What order should you install drivers in?

I was poking around Dell’s support site today and ran across this page, which I hadn’t seen before:

Windows driver install order for desktops and laptops

The following list is an overview of the correct order to install drivers on Dell desktops and portables. After reinstalling Microsoft® Windows®, follow the order listed when reinstalling drivers. It is recommended that you print this list for reference when installing drivers.

Note: Some devices may not function properly if the drivers are installed out of order.

Although some of the information is specific to Dell’s support site, the general principles are pretty good ones. Here’s a shorter version of the list with my commentary:

  1. Notebook system software – This option usually enables any special features, such as hardware buttons. The Dell list includes “desktop system software” as well, although I’m not sure I can think of any systems where this is really necessary. Update: I just checked in a brand-new Dell notebook and had a chance to look at the system software for it. It includes four hotfixes, all of which resolve issues that could affect a system’s ability to boot properly. In this case at least, I would certainly install that package first!
  2. Chipset – This isn’t, strictly speaking, a driver. Instead, it’s a group of  INF files that tell the OS what components are available on the mainboard and allow it to install additional drivers for those components. I would only install a replacement chipset driver if I knew for certain that it was a perfect match for my PC.
  3. Display adapter – If possible, you want a WDDM 1.1 driver for Windows 7. Drivers written originally for Vista are typically WDDM 1.0. Intel, Nvidia, and ATI all have Windows 7-certified display drivers.
  4. Wired network interface card (NIC) – Wireless comes later.
  5. Notebook management software – On a Dell, this refers to the Quickset or Dell Control Point Manager (DCP) program, which controls power management, ambient light sensor, wireless profiles, and security features. In many cases, this software duplicates functions performed perfectly well by the OS.
  6. Audio adapter – This driver might also include support for a webcam on a notebook. If the Windows 7 setup program installs a generic High Definition Audio device, consider replacing it.
  7. Modem – I can’t remember the last time I used a dial-up connection, but if you use fax features or travel in places without broadband access it can be useful.
  8. Wireless network card – A driver written specifically for your device often includes additional configuration options on the Device properties page.
  9. Touchpad, Pointer, Trackstick, Mice, and Keyboards – This is particularly important for enabling extra features like panning on a Synaptics Trackpad.
  10. Other devices – Bluetooth modules, fingerprint readers, touch-screen digitizers, etc.

This is especially timely advice for anyone considering a Windows 7 upgrade. A clean install often uses generic drivers that enable a device at a fairly low level of performance, often without advanced features. To unlock all the features of a device, you need to find a driver written especially for it.

I’ve seen a lot of Windows 7-specific drivers delivered over Windows Update, and you can find more at OEM web sites. (Dell, for example, now has Windows 7 drivers available for download on some business PCs.) If you want to look for a specific driver, try the Windows 7 catalog (include “Windows 7 client” as one of the search terms). You’ll find an RSS feed here.

Shortly after Vista shipped, I put together a list of Vista device drivers that became one of my most popular pages. We’ll see if there’s a need for a similar page for Windows 7 after October 22.

19 thoughts on “What order should you install drivers in?

  1. Thank you. Since I have a (4-month old) Dell desktop and will be clean installing shortly after Oct 22 this is timely stuff for me (and is bookmarked–if I remember before starting the process).

    –John

  2. For desktops, I’ve generally only had to install one driver: the audio driver (to get the front plugs working, so I can plug in headphones). Everything else generally auto-updates to a pretty decent driver.

    Laptops are a different matter. In those cases, I’ve generally had to install half-a-dozen drivers due to all the hardware buttons, specialized components, etc. Doubly so because I use a Tablet PC.

  3. Ed,

    This is interesting because I did not know there was a correct or any particular order to install drivers. As you mentioned in your post the principles they go seem quite logical.
    -Brett

  4. I just tried the Windows 7 Update site in IE8

    http://catalog.update.microsoft.com/

    and get a message to “Click on the Internet Explorer Information Bar at the top of this browser window.”

