For a computer to work efficiently, it needs frequent updates and maintenance. One of the components that require regular updates is a driver. Many people who own a computer may have heard the term “driver” but may be unfamiliar with these or how vital they are to the computer’s operation.
In this article, we’ll discuss what drivers do, why you need them, and how to update them correctly, so you can keep your computer working efficiently.
What Are Drivers?
A driver is low-level code (a program) that facilitates communication between a hardware component or a software application and an operating system (OS). It acts as a translator that enables your OS to ask hardware or software to do what you want.
Every computer has multiple drivers that control various installed applications and hardware components. Without drivers, your computer’s hardware and software will not function properly, and in some cases, they can’t function at all.
There are really two main types of drivers: device drivers and software drivers.
Device drivers are a type of software that enables communication between an OS and hardware or device.
They are usually created by the same company that manufactured the device. However, when a third-party company makes a device driver, it is built following the published hardware standard.
Not all device drivers are built to communicate directly with the device itself. In some instances, there are several drivers layered in a stack to allow communication. These stacked drivers will communicate directly to one another or the OS. The driver that directly communicates with the device itself or the OS is called the function driver.
Meanwhile, the drivers in between that manipulate the communication into different formats so the machine can understand the command are called filter drivers.
Various devices require drivers. Below are some of the most common ones:
- Digital cameras
- Video adapters
- Card readers
- Sound cards
- Motherboard chipsets
- Network interface cards
- Storages devices (HDD and SSD)
Software drivers are not associated with any hardware devices, unlike device drivers. Instead, these are programs that allow software applications to communicate with an OS.
Their primary purpose is to enable or disable access to protected data only available to programs in kernel mode. This is why software drivers always run in kernel mode.
Note: In Kernel mode, drivers have unrestricted access to hardware and computer memory. It can issue any CPU instruction required to make the hardware work properly.
What Do Drivers Do?
To understand how drivers work, imagine trying to stream a Netflix show on your computer. When you play the video on your browser, the application sends your command request to your OS.
Then, the OS must send out requests to other components of your computer that will help you execute commands so you can watch the show. The OS will ask the network card to buffer the video, send the correct commands to the graphics card to display the video, and communicate with the sound card to play the audio in the video.
The OS sends all of these requests to the drivers associated with the required devices, and each device’s driver will know exactly what to do. So, for example, the network card driver knows what data to transfer, the video card will know what to display, and the sound card will know what sound to play.
Drivers don’t only communicate with devices found inside your computer. They also work with other machines such as printers and scanners. For example, when you press the Print button in an application, the OS will send the command to the printer driver to print the document. The driver then translates this command so that the printer understands what you want to do. Lastly, the printer prints the document and completes your request.
Your computer can fulfill all of your requests and commands because the OS knows how to ask the devices to do their job through drivers.
Why Do You Need Drivers?
You need drivers so that you can use your computer. As mentioned before, drivers are necessary so that your computer can communicate with its own hardware, other devices, and software. Without the drivers, your computer would be useless, and all its hardware wouldn’t work together.
Why Is Updating Drivers Important?
Driver updates can provide many things, including new security patches, such as keeping hackers from corrupting your files and upgrades to the technology of your device. Often, device manufacturers will identify any errors or glitches, known as bugs, then create an update to address them.
Apart from that, as technology advances, new errors and threats are continually identified, and driver updates allow PC manufacturers to keep offering fixes and improvements to users who have purchased their devices. In addition, if driver updates support your device, you don’t need to purchase new components even if a new technology is introduced.
If you fail to update your drivers, it can lead to bigger problems. Apart from missing out on new features or performance upgrades, your device may be susceptible to threats such as hacks or viruses and may even stop it from working at all. In addition, if you don’t update the driver of a critical component of your computer, like the motherboard or video card, your computer may become inoperable.
How Do I Know if a Driver Needs To Be Updated?
The symptoms of an outdated driver can vary depending on which device it is associated with. For example, if you haven’t updated your display driver for an extended period, it may show symptoms of lag, blurry graphics, pixelated or blinking screens.
For motherboards, you might experience your computer crashing, won’t start up properly, or the system will become slow even with the most basic tasks.
If you encounter any issue with your computer that can’t be quickly resolved by restarting it, updating the driver is the next solution. While it’s not the answer to all problems, it should always be a part of the troubleshooting steps computer users can perform.
To avoid any of these problems, you can set up your computer to automatically update its drivers.
Updated and Maintained
Now that you know what drivers are and what they do, keeping your computer maintained and updated will be easy. Apart from that, if you encounter any problems with your computer, a simple driver update or troubleshooting may fix the problem.