How to Update the Drivers in Ubuntu

By David Wayne

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.

Improved Functionality With Proprietary Drivers

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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

Step 1

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:sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgradeThe command “dist-upgrade” ensures that APT resolves all package dependencies during the upgrade.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

Open the file /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf in Gedit using the following command:gksudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.confAdd 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:blacklist wlTo 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).

Step 4

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:snd-usb-audiob43legacyfuseThis step is only necessary if Ubuntu doesn't automatically detect your hardware at startup.

Step 5

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

Tips & Warnings

  • New video cards usually work reasonably well with the default open-source Nouveau or Radeon drivers, but proprietary Nvidia or AMD drivers add improved 3-D support and better overall handling of the hardware.
  • Installing a driver through Additional Drivers deactivates the previously installed driver or module, so only install the driver labeled as “Recommended.”
  • If Ubuntu stalls when downloading proprietary drivers, you must remove the CDROM source from your sources.list file. Open /etc/apt/sources.list in a text editor and add a “#” character to the beginning of the first two lines beginning with “deb cdrom” to comment out these lines. Save the file and retry the download.