March 19, 2013, 3:27 PM — The update situation in Windows is dire: Other than a few drivers and built-in Microsoft-only programs, there isn't a whole lot that Windows Update actually keeps "up to date." As a result, users are subject to all the reliability, performance and security issues associated with aging drivers and applications.
Image credit: flickr/mera
That's where software and driver update tools come in. These utilities promise to keep your Windows PC, laptop or tablet up-to-date -- automatically.
We tested four software update utilities and two driver update utilities and rated them on update detection and ease-of-use.
None of the products was perfect, but in our testing, UpdateStar Premium Edition and UpdateStar Drivers came out on top because of their massive database and well-structured user interface.
Software updating is a mess
Unless you're part of a big enterprise infrastructure with PC lifecycle and patch management solutions, third-party software and driver updates are a messy business. Here's why:
A lot of the larger software developers, such as Adobe, Google, Microsoft, etc. install their own update mechanisms along with their software. They're either being run as startup items, background services or scheduled tasks.
And the number of background updaters grows with the number of programs installed. (According to UpdateStar, their average user runs 80 applications.) So you can expect to eventually be dealing with A LOT of updaters, each of which runs on its own schedule.
Despite keeping my system squeaky clean, I'm getting at least one notice per week. That's happening either when I'm working (ugh, those annoying balloon-tips) or when I launch an application that's not up-to-date.
While there's not much of a performance hit, the more updaters you've got pinging your hardware, the less you'll get out of your laptop's (or tablet's) battery.
And to make matters worse, these updaters aren't even particularly reliable. While it's certainly a good intention of some update tools to not constantly check for (and download) updates, this also means an increased risk. There will be a period of time -- several hours up to a couple of days -- when a fix isn't available via the built-in updater.
All in all, relying on built-in updaters is a poor attempt at keeping your PC up-to-date. It's time for a better approach.
The update utilities reviewed here will routinely scan your system for available updates, give you an at-a-glance view of all upcoming updates, and get you quickly to the downloads. But best of all, they'll give you the ability to turn off all of the currently running individual update tools and just use one solution for all.
Software Update Tools
UpdateStar Premium Edition
Trial: Download here
One of the big players in the update utility market is UpdateStar Premium Edition. According to UpdateStar's CEO, the company has 3 million registered users and a growing database of 1.6 million products that they're keeping track of.
By default, UpdateStar scans for updates to all your installed applications on a weekly basis. (You could, and maybe should, increase the frequency.)
Clicking on one of the entries under the "Updates available" section will throw you into the list of all installed programs. From here, either click "Download" or "Direct Download." I'd strongly advise the "Direct Download" route. If you click "Download," you'll be directed to a website that shows you descriptions, comments, and ratings for the software in question (which is good!) but also leads to an update installer that tries to force several toolbars down your throat before you get to the updated program (which is bad!). In my test scenario (which I used for all updaters), I deliberately kept 10 out-of-date programs installed on my machine. UpdateStar Premium found all of them. Perfect score.
UpdateStar Premium Edition costs $34.95 per year for one PC and $79.95 for the 3 PC license. For that price, I'd want to see fewer toolbar-laden installers and an opportunity to silently install the updates. But the tool is easy to use and does exactly what it promises.
Update detection: 5/5 stars
User interface/ease-of-use: 4/5 stars