Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finding Those Elusive Windows 7 Drivers

While most new users will get their first experience with Windows 7 on their next computer (or at work), many of you are updating (or thinking about updating) existing PC s with Microsoft's latest operating system.

Over the last two months, I've fielded more questions like 'why doesn't my audio work?' or 'my printer doesn't work' than I can count.  A close friend went out a bought a new printer?!  (WRONG!).

First ... a little perspective.

Windows 7 isn't Vista.  This operating system is the closest Microsoft has ever come to 'plug n play'.  Unlike Vista, in most cases, a fresh install on a relatively recent (2-3 years) PC will find all the drivers you need.  If they're not on the install disk (or download), Windows 7 will download them. 

(If it isn't obvious, back-up your stuff first!!)

There's still a myriad of legacy devices out there and, in some cases, you may need to do a 'little' digging to get them up and running ... but there's help.

Three excellent freeware programs could be your answer.

You need to know what's in the box and these three will do a fine job (and keep getting better).

Belarc Advisor - Somewhat controversial because it renders your computer inventory in a browser, this utility will can your hardware AND define your network then present a printable list in your browser.  The personal (free) edition can be found here.

FreshDiagnose - This client app with a great user interface does an excellent job as well. You may have to navigate their site around ads to find the download (Hey, the author has to make a few bucks somehow?) but the program (and FREE registration) are well worth it.  You can get a copy here.

Speccy - Piriform's site is now clean of ads all 'over the page'.  This is the company that brought us CCleaner and it appears they recognized the need as well and have made a public beta of their new program Speccy available here.

The steps?

First, if it isn't a home-built box, visit your PC manufacturer's website first.  If the latest drivers (firmware, etc) haven't yet made it to Windows Update, there's a very good chance you'll find the installs there.  There are also lots of recent BIOS updates. Some will make a big difference but leave this to someone who has PC experience.  Flashing a BIOS the wrong way could ruin your whole day :)

Now that you know what's in the box, you can also visit component manufacturers' websites to try and find your 'missing' driver (or a later one).  Intel does a great turn-key job with this.  Others may take a little digging.  If you're Googling a component manufacturer, try to find their website and NOT a copy cat or legacy driver site.  There are thousands of component manufacturers but finding these drivers shouldn't be that hard.

Finally, this piece isn't for everybody. If you're not PC hardware literate, leave it to your computer buddy to do the homework or (disclaimer?!), you could wreck a perfectly good install

The bottom line?  If you think you're missing your card-reader driver, audio or print driver, or latest hard disk firmware, it's important to know exactly what device you're dealing with.  This can be said for any PC operating system and one of the three programs above (or all?!) should do the trick .... plus a little.