The Importance of Updating Graphics Drivers

By: Ted Harris
– February 6, 2013
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Users of graphics-intensive software like the ANSYS family of products occasionally encounter problems caused by graphics or video drivers. It’s important to keep your drivers up to date. In this entry we will summarize some of the symptoms of driver problems and will let you know how to find and install the latest drivers if needed.

Recently I found two issues with my software tools that ended up getting fixed by simply updating the graphics driver. I first noticed the problem with ANSYS Maxwell. While Maxwell had displayed on my machine with no trouble in the past, I found after installing the latest version that it would not load past the initial splash screen. Older versions now had the same problem as well. Also possibly related, I noticed that certain plots in ANSYS DesignXplorer were showing up as big red X’s rather than the response surface plots I was expecting. Most software and plotting worked just fine. There were just a couple of things that were not working. With some input from the helpful staff at ANSYS, Inc., the Maxwell problem was diagnosed as a probable graphics driver issue. Sure enough, once I downloaded and installed the latest driver for my graphics card, goodness was restored and both Maxwell and DesignXplorer were back to normal on my computer.

imageHow can you obtain the specs on your graphics card so you can determine if you have the latest driver or not? On Windows 7, one way to do it is to open up the Control Panel. In the View By setting at upper right, specify Small icons. Then click on Performance Information and Tools. Next click on the link labeled “View and print detailed performance and system information.” The resulting window will have a Graphics section which will list your display adapter type (graphics card manufacturer and model) along with the version number of the installed driver.

There are a couple of ways to check on whether the driver you have is the latest or not. One way is to use Windows Update, although keep reading to see why this is not recommended. On Windows 7 this can be done by right clicking on the desktop and selecting Screen Resolution, then Advanced Settings, then Properties on the Adapter tab, then Driver tab, Update Driver. However, as the helpful staff at ANSYS, Inc. has pointed out to me, Windows Update is not always aware of the absolute latest drivers available. I ended up learning that one the hard way.

imageTherefore, the recommended method of checking on your graphics driver version is to go to the manufacturer’s website. My graphics card happens to be an AMD FirePro V5900. A web search on AMD FirePro easily gets me to the AMD website page for FirePro professional graphics cards. There is a “Find a Driver” link at upper right. Using that link and knowing the model number of my card, I can easily find the latest driver version and download and install it if it’s newer than the version currently installed. Similarly, the nVidia website has a prominent “Drivers” link on their home page.

The bottom line: it’s always a good idea to make sure you have the latest driver installed for your graphics card. Certainly if you notice that your software is not displaying correctly or just hanging for no reason, one of the first and easiest things to check is whether or not you have the latest graphics driver installed.

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