Having a computer at home, you may come across a wide spectrum of problems. These can either stem from the hardware or the software of the machine, both of which can appear intimidating to fix.
For hardware issues, it’s often best to take the computer to a professional who can diagnose the issue and replace the damaged part. They have the tools and knowledge necessary to avoid causing further damage to the machine during the repair process. They also may know where to get quality parts at reduced prices, which can make your experience surprisingly inexpensive.
The same can be said for software issues. In many cases, taking the computer to a professional is the best course of action. However, there are some things you can try on your own before paying someone to fix the computer.
The issues we encounter with our computers can often be blamed on issues with the device drivers. While you may not know what these are, problems that stem from these drivers can be fixed easily as long as you have the right information available to you.
Read on to learn what device drivers are and how you can fix problems with them yourself.
What Are Device Drivers?
Your computer is able to combine the efforts of multiple pieces of hardware and software to create a seamless experience for you. They’re able to process information, receive inputs, produce outputs and save data—all of which is needed for the vast majority of activities you do on your computer.
This is true whether you’re using a smart device, a laptop, a desktop or any other computerized machine.
In addition to the hardware that makes up your device, controlling and managing all these functionalities takes two different kinds of software: system software and application software. There are also subcategories of software, but an explanation of these two general types will serve our purposes.
When we’re using a computer, the software with which we interact is the application software. This software is what makes up the applications we use to do work, play games, organize our schedules and complete every other task that we use our computers for.
This application software is able to work because of the system software.
The system software is a set of programs which is responsible for managing a computer’s resources. It ensures that the user can interact with the computer and use the applications that are installed on it.
The operating system of the computer is one big system software that determines how the user can use the computer and what application software can be installed on it. It controls all the hardware of the computer using a type of system software known as device drivers.
Device drivers are small programs that act as controllers or access interfaces for any hardware devices connected to the computer. They can be likened to translators: middlemen between the computer and the device that allow for easy communication between the two.
Each piece of hardware speaks its own “language.” To communicate with the computer and the programs installed on it, they come with their own translator in the form of a device driver. With the help of these device drivers, the operating system is able to interact with the hardware and all of its components, and use them as the user commands.
Who Makes Device Drivers?
The number of hardware manufacturers and devices they make has been growing since computers were first invented. All of these devices need to be able to connect in a modular way and work with the other hardware that makes up the entirety of the computer.
Since there are so many device manufacturers, there are many different “languages” and thus many different drivers needed to translate. The device manufacturers are responsible for providing device drivers and updating them whenever they’ve improved the way their device interacts with the hardware of the end user.
Once the device driver provided by the manufacturer has been installed, the operating system sends commands to the driver. At that point, it’s up to the driver to translate the operating system’s commands and send them to the hardware. The hardware then completes the task it was asked to do.
Drivers and OS Compatibility
Just as different manufacturers use different technologies for manufacturing hardware, different operating systems use different “languages.” Therefore, hardware manufacturers have to develop different versions of the device drivers for each operating system.
You can think of it as though one operating system speaks Spanish and another speaks French while the device speaks English. The manufacturers of the device need to design a driver that translates from Spanish to English for the first operating system and from French to English for the second operating system.
32- and 64-Bit Architecture
Device drivers also have different versions based on the hardware architecture. The ability for the device to communicate with the computer depends not only on the computer’s software, but also on the hardware that accounts for its physical components.
Generally speaking, the computers of today have either a 32-bit processor or a 64-bit processor. In simple terms, the difference between these two relates to the amount of data they can handle at once. A 64-bit processor can handle over 4 billion times the amount of data as a 32-bit processor.
This difference highlights the reason why different device drivers are needed for different processors. A 64-bit processor handles information differently from a 32-bit processor and will therefore interact with devices differently than a 32-bit processor will. A different translator is needed for each one.
How Can Device Drivers Cause Issues?
Once you know how device drivers interact with the hardware and software of a computer, two things become clear:
- Device drivers are essentially translators between the device they’re designed for and the operating system of the computer.
