Windows Enterprise Desktop

Aug 24 2015   2:27PM GMT

Windows 10 and Device Drivers Revisited

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Tags:
Device drivers
Windows 10

In my recent efforts to upgrade and/or clean install Windows 10 on a whole passel of PCs lately — a topic to which all 6 of my previous blog posts here have been devoted, starting on 8/10 — I’ve been faced with checking device drivers for all of those machines post-install to see what’s what, and what’s either missing or out-of-date. In general, the news about Windows 10 and device drivers is very, very good. My small sample population includes 8 PCs, to wit:

1. Production PC: i7 2600K Sandy Bridge, GA Z77X-UD3H Mobo, 32 GB RAM, Samsung 840 EVO SSD boot/sys
2. Test desktop: i7 4770K Haswell, MSI Z87-G45 Mobo, 32 GB RAM, Samsung 840 EVO SSD boot/sys
3. Boss PC: i7 3630QM Ivy Bridge, Jetway JNF9G-QM77 Mobo, 16 GB RAM, Samsung 840 EVO SSD boot/sys
4. Dell Venue 11 Pro: i5-4210Y Haswell ULT, 8 GM RAM, LiteOn LJT-256L6G M.2 SSD boot/sys
5. Lenovo T520: i7 2640M Sandy Bridge, 4239CTO, 16 GB RAM, Plextor PX-256M5M SSD boot/sys
6. Lenovo X220 Tablet: i7 2640M Sandy Bridge, 4294CTO, 16 GB RAM, Plextor PX-256M5M SSD boot/sys
7. Surface Pro 3: i7-4560OU Haswell ULT, 8 GM RAM, Samsung MSMTE256 SSD boot/sys
8. Dell XPS-27 AIO: i7 4770S Haswell, 16 GB RAM, Samsung 840 EVO SSD boot/sys

drivupdresults

A typical result after using DriverUpdate to update and/or check over Win10 drivers.

drivagntresults

The same PC shows no out of date drivers in the other program, and the false positive shown is resistant to all update attempts.

I’ve been running systems 2 and 4 on Windows 10 since the Technical Previews available in October 2014. All systems are now running Windows 10 in at least one boot partition (Build 10240 on all machines except 2 and 4, which are running 10525 Pro and 10525 Enterprise, respectively). In my entire experience of running Windows 10 on these PCs, only 7 drivers have either not been recognized or out-of-date — that is, I’ve seen 2 question mark icons in Device Manager, and have successfully updated 5 other drivers as well, primarily for Nvidia related graphics and audio devices.

Having been contacted about three weeks ago by the folks at Slimware Utilities, I also used the upgrade to Windows 10 to compare the accuracy and efficacy of eSupport’s DriverAgent to Slimware’s DriverUpdate. Each of these two products now runs as a standalone PC program on a host system, and checks what it finds installed on each such system against its database to determine what’s out-of-date and in need of replacement. Both programs live up to their descriptions as providing (mostly) automated support for downloading and installing drivers, though I believe that Slimware DriverUpdate holds a slight edge over eSupport DriverAgent in its ability to manage the driver update process and to achieve the best overall results.

