How to Update the Drivers in Ubuntu

With Ubuntu 14.04 and other Linux distributions, you have the choice to use open- or closed-source drivers for hardware that benefits from proprietary software. Ubuntu automatically updates installed drivers and notifies you of proprietary upgrades, but you still need to know a little about your hardware to choose the best drivers. The Linux kernel includes open-source modules -- i.e. drivers -- for most hardware, and Ubuntu loads these modules from a boot archive called initramfs. You can blacklist unwanted modules or load specific modules by updating initramfs.

young man using a computer
Updating drivers removes some security risks, such as data stored in video memory.
credit: diawka/iStock/Getty Images

Improved Functionality With Proprietary Drivers

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Press the “Super” key -- also called the Windows key -- then type “Additional Drivers” (without quotes) and press “Enter.” If any proprietary drivers are available for your system, Ubuntu finds them and recommends the best ones for your hardware.

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Select a driver from the list. If proprietary drivers are available for several components, such as wireless cards, video cards or sound cards, you can install drivers for each device.

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Click “Activate.” The program downloads, installs and configures the proprietary drivers, and you must restart your computer to load them. Simply logging out and logging back in doesn't load the new drivers.

Updating Installed Modules

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Open Gnome Terminal to update your system using APT package manager. Enter the following command to synchronize your package list and install all available updates:

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sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

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The command “dist-upgrade” ensures that APT resolves all package dependencies during the upgrade.

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Enter “lsmod” at the prompt to print a list of loaded modules. If you're updating drivers because some of them don't work, you must try blacklisting the ones included with Ubuntu and loading others until your hardware starts working. This process is usually only necessary for older hardware since Ubuntu is designed to work as seamlessly as possible with newer hardware.

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Open the file /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf in Gedit using the following command:

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gksudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf

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Add any modules you want to blacklist to the end of the file. For example, blacklist the open-source wl wireless module by adding the following line to the file:

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blacklist wl

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To find out which modules you need to blacklist, you must search the Ubuntu website for the hardware component you're trying to get working (link in Resources).

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Open the file /etc/modules in Gedit to add the names of modules you want to load at startup. Place one module name per line as in the following example:

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snd-usb-audio b43legacy fuse

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This step is only necessary if Ubuntu doesn't automatically detect your hardware at startup.

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Update initramfs to add the changes to the startup archive. Use the following command to update the archive:

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sudo update-initramfs -u

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The update-initramfs program reads all the files in /etc/modprobe.d and all the module names in /etc/modules while compressing the image. You must restart your computer to load the modules.