- The physical components of a computer also play a role in how these devices communicate.
With this information in mind, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which a problem with your device drivers leaves you unable to do what you want with your computer. Maybe you’ve been provided with the wrong device driver for your new hardware. Maybe you’ve downloaded an out-of-date device driver or one that is too new for your hardware.
If one of these things were to happen, a few outcomes are possible. The best case scenario is that you won’t be able to use your device to its full potential. Some bugs may make themselves known or the device may fail to do what you’ve told it to do.
In other cases, your device may not work at all. This could lead you to think that you’ve received a defective product, causing you to exchange it only to find out that the new one doesn’t work either.
In more extreme cases, your computer may crash. You may be shown the dreaded Blue Screen of Death most commonly associated with a crashing Windows computer. This has the potential to delete all of your files and force you to start over completely with your computer as if it were brand new.
If you have set up your system to automatically search for updates and install them, then you might have inadvertently updated your properly working driver to a newer one. This new one may have a bug that managed to slip through the cracks of beta testing but has managed to render your device unusable.
To avoid this problem, don’t use the auto-update feature that likely comes with your device. If the device works and serves your purposes, there’s nothing wrong with using an outdated driver. If an update is released, it may be smart to wait a while before updating. This will give the device manufacturer time to correct any issues present in the new version of the software.
By now you should be aware of what a device driver is, how it helps your devices interact with your computer and what can go wrong with these drivers.
Now it’s time to learn how to solve the problems that can occur with your device drivers.
Taking Preemptive Measures
As mentioned above, make sure that you don’t use any auto-update driver utility. If everything is working fine on your computer and with your device, there is no need to make any changes. Old device drivers will continue to work, even if a new one has been released.
If a new version of the software is released and it has features that will improve your experience, wait before installing it. Often other users will let the device manufacturer know when there is a problem and the manufacturer will improve the update to remove the bugs. Waiting before you download the update gives them time to do this and ensures that you’re not stuck with a malfunctioning device driver.
Don’t Be Tempted By Promises of Free or Premium Software
Sometimes temptations come from unexpected sources. As tempting as they may be, promises of free or even premium software are often too good to be true. Downloading this software can cause harm to your computer or device and may be expensive or impossible to completely remove.
Make sure you only download device drivers from reliable sources. The only sources you should use are your operating system’s websitefor a generic driver or your device’s manufacturer’s website for a specialized device driver. Even then, as mentioned above, only download the software if you need it or if it solves a problem you’re having with your old drivers.
When downloading files from the internet, keep your antivirus software running and use a VPN to protect yourself. Malicious software can be detected by antivirus software even if you make the mistake of downloading something from unreliable sources. We have a complete guide on how to maintain your online safety and privacy, which will be helpful when downloading device drivers or any software.
Download the Tried and Tested Version
Sometimes you get a new piece of hardware and it has problems from the moment you plug it into your computer.
In this situation, the best thing to do is visit the manufacturer’s website for either the latest driver or the one that works best with your computer’s hardware and operating system.
Check the compatibility with your operating system and the hardware architecture of your computer before downloading.
Use Windows Updates
If you can’t seem to find the manufacturer’s website, then the best place would be through the operating system’s updates.
To update the drivers on your Windows computer, you can use the driver update utility in the Windows Device Manager.
You can go to the Device Manager by completing the following steps:
1. Press the Windows key and type device manager in the search box. Press Enter.
2. Expand the section of the device in question by clicking on the name or description of the device. For example, for your graphics card click on “Display Adapters.”
3. Right click on the device to access its options menu and either go to its Properties to check its software version and other details or simply click the Update driver option to download the latest version of the device driver.
4. You can also access the older version of the driver by going to Properties, then Drivers and then select Roll back driver.
If these methods don’t fix your problem, it’s likely more serious than a device driver issue. Unless you’re confident that you can fix it on your own, it may be time to take your computer to a professional. While this option won’t be free like repairing a driver issue, it will likely leave you with a fixed computer and will require minimal work.