Windows Update & Device Drivers

Blast from the past: originally published December 31st 2001.

I’m a big fan of Windows Update; one easy place to find all the updates needed for your system. I’ve found it works with Windows 95 up and long as your version of Internet Explorer is 4.0 or greater. With versions 5 and 6, you go to Tools, Windows Update. With version 4, go to Tools, Product Updates. Either way you’re brought to the Windows Update page, with lots of information available.


Products updates is my frequent destination for the latest operating system patches. It’s neatly organized into categories: critical updates, recommended updates, additional Windows features, and finally device drivers. It’s the last category that’s interested me the most; your hardware driver versions are compared to the WHQL ( Windows hardware quality labs ) hardware compatibility list. If a newer version is available Windows Update offers to install it for you. Sounds good, doesn’t it? No need to hunt down drivers from every manufacturer, just click and install.

Somehow this always sounded too easy to me. Plus the fact most manufacturers are slow to release their WHQL drivers, instead putting the latest and greatest features into their regular updates. I do have some systems at work that use boring business hardware, and have seen Windows Update offer to get the latest drivers. The offer has come up for the ATI Rage Pro, ATI Rage XL and Via Technologies Sound.

In a flash of stupidity I agreed to download the ATI Rage Pro drivers. Everything went smooth until I was prompted for a *.hlp or *.hl_ file. It listed the directory Windows Update had placed the install files, but no such beast. I did notice a large group of *.hlx files, which seemed to fit the bill.  I renamed them to *.hlp and the install finished just fine. Weird and not too user friendly for the kind of folks that would take advantage of this easy to use feature.

Curiosity had me in it’s grip as I moved on to a machine with an ATI Rage XL video card. Windows Update showed the driver update, so I went ahead. Same thing as the ATI Rage Pro drivers, *.hlx files instead of *.hlp files. Renaming got the job done.

My last test didn’t work out quite as well. The machines all used Gigabyte GA7ZM motherboards with AC97 sound, so I tried the Windows Update. Installation went smooth, but upon reboot I had, you guessed it, no sound. Device Manager showed some warnings, so I uninstalled the drivers and grabbed the latest from the Gigabyte website. Installed those and sound was back.

All in all a mixed and unpleasant experience. My advice is to avoid the Windows Update device drivers and instead bookmark the pages on your hardware manufacturers websites. Check them monthly and get the latest and greatest from the source.