Device drivers are small files that act like “liaisons” between hardware in a computer system and the operating system (OS). Hardware requires these drivers so that the OS can “see” the devices and handle them effectively and efficiently.
Common components that require drivers include keyboards, mice, controllers, graphics cards, audio hardware, Ethernet hardware, wireless cards, ports, card readers, card slots and CD/DVD drives. Windows™ operating systems typically include many device drivers by default so that the OS can recognize many types of desktop hardware components instantly and implement functionality. Hardware that’s added later might require drivers be installed before it can be used.
Device drivers for laptops are proprietary, installed by the manufacturer at the time of the build. Unlike a desktop computer, if the hard disk of a laptop gets wiped or reformatted, all basic drivers will need to be reacquired. This usually means visiting the manufacturer's website and downloading them then installing them along with a new OS.
Sometimes device drivers don’t work as well as intended or conflict with other components. Manufacturers improve drivers just like programmers improve software. An updated driver can take care of erratic behavior or “bugs” in a component. For example, if a mouse is not working as expected or has intermittent problems, it might be helpful to check the manufacturer’s website for an updated driver.
Drivers can be downloaded like any other files and are self-installing. Most drivers come in the form of an “.exe” or executable file. Clicking on the file will launch an installation program. The program normally checks the system first to make sure the new driver is appropriate for the installed hardware. Installation takes seconds or even less but a reboot is typically required in order to start using the new driver.
One way to check device drivers on a Windows system is to enter the Device Manager. You can reach the Device Manager by right-clicking on the My Computer icon, choose Properties, then click the Hardware tab. From the Device Manager window highlight a hardware device then right-click on it. Choose Properties again, then click the Driver tab. Here you can see the device driver’s name and version number.