New Box Blues


All Brand New and Ready to Roll

Yep, when I plunk down $500.00 to $1200.00 or more, I’d like to think I’m getting the latest and greatest. We all know electronics become outdated faster than potato salad at a Texas picnic, but I would at least expect to get the darned thing out of the box before having to update it. Our recent comparisons found just the opposite.

How many of us have bought new computers, spent an hour or two removing rucksacks full of adware and trial programs, only to find that the original equipment needs driver updates before being ready to roll. I’m not talking about home built units or motherboards only. I’m talking in the box, operating system installed, complete with factory guarantee, brand name computers.

To find out how up-to-date “new computers” really are, we gathered these suspects: HP desktop and laptop, Gateway desktop and laptop, Dell desktop and laptop, Acer laptop, and E machine desktop.

All computers arrived with Vista Home Premium installed with the exception of the desktop E Machine. It came with Windows XP Home. While in line buying the E machine, the gentleman in front of me was also buying one. Reports of “Vista Blues” had convinced him to stick with XP on his current purchase.

The testing procedure was simple and straightforward. The test computers were unboxed, plugged in, and booted without any changes or tweaks. Internet connections were attached before power was supplied.None of the settings were changed in spite of prompting by Windows, Norton, and other freeloaders. The only non-factory program installed was PC Pitstop Driver Alert.

My hope was that at least one of the test boxes would come with all drivers up-to-date and show me the Pitstop Checkered Flags on the very first run of Driver Alert. I didn’t get that result but the results I did get were surprising in a lot of ways.

Not one computer passed the Driver Alert scan. The results showed from one driver update to as many as 5 driver updates needed. Even more telling was the age of the out-of-date drivers.

The winner of the “Most Out Of Date” award goes to Gateway. Their out dated drivers were the most out of date, with an average of 7 months. The E machine had the single oldest out-of-date driver with one that was over a year old. Since E machine is owned by Gateway and the Pitstop Test actually shows it as a Gateway, the win adds to the leaders column.

Computer Model Driver(s) Needed Avg. Driver Age
Dell Inspiron 1525 Laptop 1 NIC 3 months
Emachine(Gateway) 2 Vid/Aud 7 months
HP Desktop Slimline 2 NIC/Audio 3 months
HP Laptop DV6500 2 80211/MCP 4 months
Dell 531S Desktop 3 NIC/Audio/Vid 6 months
Gateway Desktop GT56554 3 NIC/Audio/Vid 7 months
Gateway Laptop 3 NIC/Audio/Chipset 7 months
Acer 5315 Laptop (5) 2 NIC/1 Audio/2 Chipset 4 months

I expected most of the outdated drivers would be for Internet and Audio devices because of the previous October test figures. These results also go along with what I saw during the laptop comparison exposing wasted drive space, slow boot times, and crippling junk programs.

Although newest isn’t always the best with drivers, some models were in dire need of some help. The Acer in particular needed updating. Driver Alert found 5 devices with drivers that were out of date and since one of the drivers needed was the chipset driver, I would consider it a major update. Also it was a good 5 months out of date.

I wonder how these results change from month to month and how much this impacts the buyers of these units. I’m not a big fan of updating for no reason, but certainly some of these updates were needed. On computers that have been in use for a couple of years there could easily be as many as 20 outdated drivers on a single machine.

Another major point of interest was the operation of the Driver Alert Home program. All program installations went smoothly and without a hitch. In total there were 21 drivers needed between the 8 computers. All 21 installed easily and in short order. Considering there wasn’t one computer received with completely up-to-date drivers it’s nice to know there’s a way to update quickly and without a hitch.

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