.
We also looked closely at the source of the driver update. When you’re dealing with software that manages your computer at a system level, everything needs to be secure and the sources need to be reputable. For example, if you're updating your HP printer's driver, it should only come from HP. It’s a big red flag if the program suggests another source because it may not download the correct driver or it might download malicious software.
It's also not uncommon for products to bundle malware or bloatware into their installers. If a program asks you to install other software during the installation process, you should always decline. If it tries to install other software without asking first, you should immediately stop the installation.