What’s a Hardware Driver?

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Hardware drivers are computer code that tells a system how to use hardware. Most components require a driver to work, and updating it can add new features. Some components may not need separate installation. Manufacturers offer current drivers for free on their websites. Users can find updated drivers on the manufacturer’s website and should read instructions carefully. It’s best for inexperienced users to let the operating system install the driver or follow the website’s instructions.

A hardware driver is a small piece of computer code contained in a file that tells a computer system how to use a piece of hardware. Every piece of hardware in a computer requires a driver to work, whether it’s the printer, DVD player, hard drive, or graphics card. Updating this code can also add new functionality to the component. Mouse drivers, for example, commonly include additional features and improved configuration menus with updated drivers.

In the past, each piece of hardware came with a diskette that included the necessary driver, which had to be installed separately. While this is still true in some cases, many modern operating systems include drivers for common components such as internal dialup modems, memory sticks, and printers. Some digital cameras and other types of components may also be recognized by the operating system without requiring separate installation of a hardware driver.

Sometimes, a component that has been in use for several years may require a new driver to work properly with a new operating system. Other times, bugs in the code might cause a manufacturer to release a new version. A virus or software problem could also damage an existing driver. For these and other reasons, manufacturers usually make current ones available for free through their websites.

To see if an updated hardware driver is available for a component, computer users can usually go to the manufacturer’s website and click on a “support” link. This usually paves the way for the “download” link. On many sites, the user must navigate through drop-down menus to choose the product and model in question. A list of all updated drivers should be offered. Users should read the instructions carefully, as there is usually more than one driver available, depending on the operating system or component model.

For inexperienced users, it’s probably best to let the operating system install the driver for you. An incorrectly installed or missing driver will cause the component to stop working. Alternatively, some manufacturers’ websites may include specific instructions for installing the driver. In that case, it’s probably best for users to follow the website’s instructions. People may also choose to have a technically inclined person update their drivers.

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