How to install and update a computer driver

Updated: 12/30/2021 by Computer Hope

Many computer hardware components, like a video card, sound card, Wi-Fi, or motherboard, require drivers to be installed to function properly. Additionally, if an existing driver has problems, reinstalling it can be a good way to troubleshoot. How a driver is saved and packaged determines how it is installed. Below is information about each method developers use to distribute their drivers and install them in Microsoft Windows. Additionally, some general insights help prevent frustrations during the process.

Tip

In most situations, the drivers are installed after the hardware has been installed or connected to the computer. If you need help installing hardware, see: How to install computer hardware.

Drivers from a CD or DVD

Dell drivers and utilities CD

Almost all computer and hardware manufacturers include a group of drivers for different hardware devices and often for each supported version of Windows. For example, the driver CD you receive with your printer likely contains the drivers for many different printers and may not have the printer you purchased. When installing the drivers, make sure you install the drivers for your printer and not another model. Also, make sure you are installing it for the version of Windows on your computer.

Below is an example of how a file structure may look on your disc.

CD Example:

-PrinterA100
--Win9x
--Win2k
--WinXP
-PrinterA200
--Win9x
--Win2k
--WinXP
-PrinterB100
--Win9x
--Win2k
--WinXP

For example, if you had a PrinterA200 and used Windows XP, you would find your drivers in the PrinterA200\WinXP folder. Once the location of the drivers is found, you must determine how the drivers are packaged. If the folder contains executable files or a setup file, you can install the driver using an executable. If the directory contains .inf files, you can install the driver using an inf or use the "have disk" option during the install.

Tip

If you have a CD with drivers, but the computer has no functioning disc drive, you can also download the drivers from the Internet. Or, if you have access to another computer, you can copy the drivers from the CD to a USB flash drive. For help with copying files, see: How to copy files.

Installing drivers from a USB drive or floppy

After the drivers are copied to a USB flash drive, floppy, or another drive, they can also be installed from that drive. Once the drive is connected to the computer, open Windows Explorer and then the drive letter for the computer drive. For example, if you have a USB drive assigned the E: drive when connected, you would open the E: drive.

Once the drivers are found on the drive, you must determine how the drivers are packaged. If the directory contains executable files or a setup file, you can install the driver using an executable. If the directory contains .inf files, you can install the driver using an inf or use the "have disk" option during the install. If the drivers are compressed to a .zip file, you need to decompress the file.

Downloading and installing a driver

Download from Internet to the computer.
Tip

If you have not yet downloaded the drivers, you can find them for your computer through its manufacturer. For links to the websites of prominent computer hardware manufacturers, see our hardware drivers index.

Tip

If you're downloading drivers to install on another device, you can copy or extract the files to a USB flash drive and connect it to the other computer.

After the drivers are downloaded, you must determine how the drivers are packaged. If the directory contains executable files or a setup file, you can install the driver using an executable. If the directory contains .inf files, you can install the driver using an inf or use the "have disk" option during the install. If the drivers are compressed into a .zip file, you need to decompress the file.

Tip

When extracting the drivers, remember where the driver's folder is located since it needs to be known during the driver installation process. We recommend extracting files to a folder on the Windows desktop.

Installing a driver from an executable

Executable file

Today, many computer and hardware manufacturers are pre-packaging their drivers in executable files or installing the drivers through the setup file. Double-clicking the executable or setup file should begin the installation process.

Note

The executable may be packaged in a compressed file, which means before looking for the setup file, it needs to be decompressed. For help with decompressing a file, see: How to extract or decompress a compressed file. If, after decompressing the file, it still doesn't contain an executable file, setup file, or doesn't install your hardware device, continue with the recommendations below.

Finally, if you're successfully installing your drivers and a message to reboot the computer appears, make sure to reboot the computer after the driver is installed.

Using the "have disk" option to install drivers

A computer or hardware manufacturer may place the drivers on a CD, diskette, or folder on the hard drive for Windows to find and use during its hardware detection. Below are steps on installing drivers for a new device and upgrading a device's driver for this setup.

Installing a new device

  1. Open the Windows Device Manager.
  2. In the Device Manager, make sure the device you are attempting to install is not already listed from past install attempts. If the device is found, highlight and remove it from Device Manager to prevent any installation conflicts.
  1. Once Device Manager looks okay, reboot the computer.
  2. As the computer reboots, an Install new hardware wizard should appear if Windows detects the new hardware. Using this wizard, point Windows to the folder containing your drivers on the CD, diskette, USB flash drive, or the folder containing the files you downloaded.

If Windows does not detect any new hardware, open the Control Panel and double-click the Add hardware icon to run the hardware detection wizard. During the steps, you can install custom Windows drivers from a location on the disk. Choose to load drivers, then select the folder containing the drivers for your device.

Note

The "Add hardware" icon is only available in Windows XP and prior versions of Windows.

Once drivers are installed, reboot the computer.

Upgrading drivers for a pre-existing device

  1. Open the Windows Device Manager.
  2. In the Device Manager, locate the device you want to update.
  3. Right-click the device and select Properties.
  4. In the Properties window, click the Driver tab.
  5. Click the Update Driver button.
  6. In the Hardware Update Wizard, point Windows to the location of the updated driver files on your hard drive.

Once drivers are installed, reboot the computer.

Install a driver using a .inf file

Finally, if the recommendations above don't work, you can locate the installation instructions for drivers and hardware devices in its .inf file.

  1. Locate the .inf file for your version of Windows.
  2. Right-click that file and choose Install from the drop-down menu.
  3. Follow the prompts to complete the installation.
  4. Restart the computer.
Note

Make sure you install the correct .inf file and not a .inf file for another device or a different version of Windows.

One of the three recommendations above should have installed or updated the drivers. If you are still having difficulties getting the device to install, you may not be encountering a hardware issue. Refer to the troubleshooting steps for your hardware device for additional help and information.