My basis for making this statement is as follows:
1. On the 8 machines aforementioned, DriverAgent was able to update all but two drivers (both related to the Intel Management Engine Interface and/or Active Management Technology), while DriverUpdate handled all drivers except one (the Serial Over LAN, or SOL, driver on the Dell VP11). However, in numerous cases (5 to be precise), DriverAgent’s automated install reported driver update failure, after which I used the downloaded files to extract those drivers and installed them manually using Device Manager myself. In every case where DriverUpdate completed the driver install process, it did so automatically with no manual intervention required on my part. I’m not sure if its SOL failure was a true failure, or if I lost patience after the 10 minutes the program ground away at attempted installation, and short-circuited that process (more on this in the final remarks below).
2. On 5 of the 8 machines, DriverAgent reports anywhere from 1 to 4 “false positives,” by which  I mean it reports drivers as out-of-date and provides update files whose application (either automatic or manual) does NOT update the reported driver. DriverUpdate has yet to report a false positive in my repeated uses of that product (I’ve been using DriverAgent for 5 years or more, but am just getting to know DriverUpdate, so I’m not sure if this is a valid observation, or simply a function of a narrow observation period).
3. Both products come on a yearly license basis, and each one costs about $30 for a single PC license ($29.95 for DriverAgent, $29.97 for DriverUpdate). A single DriverAgent license is good for up to 10 PCs, while the license for DriverUpdate is limited to up to three PCs (I couldn’t find this on the pages at www.driverupdate.net, but got this info from marketing and tech support staff at Slimutilities). Volume licenses are available for each product, in varying number (I currently pay $65 a year for a 50 PC license for DriverAgent, and have been using a “loaner license” from Slimware provided for the purposes of testing and observation).

Given the licensing terms for the two products, people who manage drivers for more than three and up to ten PCs will be best-served by the DriverAgent product, simply because of its more liberal terms of coverage. Those looking for the best, most accurate driver management product between these two contenders will be best served by DriverUpdate, especially those with one to three PCs to manage. I found both of them entirely suitable for managing drivers on Windows 8.1 and 10 PCs, and have used DriverAgent since the Windows Vista days with Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 all with great satisfaction and success.

As for DriverUpdate, I have some nits to pick with the program, about which readers should be aware before plunking down any cash for the software:
1. When I first started testing DriverUpdate, after the program started up, it ran for some time (anywhere from just under two minutes on my faster PCs to as long as over four minutes on my slower ones) before providing any indication that it was working: no screen pop-up, no progress bar, nothing. I’d already suggested to Slimware that more activity feedback would be of interest to users (I had to launch Task Manager to see that the application was running and in fact doing something rather than hung). And in fact, their latest release (which I obtained by download on August 21, identified in file properties as version 2.4.2.0) does come up much faster (under a minute on all machines) but I’d still like to see an immediately “it’s working” pop-up as part of the program’s launch behavior.
2. When the installation processes get underway, items are tackled in the order listed (explained on the basis of driver dependencies among the items shown). It can take several minutes for certain individual items to work their way to completion. That said, DriverUpdate shows considerable facility in scripting third-party installers (like those from Intel, Synaptics, Nvidia, and so forth) to run under its control, and to result in successful driver installation. By contrast, though DriverAgent uses many of the same installers, its success rate was not as high (as indicated by my earlier mention of more manual follow-up required). I gave up on the SOL installer after 10 minutes of watching it grind away, and was able to manually install that driver in under 30 seconds (of course, I knew what I was looking for, where to find it, and how to install it, so that may be either unkind to Slimware or unfair to less experienced users).
3. Unlike DriverAgent, which always makes a complete list of devices and associated drivers on the PCs it scans readily available (and even provides pointers to alternative drivers for such devices, in many instances), DriverUpdate doesn’t appear to provide such information beyond a basic set of counts ((x) Out of date drivers, (y) Ignored driver updates, (z) Up to date drivers, (k) System drivers). Thus it doesn’t provide some of the clues to missing drivers that DriverAgent does, which repeats the Question mark and Warning flag icons also shown in Device driver in its listings to warn users about potential problem or missing drivers.

Ultimately, though, DriverUpdate appears to be a well-engineered program driven by a large and accurate database of hardware and vendor IDs (used to identify devices, according to technical staff I questioned on their methods) and inclusive of extensive input and feedback from a large and active user community that provides input and feedback on the program’s operation and the accuracy and validity of its results. It’s worth checking out and getting to know and a genuine alternative to my long-time stalware go-to DriverAgent tool as well.

[Note: Changes and corrections made late Monday afternoon, 8/24/15, after a phone call and e-mail from Slimutilities.]

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