Updating drivers in Windows 7 is necessary when a hardware device doesn't install automatically, when the hardware is having some kind of problem, or as part of some other troubleshooting with the hardware.
Prefer screen shots? Try my Step by Step Guide to Updating Drivers in Windows 7 for an easy walk-through!
Updating a driver is many times the solution to a Device Manager error code. Updating drivers for a piece of hardware will also sometimes enable additional features for the hardware.
Follow these easy steps to update drivers from within Device Manager in Windows 7:
Download the latest drivers from the hardware manufacturer's website. Drivers from the manufacturer will be the most current but there are several other driver download options.
As part of this driver update process, you can choose to update drivers from a hardware installation disc or from Windows Update but updating drivers manually (as described below) is usually more effective.
Note: Many drivers come integrated with software that automatically installs the driver. The manufacturer's website will tell you if the driver download is packaged this way and if so, the steps below aren't usually necessary.
Note: There are also several other ways of opening Device Manager in Windows 7 but doing so from the Control Panel is probably the easiest.
With Device Manager open, locate the hardware device that you want to update the drivers for.
Note: Navigate through the categories of hardware devices by clicking the > icon. Specific hardware devices are listed under the major hardware categories.
After finding the hardware you're updating drivers for, right click on the hardware's name or icon and choose Properties. In this Properties window, click the Driver tab.
Click the Update Driver... button.
Note: The Update Driver Software wizard will begin.
On the How do you want to search for driver software? window, click on Browse my computer for driver software.
In the next window labeled Browse for driver software on your computer, click on Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer, located at the bottom of the window.
Click the Have Disk... button located under the text box.
Click the Browse... button on the Install From Disk dialog box that appeared.
In the Locate File dialog box that appears next, navigate to the folder that you extracted as part of the driver download in Step 1 above. There may be multiple folders within the extracted folder so be sure to work your way to the one for Windows 7 if it exists. Don't worry if you don't find one labeled for Windows 7.
Click any INF file that displays in the file list and click the Open button.
Note: INF files are the only files that Device Manager accepts for driver setup information. See the tips at the bottom of the page for some INF file troubleshooting.
Click the OK button back on the Install From Disk dialog box.
Choose the newly added hardware in the text box and then click the Next > button.
If you're prompted with a message warning you about how the device driver may not be compatible with your hardware, click the Yes button to continue installing the driver. Many drivers are not Windows 7 certified but are still perfectly safe to install.
Important: If you're installing a driver obtained from anywhere other than the manufacturer of the hardware, click the No button instead and obtain drivers from the manufacturer directly.
The Windows 7 Update Driver Software wizard will now use the instructions provided in the INF file from Step 10 to install the updated drivers for your hardware.
Follow any additional instructions on screen to complete the driver update.
You may be prompted to restart your computer after the driver update is complete.
Note: Not all driver updates require a restart of your computer. Even if you're not prompted, I always recommend restarting anyway. The driver update process involves changes to the Windows Registry and other important areas of your computer and restarting is a good way to confirm that updating drivers hasn't negatively impacted some other area of Windows.
If a driver update causes a problem, you can always roll back the driver.
Couldn't find an INF file in a folder from your driver download? Try looking in another folder.
Couldn't find an INF file in any folder from the extracted driver files? The driver download itself may have been damaged. Try downloading and extracting the device drivers again.
Find multiple folders with INF files? Try each folder until you find the drivers for your specific hardware.