Don’t forget to check for optional updates in Vista

I’ve been doing maintenance on a few systems here and just saw a flurry of optional driver updates appear on several systems. New ATI video drivers (June 2008 release) appeared for video cards on two separate systems here. On my dedicated Media Center system I was offered an updated driver for the USB Bluetooth adapter. My HP TX2500 and ASUS R1F Tablet PCs were both offered new drivers for the integrated Realtek 8168 Ethernet adapter.

Unless a new driver fixes serious bugs or compatibility issues, it’s going to be categorized as Optional, which means you have to get the process started manually by going to Windows Update in Control Panel and clicking the Check for updates link. Here’s what you’ll see:

optional updates available

To see the optional updates, click View available updates (under the Install updates button).

optional updates available

Note that the check box to the left of the update isn’t selected. You have to manually click that box before the Install button is available. If you want to know more about what’s in the specific update, right-click the entry in the Updates list and click View details. That opens a dialog box like the one shown in the screen above.

Oh, and best of all: None of these updates required a reboot.

15 thoughts on “Don’t forget to check for optional updates in Vista

  1. I’ve found that driver updates from Windows Update aren’t very smart. I have manufacturer-supplied drivers installed for both my video card and printer. In both instances, Vista offers to install older drivers than the ones I currently have installed. I don’t know if this is Microsoft’s fault or the fault of the driver manufacturer, but it really ought to be smarter about version detection.

  2. Carl, that’s why they’re optional. In all these cases, the new drivers were truly new and accurately identified the equipment in question. Amazing? You be the judge!

  3. Have you ever had a driver update break the system (on XP or Vista)? I haven’t, and so download drivers whenever I see them, but I have run into a couple people who never install drivers because their machine wouldn’t boot after an upgrade, video driver issue or whatever. It was fixable, but wasted time.

  4. I tend to be in @Jon Daley’s friend’s camp. I think long and hard before I install optional hardware driver updates. I’ve had updates break things that seemed to be working just fine before applying the update. And, with Vista I’m super-sensitive when it comes to updating drivers since a “bad” driver can trash a Vista install. In that regard, I actually make a full backup image of my system drive before applying any “key” driver updates.

    As we speak, I’m staring at an optional update from Realtek Semiconductor Corp for my Realtek 8185 Extensible 802.11 b/g Wireless Device dated 7/21/2008. Near as I can tell, my wireless works flawlessly. The details for the update say absolutely nothing about what the update changes or fixes.

    To apply the update, or not? That is the question.

  5. Scott, the only drivers that are allowed to be posted to Windows Update are those that have a significant impact on reliability, specifically crashes and hangs that rise above a threshold level as gathered by the Windows error-reporting tools. I have never, ever, ever seen a driver delivered through Windows Update that caused a system to become unbootable or “trash a Vista install.” Never. Worst case has been one time when a Sigmatel driver update caused a sound card to stop working.

    If the driver in question causes problems or doesn’t work as well as the previous version, you can always roll back to the previous one using the Driver Rollback mechanism from Device Manager, which is very reliable.

  6. Perhaps “trash” was a bit harsh. Let’s instead say “cause something other than normal operation” — to include BSODs. I had a dismal experience with nVidia video drivers when I first got my laptop, so that made me gun-shy.

    Also, I guess I didn’t really distinguish between a Windows update-delivered driver and one provided directly by the manufacturer. I suppose I could have played around with both to see who the guilty party was, but I didn’t. All I knew was that I was getting BSODs (which were being blamed by Vista, at various times, on the video driver and wireless) and I didn’t have time to deal with it. That’s the point I went back to XP.

    I re-installed Vista when SP1 came out. Since SP1, I haven’t had any “major” problems, however, nVidia’s driver support for my now outdated video card is still lacking. The Windows Update-delivered nVidia driver for my card was dated July 2007 (and the actual driver is dated Dec 2006). It is the one and only Vista driver released for my card, apparently, and it has the “disappearing mouse pointer” problem. Newer nVidia drivers, while not specifically for my card (nVidia uses a “universal driver”) introduce other problems, so I’m stuck with that original driver.

    Anyway…if you say Windows Update is reliable, I’ll take your word for it. Realtek update, here I come.

  7. Ed, I too have had a driver trash a Vista system so badly that it would take five minutes to boot up. Roll back the driver, and the system boots in twenty seconds. It was a SATA chipset driver which put the system into some weird state which took five minutes to time out. (The hard drive would thrash continuously during this five minutes.)

    Granted, this was on a laptop from a major system builder. Not Joe’s Corner Computer Store — this system builder ships 100,000 machines a year. I haven’t had these problems on desktops, or on machines from major OEMs. I guess the lesson is: never buy a computer from a system builder. If the OEMs are incompetent (craplets, outdated drivers, etc.), imagine how incompetent system builders can be.

