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What are Device Drivers?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By letshearit — On Jun 01, 2011

Before you buy a new device for your computer, make sure that it is compatible with your system. As a Mac user you will find that anything with an .exe file format won't work on your machine.

On the back of new computer components you will see a list of what operating systems your item will work with. If you see device drivers with a .dmg file format, this will work with your Mac.

Often companies will not accept a return if you open their product and it doesn’t work because of your error. Make sure you have the right product with the right device driver before you get started.

By wander — On May 31, 2011

If you have some new hardware for your computer, like a mouse or external hard drive, making sure you have the device drivers installed is vital. Without these files your new components will not work on your computer.

If you lose the disk that comes to install the device driver, often you can download the software for free by searching for the model number of your device online. Most companies have a huge index of their device drivers available for free.

You should make sure to update your device drivers at least every six months as often companies will try to improve the performance of their goods and fix any problems. These updates are also free from company sites.

By anon121747 — On Oct 25, 2010

please add more information to this article like device driver files!!

By anon118884 — On Oct 15, 2010

Device drivers are among the things that you need to update frequently to ensure the optimum functioning of your hardware.

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