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August 18, 2022

Optional Driver Updates: If It Ain’t Broke…

There’s been a fair amount of hoopla around old and weird Windows drivers showing up through the Optional Updates button in Windows 10 Version 2004 of late. Seems that Microsoft may sometimes push drivers that are old, outdated or just not workable for the systems they target. This theme drives a recent Ghacks.net story Should you install Windows 10 Optional Driver updates? and WindowsLatest chimes in with Don’t Use Windows 10’s ‘Optional Updates’ if you want a stable system.

This may be hatching a tempest in a teapot, but generally reflects my personal strategy/best practice regarding driver updates in general. Prevailing wisdom on the topic is: If your current driver is working, don’t update it unless there’s some compelling additional reason (such as a security vulnerability that’s being exploited in the wild right now). That’s why my article title echos that familiar sentiment most inveterate tinkerers (like me) sometimes recite with rue: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And indeed, unnecessary driver fixes (and tinkering) have probably caused more backup restores or in-place upgrade repair installs on my Windows PCs over the past few years than any other single provocation.

How Do You Know If a Drive Needs an Update?

If the device to which the driver connects is running slow, acting weird, throwing errors in Reliability Monitor, or otherwise acting up, then it’s time to start thinking about a driver update. If a new version provides better performance, new features, or something else desirable — and enough people have tried it out and reported it working properly — those are valid reasons to update, too. Otherwise, standing pat is the least risky thing to do. Why? Because (a) introducing changes always introduces the chance of problems or errors, and (b) driver updates are often more fraught with peril than other changes because they sit at the boundary line between software and hardware. As you can see in Microsoft’s own lead-in text for its optional update offerings they agree that optional updates are best reserved for addressing known or specific device- or driver-related problems.

What About Driver Update Tools?

Lord knows, there are dozens if not hundreds of such tools available. I’ve worked with quite a few. Mostly, I find them too aggressive in pushing updates forward. Sometimes, I’ve also found them to be mistaken in their recommendations. That is, I attempt to install the recommended item and it fails to update for any number of reasons (wrong hardware, wrong OS, wrong version, and so forth). Occasionally, they’ve even pointed me at driver versions or instances that either don’t exist or that I cannot find anywhere. The time it takes to figure out that something is wrong is only exceeded by the time it takes to understand that it doesn’t exist. Eventually, all this time added up to a big enough total that I quit using driver update tools. I’m perfectly capable of wasting time on my own recognizance and don’t require programs to help me do that!


Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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