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I have only recently begun using Linux as my primary OS on my laptop. I previously ran Windows 7 on it, which generally had decent performance in 3D applications. However, I've noticed a considerable slow down in their native Linux counterparts, so I've started poking around for updated drivers.

Is there any surefire way to ensure that I get the upgrades? Google-ing around leads to suggestions of adding external repositories, occasionally accompanied by stories of ruining their builds in various ways. Also, I've checked under Preferences→Software Sources→Additional Drivers, which reveals an empty list. Any idea where I might go from here?

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You get the upgrades via your package manager (in Mint, the driver package is xserver-xorg-video-intel and most likely, your system already uses the latest driver available in the repos). man intel for driver configuration options via xorg conf files. If you want to try the latest version from Intel check this question. –  don_crissti Jun 8 '13 at 11:10
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The best 3 resources that I'm aware of for dealing with Intel Graphics Drivers are the following pages:

The second link is the one you want if you're looking for Intel drivers. I would download the appropriate driver files from there for you hardware and look through the release notes to see if there are any issues prior to installing them for your given hardware.

As far as installing the drivers, most of the drivers include instructions so it should be pretty straightforward on how to perform it. Obviously checking with your distro's updates to see if they offer the drivers is the best thing to do but if they don't this is a good next step.

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