I have a notebook that came preinstalled with an application updater that updates the software and drivers on the notebook. Can I ignore this app and just download my own updates?
In theory, you can. There's nothing much stopping you from disabling or deleting the application updater in question and obtaining and downloading the updates on your own. In fact, I don't blame some people for wanting to do this, since some of these updater programs have been badly written. (One system I used was nearly brought to a halt every time the updater loaded.)
On the other hand, the reason these device driver updaters are included isn't a bad one. Many PCs are outfitted with hardware from a slew of third-party manufacturers: a Bluetooth radio from here, a fingerprint reader/Trusted Platform Module from there, and so on.
The components for notebook PCs can also cause problems. Their components are integrated into the whole system by the manufacturer and may require a system-specific driver -- not a generic one based on that particular part -- to work correctly. The driver updater problems involve things created specifically by the notebook maker, such as multimedia hotkeys that also require a system-specific driver or an event-handler service to work properly.
PC makers typically provide some way to download and install all these components manually. But few people want to go through such a ghastly hassle just to have a working system, so PC makers typically provide an automated way to check for, download and install their software.
These automatic driver updater programs are a lot better than they used to be, but they still vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer. Sony and Samsung, for instance, have fairly good ones, largely because they make the process of upgrading relatively simple and don't burden the user with too many choices.
If you do decide to do away with the application updater, make sure you know where to go to get exactly the downloads needed for your particular system. Notebooks or PCs based on the Intel chipset can use Intel's website, which uses a Java/ActiveX-based system profiling utility, to automatically update any drivers needed for that system.
This was first published in November 2013