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 Post subject: Understanding and Updating Chipset "drivers"
 Post Posted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 10:30 pm 
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The chipset is the backbone of the motherboard, and contains many different interfaces such as USB, ATA/SATA, PCI/PCIe, and more. In modern designs it also normally contains a SATA (Serial ATA) host adapter capable of running in AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) or RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives) mode, and some may contain an integrated graphics controller as well. Many of these functions require different drivers, many of which are supplied by or with the OS. However, there are many instances where additional drivers are needed, and these are generically referred to as "chipset drivers". Let's examine these more closely, as they are often misunderstood. There are several companies that manufacture chipsets, including Intel, AMD/ATI, NVIDIA, and VIA. In the following text I will list Intel specific examples and links, however the concepts are the same for chipsets from the other manufacturers as well.

There are basically 3 different primary components of what are usually called "chipset drivers":

1.) Chipset Software Installation Utility (INF files)
2.) AHCI/RAID drivers for SATA host adapters running in AHCI/RAID mode
3.) Graphics drivers for integrated graphics

Of these, the first one (INF files) is almost always required (esp. if the chipset was released later than the OS), while the latter two are required only if your chipset has a SATA host adapter running in AHCI or RAID mode, and/or your chipset has integrated graphics (and you are using it).

Note that the INF files are not actually drivers, they merely contain "INF"ormation for the Windows registry that tells Windows how to properly configure the chipset for specific functionality, such as USB, PCI/PCIe, AGP, and ISA PnP services. Once Windows properly recognizes the chipset, then any drivers necessary for integrated chipset components can be installed. One common symptom of an OS installation without proper chipset INF files is that the USB controllers will either not function at all, or not function in faster USB modes.

Since the Chipset INF files are normally updated only to add INF files for new chipsets as they are released, they don't usually need updating once installed on a specific system. Because of that, the default install program (Setup.exe) will not install the utility if another version is detected as already installed. One exception possibly requiring an update would be if you moved a hard drive with a running installation to a different system with a newer chipset. In that case you can force an INF file update using the "have disk" installation procedure.

On the other hand, the AHCI/RAID mode SATA and Graphics drivers should be kept up-to-date, since unlike the INF files, those are actual drivers that load when the system is running.

To identify the currently installed Chipset INF version:
    1.) Open the Device Manager.
    2.) Expand the "System Devices" entry.
    3.) Right-click "...Processor to DRAM Controller...".
    4.) Select "Properties"; click the "Driver" tab, then check "Driver Version:".

Note that this will display the version of the INF file contained in the Chipset Software Installation Utility that was specific to your chipset. Note that the INF file specific to your chipset may be a lower version than listed for the entire Chipset Software Installation Utility package. For example, both the Chipset Software Installation Utility versions 9.0.0.1011 (7/30/2008) and 9.1.1.1015 (7/12/2009) contain the GM965 chipset (965m.inf) file version 8.3.1.1005, dated 10/19/2007. This means that even if there is a newer Chipset Software Installation Utility available than what was previously used on your system, installing it may not really update anything, as it may still contain the same INF file version that is specific to your chipset.

To identify the currently installed AHCI/RAID driver version:
    1.) Open the Device Manager.
    2a.) If in RAID mode, expand the "SCSI and RAID Controllers" entry and right-click "Intel RAID Controller".
    2b.) If in AHCI mode, expand the "IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers" entry and right-click "Intel SATA AHCI Controller".
    3.) Select "Properties"; click the "Driver" tab, then check "Driver Version:".

To identify the currently installed graphics driver version, you can use the procedure listed here.

Bottom line: If you have already installed the INF files for your chipset (Chipset Software Installation Utility), then you most likely don't need to worry about updating that again unless you reinstall the OS from scratch. On the other hand, if there are newer versions of either the AHCI/RAID or graphics drivers available for your system, I recommend you install them. Scott.


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