Windows Update not only automatically updates the Windows 10 operating system – it automatically updates hardware drivers too. That produced a lot of bugs, but Microsoft made improvements – and made several of these optional driver updates.
How Windows 10 has updated your driver
Much has been written about automatic Windows 10 operating system updates, but hardware drivers are often ignored. Device manufacturers can upload new versions of their drivers to Windows Update and Windows 10 automatically installs them when available.
Hardware drivers might contain serious security problems or bugs that cause serious operating system instability. Most people don’t manually update their hardware drivers and most PC manufacturers have terrible driver update utilities. That is why Windows provides hardware drivers and updates through Windows Update.
It’s also possible to install Windows 10 on a new PC without chasing down most hardware drivers – Windows will automatically find and install the relevant driver.
Bug, Bug, Bug
Unfortunately, from time to time, this automatic update process has caused bugs in. Here are a few examples. The following drivers are all installed automatically by Windows Update, which causes hardware to suddenly become corrupted for no apparent reason:
In March 2017, Microsoft released device drivers that violated the MTP protocol used by Android phones, media players, and other portable devices. They will not appear in File Explorer until you pass the 13 step process in Device Manager to undo the damage.
In October 2018, Microsoft released an Intel audio driver update that damaged audio playback on some systems. Microsoft said the audio driver update was “incorrectly pushed to the device.”
A month later, Microsoft released an Intel graphics driver update that interrupted audio playback on other systems. Microsoft says Intel has released the wrong version of the display driver for PC manufacturers.
In February 2016, the FTDI chipmaker used Windows Update to push updates that identify and deactivate the fake chips modeled on its design. Sure, it’s fake – but FTDI uses the automatic update of Windows Update to break down functional hardware that some people have been tricked into buying. This is the second time that FTDI has used Windows Update to attack counterfeit goods. In 2014, FTDI used Windows Update to encourage drivers who actually “damaged” fake hardware, rendering it malfunctioning.
Anecdotally, we have heard of many cases of automatic driver updates which cause chaos on a functioning system. These are just a few examples that we remember.
It would be better if this update received better testing and if some of them are optional. Microsoft does that with some of the latest changes.
Get ready for optional driver updates
Microsoft now allows driver manufacturers to mark some driver updates as “Manual” rather than “Automatic” when uploading them to Windows Update. This new option is available for manufacturers on February 19, 2020.
Starting with the upcoming Windows 10 update in 2004, also known as 20H1 and is expected in spring 2020, this driver will be available behind the “See optional updates” link on the Windows Update Settings screen.
This screen will show you optional driver updates for your PC hardware. It reads “If you have a particular problem, one of these drivers might help. If not, automatic updates will keep your drivers up to date.” In other words, Microsoft encourages most people not to bother with this update.
Important driver updates with security fixes and patches for other serious bugs will still be marked “automatic” and will be installed automatically by Windows Update.
All Automatic Driver Updates Will Get Slow Launch
Microsoft’s announcement said that all of its partners will now be able to mark hardware driver updates as “automatic.” At first, that sounds a bit questionable – do we really need more automatic hardware driver updates?
However, it looks like Microsoft will do more testing for this driver. When the new driver version is marked as “automatic,” it will slowly launch to a Windows 10 PC with a “slowdown,” such as a major update for Windows 10. Only a few PC users get the update initially. Microsoft can automatically detect problems and stop launching. Windows Update doesn’t just automatically offer driver updates to all PCs.
Microsoft Kevin Tremblay explains how this should make driver updates less buggy in comments in the Microsoft Technology Community:
All drivers published as automatic are subject to driver flighting, and gradual rollout. During these periods we are reviewing telemetry around the performance of the driver, and it’s effects on overall system health. We catch a lot of driver issues this way before they hit the Windows user base writ large. From an end user perspective we believe this will result in higher quality drivers (stable, performant) being delivered, and a better ability to stay current.
It is unclear how many hardware drivers went through this gradual process before the February 2020 change. However, that was certainly not all. An article published in 2019 on the Microsoft Hardware Development Center portal for hardware manufacturers said “Finally, all drivers submitted to Windows Update will go through a staged rollout.” It shows that some driver updates are immediately pushed to all applicable devices without a gradual launch process.
Microsoft Fighting the Windows 10 Bug
Microsoft is still struggling with bugs – just look at recent bugs in security updates that cause people files to disappear.
However, overall, Microsoft has made Windows 10 updates more stable. November 10, 2019 Windows Update is the best, and Microsoft is giving a 2004 update in the current long bug testing period.
Driver updates will not become bug free overnight, but requiring driver updates through a gradual testing process is a reasonable step that should improve things.