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System Optimization Guide for Gamers

By: Koroush Ghazi | Guides | Posted: Dec 1, 2002 5:00 am

Device Drivers (Continued)


- Correct Installation Method for Device Drivers


This is something which many, many people think they know how to do correctly, but brother, believe me they don't. Even if you're certain of the best method for installing device drivers, read through the following information just to be safe.


- General Precautions


Before attempting to install any driver, make sure of the following:


1. Do not have any other programs running in the background. That means close down any audio players, games, apps - you name it, even if they're not currently active. Open programs can cause problems with driver installs, even if you can't see it straight away. For example an audio player may be using a system audio file which the new driver needs to update, so the file may not be updated as a result. Or a program may cause a memory conflict with the driver installation program. It's just safer to not install a driver while your system is tied up with other tasks.


2. Do not have an anti-virus program running in the background. Anti-virus programs are very system intrusive (they have to be to catch viruses), but that also means they're well and truly likely at some point to cause a conflict or prevent full, correct installation. In general you should disable your anti-virus program completely before installing anything - be it a game, application or drivers.


3. Make sure your system is set to accept non-WHQL drivers, or at least prompts you about it rather than rejecting them outright. In WinXP this is done by going into Control Panel>System>Hardware>Driver Signing and tick "Warn - Prompt me each time to choose an action" and tick "Make this action the system default". If the driver is non-WHQL you'll see a prompt, but as mentioned earlier, non-WHQL drivers are absolutely fine to install if from a reputable source like the manufacturers listed previously.


4. Reduce your overclock to what you know to be a "safe" level, or back to default - whichever one is guaranteed not to corrupt data or result in a freeze. If you read the overclocking section you've heard me nag about this one continuously, but it's true. Being "too" overclocked will result in subtle problems and this could mean a driver looks like it's installed properly when there may well be a corruption in one or more of its files.


5. Do not abort an installation once it starts installing - by pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL, or manually resetting/switching off the machine for example. At the point where you see files being copied across, any interruption may cause a corruption of the driver files.


6. Reboot as requested. Doing too many things after a driver requests a reboot may cause problems or conflicts resulting in a crash, especially if the system attempts to access the updated files or a function which has changed in the new drivers. Be safe and reboot when asked, or as soon as possible afterwards.


7. Finally, if you get errors when trying to run a driver setup program, reboot and retry. In most cases the next time you try and run the file it will work properly. If not, then the driver package may have been corrupted upon download. For example this has happened to me several times because I downloaded a driver from the nVidia site using a download manager (like GetRight, Download Accelerator, etc.) rather than the default Internet Explorer method. Disable your download manager and retry, you'll often find this resolves the problem.


- Video Card Driver Installation


What follows is an example of how to do a "clean" install of a graphics driver in WinXP. Note that the method will essentially be the same for other Windows OS and most brands of video cards - the aim of the exercise is simply to remove all traces of the existing driver from the system before installing the new one. This is a common cause of graphics and performance-related problems - when different versions of various driver files are being accessed by the system because they were never removed/replaced properly. This is especially true if you switch back to an older version of a driver from an existing newer version.


Note that I've written a very comprehensive ATi Catalyst Installation Guide, so if you're an ATi graphics card owner, refer to that guide for more detailed instructions.


Now you may tell me there are programs around which purport to do all this for you, such as Detonator Destroyer, but often they don't work for newer versions of drivers (and you have to wait for an update), and even more importantly the method below works just as well, is completely free, and there's no wait, no fuss. The choice is yours but I stick by the following method:


1. Download the new driver package for your OS. If it's a zip file, extract the contents to an empty folder. If it's an executable, don't run it just yet. If you have an Nvidia card, follow steps 2 to 4 below first. If you have an ATi card, skip to step 5.


2. Go to Control Panel>Display>Settings>Advanced>Adapter>Properties>Driver>Update Driver.


3. Select the second option "Install from a list or specific location", then click Next. Select the last option "Don't search. I will choose the driver to install" and click Next. You will see a list of existing graphics drivers for your card on your system. The first one (or two) will be the default "built-in" drivers.


