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Microsoft Windows Update will often suggest optional Windows driver updates. They're optional, so you don't need to take them, but should you?
Microsoft Windows update lists an optional driver update available: nVidia Geforce 8800 GTX display software update size 110.5 Mb dated 4-22-2010.
Should I download and install these kinds of optional driver updates? My graphics card is working properly, why should I install something that might mess things up?
In a case like this, there's certainly some merit to the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" approach that you're suggesting.
In fact, you don't have to take the update - that's one reason it's marked as optional.
However, I typically do, and I'll explain why.
Driver updates can be tricky beasts. Because they deal with hardware at a fairly low level, they can have a fairly dramatic impact on system performance, both good and bad.
"The latest drivers" - which you'll often hear people like me mentioning as we troubleshoot various problems - are typically those offered by the manufacturer of a particular piece of hardware. In your example, the latest and greatest is likely available at nVidia's own web site.
It's important to realize that's not what you're probably getting from Windows Update.
Those "latest and greatest" from the vendor sites are typically just that - the very latest. I tend to shy away from them unless I'm specifically troubleshooting a problem that they stand a chance of correcting. Why? It's difficult to quantify, but to put it vaguely, they make me nervous; they're often "too new". While they'll have gone through the manufacturer's own testing and quality assurance process, that can vary dramatically from vendor to vendor, and often doesn't take into account the wide variety of systems and configurations that are out there.
That's where Microsoft's Updates come in.
Before a driver shows up in Windows Update, not only will it have (presumably) passed the manufacturer's own testing, but Microsoft's as well.
One of the things that Microsoft does take into account when testing Windows or any component of Windows is the massive variation in hardware and software configurations that are out in the "real world". In fact, it's one of the reasons that it takes Microsoft so darned long to release software: the amount of testing required is simply staggering.
The net result for me is that by the time something shows up on Windows Update I'm fairly confident that it'll probably work. In fact, I've had some annoyances I'd been living with disappear after taking optional driver updates to my system. I guess that's some positive reinforcement.
Now, of course, the Microsoft haters will point out repeatedly and vehemently that update so-and-so completely hosed their machine, or that Windows Update regularly causes them grief.
And I certainly can't dispute that.
Systems have become so complex that getting anything absolutely positively 100% correct for absolutely positively 100% of all possible machines - and in particular doing so in any reasonable amount of time - is simply impossible. So it becomes a situation where someone literally has to say "good enough" when it perhaps fails only 1 out of a million machines instead of 1 in a thousand.
I'm making all these numbers up, of course, but consider - one in a million is pretty darned good. Chances are that you'd never run into it, right? Now figure that according to Microsoft predictions by now there are well over a billion Windows installations. (*) That means that if there is a problem on 1 in a million machines then 1,000 machines will see it.
If you've got one of those 1,000 machines it doesn't matter that the odds were in your favor by a huge factor, you still have a problem.
That's what confidence means. It doesn't mean that you won't have a problem, it means that you probably won't have a problem.
And if you're truly concerned, then you also control the steps you can take as well:
Backup first. Naturally, you should be backing up regularly in which case this isn't an additional step, but either way it's the step that can save you from almost anything, including an optional driver update that causes you problems.
Skip it. It's optional. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'd have missed out on a couple of annoyances being resolved, but they were only annoyances - perhaps the risk of larger problems it too concerning for you. No problem: skip it.
Me? I backup of course. Every night. Should I end up being "one in a million", I'm covered.
In fact, backups cover me for so many other types of problems that are much more likely, I don't even give that optional driver update much thought other than to click "yes".
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