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Best Free Driver Software for Windows

Drivers are the code that lets your operating system recognize and make full use of the physical components inside your computer or connected to it, such as graphics cards and printers. Mac drivers are handled directly by Apple. But Windows users frequently have to go to Dell, HP, or the maker of a particular part inside their PC to get drivers.

This more open approach has created a small but robust industry of driver-updating software, so you don't have to hunt manually for each update. In the case of video cards, a new driver every few weeks can make the details of each update difficult to keep up with, even if the process is automated. Read on for our tips on how to navigate the world of drivers.


Windows driver software FAQ

  • Does Windows update drivers automatically?

    Your copy of Windows comes with a large library of drivers installed for the components in your PC. The first time you connect your PC to the Internet, Windows will automatically check for updates for those drivers and for the operating system itself. When you plug in a new device later, Windows can search its local driver library or, if it can't find a match, search Microsoft's online library.

    If you aren't a gamer, then this process should cover pretty much all your bases -- no third-party software needed. As long as your PC is running reasonably smoothly, you shouldn't need to hunt down drivers or use driver update software.

  • When do I need to update drivers myself?

    While Microsoft's driver inventory is pretty huge, it doesn't always have the latest version, as parts manufacturers aren't required to send Microsoft every update. Gamers with expensive video cards are particularly familiar with this gap.

    Both AMD and Nvidia cards come with software that periodically checks for updates. You can usually get the latest Nvidia driver on Download.com by searching for "Nvidia graphics driver." [http://download.cnet.com/s/nvidia-graphics-driver/]. Just make sure you get the one that matches your operating system, because Windows XP and Windows 7/8/10 have two different installers. For 7/8/10, you also need to chose between 32-bit and 64-bit. It's highly likely that you need the 64-bit version. If you actually need the the 32-bit driver, the installer will tell you when you open it.

    If you bought a home network router, that also may need to be checked manually from time to time. Your router's documentation will explain how to access its settings and see if it needs updating. But if your Internet service provider gave you a modem, then it may have a router built into it, and your ISP updates that automatically. The modem documentation will tell you if it has router functionality.

  • Should I use a third-party driver update utility?

    In the past, third-party updaters had a reputation for recommending downloads that you didn't really need. And they could be pushy about asking you to upgrade from the free version to the paid one, maybe even on a monthly subscription basis.

    However, driver-update utilities (Driver Booster and SlimDrivers [TKTK catalog links], for example) can be useful for showing you which devices may need a driver update, and you can use that information to go to the device manufacturer's website and get the updated driver yourself. In most cases these days, the driver package is an EXE file that you just double-click to go through the update process.

    Note that completing a driver installation may require a system reboot, so make sure that you're not in the middle of something when you update.


The best driver software for Windows

Nvidia GeForce Experience

Download Nvidia GeForce Experience


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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.