The Intel NIC: Driver Issues

article #748, updated 3378 days ago

The Intel network interface card is a great piece of hardware. However, if its driver is not complete and/or not up to date, the whole PC or server in which it exists often will exhibit poor performance, hesitations, and web-site and LAN connection problems of many sorts. After this driver work is done, it’s a great idea to set it up for performance, but it is best to do the driver first.

First of all, here’s how to check if the driver is likely good — not necessarily up to date, but still likely to be good, and possibly not to be updated given the time and effort and onsite hands needed. Go to Device Manager, go to the properties of the NIC object, and pull up the Advanced tab. You should see something very like this:

Note how the Settings list is fully populated, no blank space visible. If you see any blank space in that box, you are looking at a common problem situation. A great many PCs and some servers shipped by at least two major vendors, for many years, have been shipped with incomplete Intel NIC drivers. These drivers you really do want to replace ASAP with the most recent ones. In at least a few cases I have seen, the hardware vendor didn’t include any update on its web site; thus far, in every case, the download from Intel made things work far better.

At least one major vendor uses Intel NICs but places its own name in Device Manager, and thus far when tested the Intel downloads have worked just fine, and in one server, improved things tremendously.

There is also a circumstance where an Intel NIC has a reasonably recent driver, but the monitoring application’s add-ins are not installed or not working or not visible. Sometimes this occurs due to an unusual terminal server setup. It looks like this:

There are some Intel NICs, older ones, for which updates don’t exist for Microsoft’s newest operating systems. In this case, the screenshot immediately above will pertain, and this means the driver is as good as it will get.

But in most cases we have good work to do. Below are my steps for driver issues and updates.

If this is a server, this should be done in person or with BIOS-level GUI remote control, this is fairly radical change; you need to turn off server offerings while you’re doing this, and networking is temporarily halted twice during the actual successful install. For workstations, in-person may not be required, but hands onsite of some helpful kind are essential.

  1. Whether or not the driver you’re seeing is incomplete, definitely the first step is to replace it with the current. Intel releases more NIC driver updates than any other vendor I have studied, and at least subjectively each update seems to bring improvement.
  2. Finding the most recent driver is simple but not always obvious. If your OS is 32-bit, search the Intel web site for ‘Prowin32’. If your OS is 64-bit, search for ‘Prowinx64’ (remember the X). Itanium drivers still exist for download, these can be found by searching for ‘Prowin64’ (no X). There are usually downloads for older operating systems yet, these will indicate more complex searches.
  3. But you may not be able to update the driver. This is especially true on almost all PCs from one major vendor, and has been seen on others as well. This is the case when you see something like “This version of X is not supported for updates”, when you try to run the download. In some of these cases, you can remove the Intel monitoring application but leave the driver, as a Change in the Programs and Features applet in the Control Panel. If you can do this, the next time you run the update and install it will go fine, and it will install a version of the monitoring application which will update next time. But lately I have been seeing cases like this where one can either remove the driver and everything, or nothing.
  4. If the driver will not update and you cannot remove just the application, you should probably either be working onsite or have hands onsite which are comfortable traversing Explorer to the location in which you saved the update installer. You should then completely remove the OEM Intel NIC item in Programs and Features, and then run the update installer. In one remote case recently, after removal, Windows automatically searched for and found a working NIC driver, before the hands onsite had completed traversing in Explorer; but I am not certain this can be relied on in all cases.