More commonly known as a driver, a device driver or hardware driver is a group of files that enable one or more hardware devices to communicate with the computer's operating system. Without drivers, the computer could not send and receive data correctly to hardware devices like printers.
What devices need drivers?
Hardware devices that are unknown by the operating system or have features unknown by the operating system all require drivers. Below is a list of hardware devices and peripherals that require drivers.
- Card reader
- Motherboard chipset
- Network card
- Sound card
- Tape drive
- USB devices
- Video card
What devices may not need drivers?
Today's operating systems have many generic drivers that allow hardware to work at a basic level without needing drivers or software. However, if that device has features unknown to the operating system, it will not work without drivers. For example, you could plug any keyboard into a computer and expect it to work. However, if that keyboard has any special keys or features, they will not work until the drivers are installed.
- Disc drive
- Hard drive
- Heat sink
- Power supply
- Thumb drive
The operating systems' generic drivers may not be updated as often as those from a hardware manufacturer or computer manufacturer.
What happens if a driver is not installed?
If the appropriate driver is not installed, the device may not function properly, if at all. With some devices, the device may work, but all of its features may not work. For example, a computer mouse usually works without drivers, but if it has more buttons than the traditional mouse, those extra buttons will not work until the drivers are installed.
For Microsoft Windows users, missing drivers may cause a driver conflict or an error in the Device Manager. If problems or conflicts are encountered with drivers, the computer manufacturer or hardware manufacturer releases a driver update to fix the problems. If updated drivers are available, those drivers need to be installed to replace the existing driver code.
Can a driver make my computer do more?
Installing a driver only makes the hardware installed in the computer function properly. If the correct driver is not installed, installing the latest driver for the hardware can take full advantage of the device. However, you cannot install a driver for hardware not installed in the computer and expect it to make your computer faster or more capable. In other words, installing video card drivers for a video card that's not installed in the computer does not give your computer all the capabilities of that video card. You'd need the video card hardware and driver installed in this example.
Does a driver work for all operating systems?
When a driver is designed, it's for a specific operating system (platform). For example, a Microsoft Windows 11 driver may work with an early version of Windows (e.g., Windows 10), but it wouldn't work for macOS or Linux.
Are computer drivers free?
Almost all computer and hardware manufacturers provide free drivers, updates, and software. You can find a list of direct links to all company's pages through our computer driver page.
However, companies no longer in business or products that are no longer supported may not offer free drivers. In this situation, third-party companies may host and offer drivers but charge for them.
Are computer drivers safe?
As long the driver you're downloading comes from a reputable source, like the device manufacturer, it is considered safe. If you have to download a driver from a third party, it's difficult to know if they've modified the driver code. Unfortunately, like any computer software, drivers can also be infected with viruses and malware. We recommend having an antivirus installed and running on a computer before downloading and installing a driver from a third party.
What if I download the wrong driver?
If you mistakenly download the wrong driver and attempt to install it on your computer, it will fail during the installation. However, it's possible to install a driver for a device that does not exist. However, even if this is done, you'd only get errors about the device not being detected or see problems with the non-existent device in Device Manager. Installing the wrong driver on a computer that's working would not cause it to stop working. However, removing a working device and installing the wrong drivers may cause problems.