Great moments in PC gaming: Updating your graphics drivers without rebooting

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(Image credit: Nvidia)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Windows used to have the constitution of 1-ply toilet paper. 

"You just installed a new program: better restart!" Windows used to say. And this was not an isolated experience. "Oh, you're letting Windows Update install while it's still light outside? Better restart before, during, and after!" "Nice new mouse firmware you've got there. Better restart your whole operating system, in case this somehow affects, I don't know, everything?" "Did you just breathe really hard? Yeah, better res—"

That was the Windows we lived with for years. I got used to aggressively telling Windows no, I didn't want to restart for every minor new program install, and mostly I got away with it. It turned out Windows would, for the most part, keep ticking along just fine despite its warnings. But there were some things that always seemed like they'd require a full reboot. Installing new graphics card drivers was one of them.

What a pain that process used to be. You'd go to Nvidia's or AMD's website to find the latest drivers. It'd helpfully tell you it could auto-identify your card for you… but it only worked if you used Internet Explorer. Grumbling, you'd find the right jumble of numbers from a dropdown menu that represented your graphics card. Download the file. Install it. Restart. Pre-SSDs, this would take a couple minutes. And when you got back to Windows your resolution would probably be set to a fuzzy 800x600.

Graphics driver installs got smoother over the years, but surely changing something as fundamental as the bridge between your computer hardware and how every pixel is drawn on your screen would require restarting Windows. Then Nvidia came out with GeForce Experience, eliminating that obnoxious "hunt for the right driver" step… and also making it so that you could just keep carrying on Windows while the fresh new driver installed. No more reboots.

It's been years now, and it still feels like I'm doing the impossible every time. I once asked Nvidia how their programmers pulled this off, when Windows still wanted to restart for so many seemingly smaller updates. Nvidia's answer was, basically: a buttload of work.

Butts well spent. These days updating graphics drivers is about as easy as updating a game console—and the latter still requires a reboot.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).