I think it’s safe to say that almost all computers used in homes today are connected to the Internet and have a decent amount of programs installed. And that makes keeping your computer up-to-date an important task. Why? Because each day a new security hole, exploit or other errors are found and being fixed. Or a program can get new features or bugfixes.
Fortunately, Windows and other popular software can be set up to update itself. E.g. Windows 7 can be set up to run Windows Update and install important and critically updates automatically.
Also check out my post WSUS Offline Update – Update Windows without Internet.
Another example is Mozilla Firefox, a popular browser, that once in a while pops up a window asking you to update it. Google has taken it a step longer with their browser Chrome, just updating it in the background without user intervention. Talking about browsers, plugins are just as important to update. Flash and Java are two of the most used plugins and therefore prone to attacks. You don’t want these to be out-of-date, so do a plugin check at Mozilla. Google has actually integrated Flash directly in Chrome, so it gets updated automatically when the browser gets updated.
Some software doesn’t update automatically, but tells you when an update is available. And some software doesn’t notify you at all, making you doing the dirty work. Looking for updates, downloading and updating each of these can be difficult and tedious. That’s were software updaters come in handy!
My favorite is FileHippo Update Checker. This little utility can be installed as a regular program, notifying you when updates for your installed programs are available. I find it rather “noisy”, so I prefer the standalone (portable) version. Just run the program, it does a scan and presents you with a webpage with direct downloads.
If you want a more detailed summary, you might want to try out Secunia Personal Software Inspector. It does a more thorough scan, and is supposed to support automatic updating of installed programs.
Both programs mentioned above are discussed together with others at Gizmo’s Freeware.
That covers Windows and software, but what about drivers? Drivers are an important part of a working computer. An easy explanation of a driver, is software that makes Windows “talk” to you hardware. In the Windows XP era, finding the right driver and updating it was hard. Since Windows Vista, Microsoft has done a great job with drivers, including them directly on the setup DVD and offering them through Windows Update. I you choose the recommended settings during Windows 7 setup, most (if not all) of your hardware will be recognized and drivers gets installed automatically. Either during setup or afterwards through Windows Update.
This solution requires a working Internet connection of course, which depends on your network card getting installed during setup. As a safety net, be sure to download its driver from your computer or motherboard manufacturer beforehand.
If you want a program to do all the work, I can recommend Driver Magician. I got mine for free via Giveaway of the Day. They have given this away the last three years.
A free alternative is DriverEasy. A combined web-service and software is the French site My-Config.com.
If you’re an enthusiast like me, you always want the latest software and drivers, even if they’re beta (unfinished, made available for testing). Computer manufacturers seem to forget about your hardware as soon as they release a newer system. That’s why I recommend you go straight to the source. E.g. if you have an Intel system, download your chipset and SATA drivers from Intel’s website. Likewise for AMD systems. If you have a graphics card from nVidia or ATI/AMD, you’ll usually get a better experience using their drivers. You will often lose customization done by your computer manufacturer, but personally I think that’s a small price to pay. Until recently, laptop users weren’t allowed to use the drivers released directly from AMD or nVidia. That’s why sites like Laptop Video 2 Go and Omega Drivers exists.
Windows Vista introduced a new driver model, which continues with Windows 7. In Windows XP, you have to manually specify the exact folder which contains the (updated) driver. In Vista/7, you can put all your drivers in one folder, and just point to it. The operating system will take care of the rest, choosing the best (most compatible) driver and install it for you. But what if you can’t find a suitable driver? What if you don’t know what that “unknown hardware” is in Device Manager?
Thats were Unknown Device Identifier steps in. It will help you identify the hardware, making it easier to find a driver.
As I mentioned, Windows XP doesn’t make it easy to update drivers. And being over ten years old, it seldom has drivers included for current hardware. As always, Internet has a solution. DriverPacks.net is a project trying to gather most used drivers in one place. Drivers are packed together in compressed files, sorted in categories like chipset, sound, graphics e.t.c. The project started out as a way to integrate drivers into the Windows XP setup. Newer SATA hard drives won’t be recognized by Windows XP setup and a driver needs to be loaded from a floppy. The floppy has been dead for years, hence integrating drivers. By downloading and running DriverPacks BASE, you can integrate all the driverpacks into Windows XP with the push of a few buttons! DP BASE can download/update driverpacks, integrate them into Windows XP setup or make a Standalone Disc which you can use to update drivers on an existing installation.
DriverPacks.net contains a list for Vista (can be used for Windows 7 also due to same driver model). What I usually do, is to download the packs, unzip them (7-zip is a good alternative) and then use Device Manager to update my components. You do this by right-clicking a device in the list and choose Update Driver Software…, next Browse my computer for driver software and lastly point it to the correct folder. Be sure to check the box that includes subfolders.