A Precautionary Word About Driver Updater Utilities

I see and remove a lot of these and they are almost universally hated by the IT industry and a VERY bad idea for the end user, but why?

First up the Malware side of things. A lot of these updaters are Malware/Foistware. The same trick is used as is pulled with a lot of ‘Heatlh’ checkers. Find lots of problems, tell the mark you can fix them and then charge for doing so, even though the problems likeley didnt exist or wernt problems at all. There are driver programs that do just this.

RansomWare, well not quite but thats what it tries to do. Does the same as above and likley will actually find issues and be able to update drivers but once again, you’ll have to fork out for something you could do yourself and may be harmful.

Next up apps that do actually do something. Most of these still fall into the dangerous category, even those that are free and do seem to work. Why? Because the method they use is fundamentally broken. Almost all hardware provides two bits of information to the PC without being told or needing drivers, this is the PID and VID or Product ID and Vendor ID. These are used by these programs to go and find out who made the hardware and what it is. It’ll then grab a generic driver from the manufacturer or its library  and off it goes. No harm done? Well not really no.

For a large number of devices this is just find and dandy but some developers are a bit lazy and this is where it falls over.  The idea was that each PID/VID combination would be unique, the IDs are provided by the chips used and the idea is that the company making the perhipheral should assign their own values and not use the defaults. In reality very few do.

Two Examples. One, we have a Laptop using an ATI X1300 GPU, Its in a laptop and this GPU provides some secondary functions, in this case, it can take control of the backlight. The Laptop manufacturer hasnt changed the PID or VID and this wasnt something the ATI drivers were written for. Along comes the utility, matches the PID and VID to the default ATI driver, installs and blammo. You have no backlight anymore, the new drivers dont know how to drive the backlight and so dont.

Next we have the RealTek ALC892, fairly common sound chip. However this thing has options out of the wazoo. There are hundreds of combinations of speakers, inputs, outputs, mics etc and these will all be changed by the vendor, however not all of them are there in the default driver, in particulat there are a few general purpose I/O pins used to drive LED’s, power control for amps and more. SO with the driver the manufacturer of the hardware supplies this all works, in comes the default driver and once again, all these features are gone.

Both these scenarios could lead to physical damage to the machine as well as malfunctions in use so it really not worth it.

With time and research you can normally find the right drivers and its also why you should stick to manufacturers drivers, especially on customised hardware such as Laptops or SFF PC’s. Its also why sometimes the right drivers dont really seem to work as planned. Its also the reason the Microsoft drivers arent always that great and why you should always update core drivers on a new install, an example of these were the older VIA based motherboards that would run like a dog with the MS drivers. Only if you’ve tried everything should you think about these programs, and even then, here be dragons!

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