I was poking around Dell’s support site today and ran across this page, which I hadn’t seen before:
The following list is an overview of the correct order to install drivers on Dell desktops and portables. After reinstalling Microsoft® Windows®, follow the order listed when reinstalling drivers. It is recommended that you print this list for reference when installing drivers.
Note: Some devices may not function properly if the drivers are installed out of order.
Although some of the information is specific to Dell’s support site, the general principles are pretty good ones. Here’s a shorter version of the list with my commentary:
- Notebook system software – This option usually enables any special features, such as hardware buttons. The Dell list includes “desktop system software” as well, although I’m not sure I can think of any systems where this is really necessary. Update: I just checked in a brand-new Dell notebook and had a chance to look at the system software for it. It includes four hotfixes, all of which resolve issues that could affect a system’s ability to boot properly. In this case at least, I would certainly install that package first!
- Chipset – This isn’t, strictly speaking, a driver. Instead, it’s a group of INF files that tell the OS what components are available on the mainboard and allow it to install additional drivers for those components. I would only install a replacement chipset driver if I knew for certain that it was a perfect match for my PC.
- Display adapter – If possible, you want a WDDM 1.1 driver for Windows 7. Drivers written originally for Vista are typically WDDM 1.0. Intel, Nvidia, and ATI all have Windows 7-certified display drivers.
- Wired network interface card (NIC) – Wireless comes later.
- Notebook management software – On a Dell, this refers to the Quickset or Dell Control Point Manager (DCP) program, which controls power management, ambient light sensor, wireless profiles, and security features. In many cases, this software duplicates functions performed perfectly well by the OS.
- Audio adapter – This driver might also include support for a webcam on a notebook. If the Windows 7 setup program installs a generic High Definition Audio device, consider replacing it.
- Modem – I can’t remember the last time I used a dial-up connection, but if you use fax features or travel in places without broadband access it can be useful.
- Wireless network card – A driver written specifically for your device often includes additional configuration options on the Device properties page.
- Touchpad, Pointer, Trackstick, Mice, and Keyboards – This is particularly important for enabling extra features like panning on a Synaptics Trackpad.
- Other devices – Bluetooth modules, fingerprint readers, touch-screen digitizers, etc.
This is especially timely advice for anyone considering a Windows 7 upgrade. A clean install often uses generic drivers that enable a device at a fairly low level of performance, often without advanced features. To unlock all the features of a device, you need to find a driver written especially for it.
I’ve seen a lot of Windows 7-specific drivers delivered over Windows Update, and you can find more at OEM web sites. (Dell, for example, now has Windows 7 drivers available for download on some business PCs.) If you want to look for a specific driver, try the Windows 7 catalog (include “Windows 7 client” as one of the search terms). You’ll find an RSS feed here.
Shortly after Vista shipped, I put together a list of Vista device drivers that became one of my most popular pages. We’ll see if there’s a need for a similar page for Windows 7 after October 22.