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What Are Computer Drivers?

What are Computer Drivers?

Reading time: 5 minutes
For your computer to work efficiently, it needs frequent maintenance and updates. One component that may need attention is a driver. How do computer drivers work? What is the best way to update them? Get the details on how these essentials keep you productive, along with how to check for driver updates and perform them manually when needed.

What does a computer driver do?

A driver, or device driver, is a set of files that tells a piece of hardware how to function by communicating with a computer's operating system. All pieces of hardware require a driver, from your internal computer components, such as your graphics card, to your external peripherals, like a printer.
The driver files are designed to work seamlessly with the specific operating system you have on your PC, so the operating system typically keeps them updated and running through automatic updates. Updates are additional downloaded files that can install on their own to keep everything functioning correctly.

Why is updating drivers important?

Driver updates can provide everything from new security patches, designed to keep hackers from corrupting your files, to upgrades to the technology of your device. Often, device manufacturers will identify glitches or errors, known as "bugs," then create a driver update that will correct them.
New advances are made all the time, and new errors and threats are continually identified, so driver updates help manufacturers to continue offering service to customers who buy their products. You don't usually have to purchase new components if your device is supported by driver updates.
Failure to update drivers can lead to big problems. In addition to missing out on new features or performance upgrades, your device may be susceptible to hacks or viruses or it could stop working altogether. If it’s a critical component of your computer, such as the video card or motherboard, it may leave your PC inoperable.

How do I know if a driver needs to be updated?

The symptoms of a glitchy driver in need of an update will vary by the affected driver. A display driver, for example, may show symptoms of lag, be pixelated or blinking, or have blurry graphics. Motherboard drivers, on the other hand, could show the need for an update by failing to start up properly, crashing without warning, or causing the computer to be sluggish when doing even the most basic tasks.
Anytime you have an unforeseen issue that doesn't resolve by a restart of the computer, you may need to look at a driver update for resolution. While it won't fix all problems, it's among the most straightforward DIY fixes computer owners can perform.

What’s the best way to update computer drivers?

Most Windows drivers update automatically each time you get a Windows update. This is why it’s essential to allow automatic updates on your PC, even if you’re working. If you absolutely don’t want an update to interrupt your work, go ahead and snooze it for a few hours, but don’t keep putting it off. The sooner an update is allowed to download and install, the better your Windows-supported drivers will perform.

How can I manually update a driver?

Occasionally, a full operating system update won’t take care of a driver issue. This is common when an individual driver update is released between major Windows 10 updates, but you don’t have to wait for an operating system update to take matters into your own hands. A manual driver update can fix issues in many instances.
Here’s how to manually update a driver:
  1. Locate the search box in the lower corner of the Windows taskbar and type “Device Manager”
  2. Select Device Manager, and choose your device from the list provided. You may have more than one device to choose from in each category
  3. Right-click on the device you wish to update. Select Update Driver
  4. Select Search automatically for updated driver software when prompted
  5. The computer will initiate the driver update and walk you through any necessary steps
Feel free to restart your computer for the update to take full effect. Generally, this simple process will resolve driver issues.

How can I reinstall a driver?

Occasionally, an update won't resolve your problem, and it may be wise to reinstall your driver. Follow these steps to uninstall and reinstall your device driver manually:
  1. Locate the search box in the lower corner of the Windows taskbar and type “Device Manager”
  2. Select Device Manager, and choose your device from the list provided. You may have more than one device to choose from in each category
  3. Right-click on the device you wish to update and select Uninstall
  4. Restart your computer using the Start menu; do not do a hard restart by pushing the power button
  5. Your computer will attempt to reinstall the driver upon restart. Follow the directions to complete the setup
One final option is to try a System Restore to return your computer to a point prior to when your driver was giving you issues.
If this still doesn’t fix your driver issues, it may not be a driver issue at all. You could also be experiencing a hardware failure. If the component that’s giving you trouble is physically damaged or failing, no amount of driver reinstalls or updates will fix it.

Driver updates not handled by Windows 10

Occasionally, a driver update isn't controlled by the operating system. If you upgrade your graphics card or install an additional piece of hardware, the driver will be updated and maintained by the manufacturer through driver updates that may or may not come through the version of Windows installed on your PC.

Check drivers first for errors

Check your computer drivers any time you run into issues such as slow performance, lag, or system shutdowns. First, see that your entire operating system has gone through any available automatic updates. Then, work through each suspected driver, one at a time, until you’re sure everything is updated. Once you know how to update drivers, you’ll be able to resolve many of the most common computer issues on your own, without the help of tech support.

About the Author

Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.

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