4. In Win9x/ME, switch to the Standard VGA driver. In WinXP select the default WinXP graphics driver. This usually has the name of your card followed by (Microsoft) next to it. If not, select the first driver on the list as this should be the default. Once selected click Next. You should see some files being copied - don't interrupt this process - and when prompted, reboot as requested.


5. Upon reboot, go to Control Panel>Add/Remove, and uninstall any and all incidences of "display drivers", such as "Nvidia Windows 2000/XP Display Drivers" or "ATi Display Driver". This should correctly remove all the driver components. Reboot as requested.


6. If the new driver is in an .exe format, simply run the .exe file to setup. If it's a .zip file, extract the contents as instructed in 1 and execute the Setup.exe file, or if one doesn't exist (e.g. for beta drivers), go through steps 2 and 3 above, but this time select "Have Disk" and point windows to the directory where you unzipped the new drivers. Select the driver .inf file which is displayed and continue.


7. Once the above is done Windows should show a "files installing" dialog. Do not interrupt this process, and when completed, reboot as requested.


You now have a clean install of whichever driver version you've chosen. If you're running Windows 2000/Windows XP, the refresh rate (number of times the screen redraws itself every second) will be locked at 60Hz (60 frames per second) for every resolution regardless of your monitor/graphics cards capabilities. This is bad for your eyes, reduces game performance and can even slow your mouse down. Use a refresh rate fix such as RefreshForce to resolve this problem quickly and easily. This fix applies to all graphics cards and monitors.


- Sound Card Driver Installation


Sound card driver installation is very similar, but fortunately much easier. Go to the Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs and uninstall any existing sound drivers listed (e.g. "Sound Blaster Audigy"), and reboot as required. Note than on booting back into Windows you may have no audio. This is normal. Next simply download the driver package, and either extract the contents to an empty folder and run the Setup executable, or run the package itself and it will extract and install automatically.


- Motherboard Driver Installation


Installing these drivers can be tricky, depending on your motherboard chipset and the form in which the drivers come.


For Intel chipsets, full instructions for correct installation come in a Readme.txt file which accompanies the file, or can be viewed on the Intel Support Site for each file. Typically you shouldn't do a "clean" install of motherboard drivers. Simply download the program (e.g. Intel Application Accelerator, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility or VIA Hyperion package) and run the executable, following the prompts. Once installed, reboot as requested.


If the drivers come without an executable, or the executable simply extracts a whole bunch of (non-.exe) files, then you will need to search for a Readme.txt (or similar) file which specifies which device the driver is for and manually update the device driver. Then follow the instructions further below.


For VIA Chipsets, I have a full VIA Hyperion Driver Guide/FAQ which can be found here, and covers the correct installation and version checking for the VIA Hyperion (4in1s) and all other VIA drivers.


If you want to update a specific device manually, or simply check the version of the driver(s) follow these instructions:


1. Go to Control Panel>System>Hardware>Device Manager and make sure under the View menu you can see "Devices by Type" selected.


2. Find the device(s) you need to update/check. For example, expand the IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers section and you should see an entry such as "Intel 82801xx Ultra ATA Controller" (which the Intel Application Accelerator updates) or "VIA Bus Master IDE Controller" (which the Hyperions update). You will find other motherboard drivers under the System Devices section.


3. Right click on the device and choose Properties, or simply double-click on it, then select the Driver tab to see the driver version currently installed.


4. If you want to update this device, first check for an existing version in Control Panel>Add/Remove programs and uninstall it if it's there, rebooting if necessary. Then in the device properties select Driver>Update Driver>Select "Install from a list or specific location", then click Next. Select "Don't search. I will choose the driver to install" and click Next. Select "Have Disk" and point windows to the directory where you unzipped the new drivers. Select the driver .inf file which is displayed and continue.


5. You should see a "files installing" dialog. Do not interrupt this process, and when completed, reboot as requested.


The above process applies not only to all motherboard chipsets, but for any device where the drivers do not have an executable setup file. If there is a Setup.exe, or the package itself is an executable, run this file as it will correctly install the driver(s) as intended. Do not run this .exe in compatibility mode or any other tricky stuff - this can result in the wrong drivers being installed for your system configuration.


That covers the installation of all the major device drivers you will usually update on a regular basis. Other devices may need driver updates but the procedures are the same as those specified above.


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