    I wonder if the time has come for Microsoft to spec out machines down to the chips inside. Surely it wouldn’t be illegal if they don’t sell the machines themselves, but just license out the design to OEMs (who are not allowed to make any modifications). This would provide a baseline for a solid, stable system. It shouldn’t be the low-cost baseline — recall the XBox 360 fiasco. It should be the machine that all reviewers get when a new version of Windows comes out, and would help people separate out Windows issues from hardware issues.

  8. I have actually had driver problems that were delivered by Windows Update in the past. Although everytime it was from one company, all the other drivers from different vendors have worked like a charm.

    Any guesses what company it was from?

    Yepp, Nvidia. That is why I will never buy Nvidia graphics cards.

    Of course, the great thing about XP and Vista, is that nice little driver roll back feature in the device manager. Something a lil nutty after the last driver install? Roll it back.

    Tom, that SATA driver wasn’t a Nvidia one was it? I keep trying to figure out why Nvidia, a graphics company keeps trying to be a RAID/SATA chipset company.

    I think it’s great though that the update process is not requiring a reboot as often.

  9. I only use the drivers avaible on Windows Update. I never installed other drivers and my computer works perfectly

  10. The first time I encountered the problem was about two years ago with an old Dell that was a clean install upgrade to XP.

    As a standard procedure after any clean install, I automatically hit Windows Update and choose the custom update scan.

    There were updates for my Network Card and one for the Nvidia graphics card. Of course, I installed them both and when I rebooted, I was knocked down to the lowest color and resolution settings. I tried adjusting both back to no avail. At that point, I just rolled back the driver and went back to normal and avoided future graphics card updates. Windows was handling the hardware just fine for me without the new drivers.

    I have had this happen with a couple of other machines at work, which now thinking about it were also Dells with Nvidia graphics cards.

    Whether this was something that was particular to those hardware configurations from Dell or the quality of the driver from Nvidia, I am not sure.

    Because of those issues, I have become an ATI proponent.

    Generally, I still grab all of my optional hardware drivers that come out on Windows Update. If i get one that gives me trouble, is when I generally ignore the updates for that piece of hardware unless I begin to have serious issues at which point I am probably looking at hardware failure anyway.

    That being said, the problems I have are extremely rare with hardware updates, and I am a firm believer in the Windows Update ecosystem.

  11. RL just reminded me that I also had an issue with a wireless driver update when I was using XP on my desktop machine. I had a D-Link wireless adaptor and at one point an update for it showed up on Windows Update. I did the update and had all sorts of problems. Turns out it was a buggy update. D-Link came out with a newer version (which I learned about from a broadband forum), which I installed after downloading it directly from their support site. It never showed up on Windows Update. Windows Update kept wanting to push the older, buggy version as an update. Despite the fact that D-Link had released several subsequent updates, Windows Update kept showing that older, buggy version as an update.

    So, when it comes to video or wireless, I’m always hesitant to try to fix something that doesn’t appear to be broken.

  12. RL, sorry, my broken SATA driver wasn’t an Nvidia driver. I don’t actually remember who it was from (sold the machine because I was tired of it), but it wasn’t Nvidia.

    NVidia, like Intel, sells chipsets for motherboards. So that’s why they do SATA and RAID and all that. It’s not any more illogical, if you ponder it, than Intel selling graphics chips. It’s a flat world — everybody is moving into everybody else’s business.

  13. The new ATI drivers finally fixed a “sleep” problem my HP Media Center has had since I upgraded from XP Media Center to Vista Home Premium back in Jan 2007.

    Vista would never come up of sleep (the CPU would but the monitor would sense no video signal and go back to sleep), nor would the logon screen appear after reboots (again CPU active). I knew this had to be a video driver issue with my ATI X600 card but SP1 did not fix it. I lucked out one day and found putting the PC into hibernation and waking it up would not trigger the video/monitor sleep issue and I could actually use the PC.

    I was about to throw in the towel after 18 months of “pain” and toss the PC (or downgrade back to XP and give it to the kids) when I found the June ATI drivers.

    The problem still occurs after large Vista patches (like Aug 2008) where the monitor sleeps after a reboot due to a lack of video signal but regular sleep now works as well as normal reboots. I can use this PC for another year before I need to upgrade.

    I always had some faith in Vista but this issue really made me look at Macs I was just so frustrated. I see now how much Vista’s problems were down to third-party vendor drivers and not Microsoft. They hold some responsibility but the eco-system should be held accountable.

    Sorry for the long post but hopefully this helps others with HP PCs and ATI video cards.

  14. I concur with the windows update driver issues. Just last month after a windows update on an HP media center m8120n windows would not start and no video. Returned to HP for warranty service, they replaced the video card. One week after getting the machine back… you’d think I would learn… but the updated nailed me again.

    This time it was just as described by RL. 800×600 resolution, and when I tried to adjust settings, none of the nVidia drivers were present – highest setting 1024 x 768. Upon restart, could not get ANY video except in safe mode. No ability to roll back driver. Card was a GeForce 7350 LE.

    Finally upgraded to a better video card. But very annoying on a machine ‘built for Vista’ and still under warranty.

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