Friday, November 09, 2012

Windows 8 Trackpad Gesture support for older Laptops

As many have learned, there are a whole new set of ways to navigate Windows 8. Most of these are accessible via a mouse and keyboard. But what about the trackpads built into laptops? Especially, older existing laptops that people may upgraded to Windows 8.

Paul Thurrott did a good job documenting the addition of Windows 8 gesture support using a trackpad but noted that this support would likely be limited to new laptops designed for Windows 8. As is often the case, older laptops need not apply.

I have an Asus UL30a that I bought a couple of years ago and continue to enjoy to use. It is pre-ultrabook but shares many features of the newer ultrabooks. I’m not quite ready to retire it since I have done a few hardware upgrades to improve its performance (Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid hard drive, etc.). I recently upgraded the OS to the shipping version of Windows 8 Pro 64 (including Media Center) and had a good upgrade experience. There were a few details to work out including getting updated trackpad drivers.

The UL30 uses an Elantech trackpad. Looking at the Asus default web site for the UL30 shows trackpad drivers from almost 3 years ago. Asus has a very bad habit of essentially abandoning their hardware after they are released and are very poor at providing links to the latest drivers even when new ones have been released. Often it is much better to bypass Asus completely and go straight to the hardware vendor site directly. For example Realtek makes the audio codec in the UL30a and you can get the latest Realtek HD Audio drivers directly from the Realtek web site. Other vendors such as Elantech can’t be bothered to offer drivers and simply refer you to you laptop maker such as Asus which leaves you spinning in circles!

The dirty secret is that Asus does have updated drivers on their support site but they make them nearly impossible to find.

I have now stumbled upon a fast way to find the latest Asus drivers independent of what hardware you may have.

You simply use the Google “Site:” keyword in your search to hone in on these gems. For example to find the latest trackpad drivers that Asus has on their website you would type the following search: elantech. The top result is a list of all the latest trackpad drivers for Elantech and Synaptics in reverse chronological order!. The very top item is a very recent driver for Elantech touchpads that features Windows 8 gesture support. I have installed this driver on my UL30 that works and now I have access to several of the Windows 8 gestures!

I also needed an update for the Asus hotkeys to allow me to control volume and screen brightness, etc. from the keyboard. Using my previous example you can search using the keyword “ATK” and get an updated driver list for this critical driver as well.

It’s ashame that vendors like Asus cannot expose this search feature on their web site but as I have stated earlier, Asus essentially abandons their hardware as soon as it is released and can’t be bothered to provide links to updated drivers. Thanks to Google, you can circumvent this roadblock to happier computing!