What is a device driver?

A device driver allows a specific piece of hardware to interact with your computer. It provides the necessary information that the hardware needs in order to function properly with your computer. A device driver has been created for every hardware device including basic hardware such as a printer, mouse, keyboard, disk drive, scanner, monitor, speakers, and many more.

Device Drivers

Most of us are familiar with the operating systems, video players, office software, and other programs that reside on our computers, but most ordinary computer users may not understand the importance of device drivers.  Even though they are less familiar, device drivers are no less important, and it is a good idea to have at least a basic understanding of these important computer programs.

It can be helpful to think of the device driver as a sort of translator, one that is able to tell the computer about the various devices attached to it.  If you use a printer, digital camera, or other peripheral devices with your PC, you are almost certainly making use of device drivers.  These small but powerful programs translate instructions for all manner of products, including:

  • Ø Printers
  • Ø Scanners
  • Ø Cameras
  • Ø Network adapters
  • Ø Sound cards
  • Ø Video cards
  • Ø CD and DVD writers
  • Ø External hard drives

In some instances, device drivers for various pieces of hardware come with the operating system. This is typically the case with standard or basic equipment including the mouse, keyboard, monitor, and disk drive. With add-on hardware, the device drivers have usually included on the installation disk as well as the restore disk. If you connect a device to your driver without having an installation disk at hand, you might need to locate a driver for it through the manufacturer.

Generic drivers might provide some functionality to certain pieces of hardware. However, this functionality will be limited since the driver is not privy to all of the specific information that is pertinent to the specific hardware device. Generic drivers typically provide basic functionality by allowing basic commands to be translated between the computer and its hardware without allowing for more refined commands to function.

Device drivers tell the operating system how to interact with the hardware. As technology advances and variations or improvements are added to various hardware items, changes in device drivers become necessary in order to maintain the highest level of performance.

The difference between Plug-and Play devices and hardware that comes with an installation disk loaded with specific drivers is simple. Plug-and-Play devices are readily recognized by the operating system of your computer. This allows the system to automatically load the driver that is required to permit the device to function properly.

Additionally, device drivers are often included on the disk with specific types of add-on hardware. Plus, device drivers can often be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website.

Drivers provide the necessary information to the computer to allow the device to function. They provide a description of the hardware and its requirements for the operating system. Without the specific device driver that your piece of equipment needs, the device would not be able to function. You should always retain the disk that includes the device drivers in the event that your computer’s files are corrupted and reinstallation becomes necessary.

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