    Of course, there is no “Internet Explorer Information Bar” on my browser window.

    Anyone have any suggestions on what to do next (besides grumbling about Microsoft…)?

    1. Sammy, do you have ActiveX disabled? The Information Bar is that gold bar that indicates the site is trying to install an ActiveX control. I see it here on IE8 in Windows 7 the first time I visit, before installing that control.

  5. Thanks Ed. I have installed Window 7 RTM on 3 machines now, and I have to say that they are the smoothest, easiest installs of ANY Windows version ever. Microsoft hit a home run. On two of my computers with relatively new components, Windows 7 literally installed the latest drivers for all of components (including proprietary Toshiba notebook ones) during installation. I didn’t even have to update them after install! On an older Toshiba tablet computer, I did have to go download older Vista drivers. As far as the order of installation goes, I usually install the network drivers first so I can go out and download all of the other drivers that I need!

  6. Question: The power is off and you walk into a dark room which contains a candle, a lantern, a gas lamp, and a fireplace with wood and newspapers. You only have 1 match. What do you light first?

    Answer: The match

    I tend to install the network drivers first and then use that to grab everything else.

  7. I always install LAN first. That way I can access the most up to date chipset and display drivers. Since I worked for my schools IT department, I have a lot of experience installing drivers. My order is: LAN, Chipset, Display, WLAN, Audio, card readers (Ricoh usually), and then notebook specific drivers usually beginning with tablet then biometrics if it has those features. I never, ever install the Dell QuickSet or any of “notebook management software”. That is just bloatware.

  8. I generally grab all the drivers for a specific machine (especially a laptop) and save them in a local folder before I begin the upgrade. I can then copy the folder to a USB stick and install all the drivers quickly without having to find them in a sometimes confusing support library.

  9. I found this good little info page a couple years ago. And, from my experience it DOES make a difference. Even on non-Dell computers. I follow it verbatim on all computer OS installs I do.

  10. I have a Gateway DX 4300-03. I had to install the tv tuner driver and the eject buttons driver after installing Windows 7. I know of another person who had to do the same, because he asked me to upload drivers for him. He says that the drivers for these two devices are not on the Gateway web site.

  11. This is pretty much windows drivers 101; start with the base components and work your way up to the specialized gear. It’s been that way since what, win2k??

  12. Ed, I can’t refute that since I haven’t used one. However, that seems like a blatant error on the tablet’s manufacturer. Screen rotation should be part of the tablet’s driver not Dell’s responsibilty and built into quickset! Seems like a scheme to force the user to install quickset

    1. (Answering this one a full year later!)

      Nick, talet rotation is already enabled by the OS via software. The Quickset driver enables the custom rotation button on the tablet hardware.

  13. Very interesting. I never knew there was an install order. In fact, when I reinstalled Windows on my work or home computers (Dell) I just installed everything first and then rebooted and never had a problem. However, I may follow this order from now on.

  14. Once again, 64 bit is an afterthought. No 64 bit drivers for Windows 7. Why do the manufacturs keep doing this? Doesn’t Microsoft want to steer everyone towards 64 bit OSes when most of the CPUs are 64 bit? Why doesn’t anyone have any blasted drivers? I just got done installing Win7 64 bit, and now I have NO drivers to download. This really sucks.

  15. Thanks Ed many is the time that I wondered what the proper order of the driver install process. It made sense to do the chipset and then the video so that’s what I did, after that I just did it randomly.
    Look forward to the new book, your books have always proved most valuable.

  16. I see it is pretty much the order I go by. after thousands of windows installs done i started to notice that the pecking order does make a difference when installing windows. more so on “custom” hardware. like the nvidia boards and the like. the biggest one ive found for problems is when the chipset drivers aren’t installed first… it tends to mess with the sata config most of all. causing hanging and other problems..

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