What are drivers and why do you need them?
Drivers are, basically, files which hold information about the hardware in your computer. Everything from the mainboard and its built in peripherals to your printer, scanner, sound and video cards etc need drivers. The driver is used by the operating system, XP for example, when you ask it to do something with a piece of hardware. Anything from printing, accessing the Internet, playing a game or listening to music requires the operating system to communicate with the hardware necessary to complete the task.
There are many thousands of manufacturers of computers, components and peripherals, each of which communicates with the operating system differently, and, therefore, they all require their own specific drivers through which they can do this.
In many instances, you might purchase a computer on which the operating system is already installed, in which case the drivers are almost always installed too. Hopefully you will also receive a CD Rom which contains the drivers for your specific hardware, which might have several versions of each driver compatible with the various operating systems available. It goes without saying, also, that any new hardware you purchase and install, in most circumstances, will be supplied with a CD Rom containing the necessary drivers for the hardware. These CD Roms are invaluable should you find yourself having difficulties with your hardware or you have to reinstall your operating system, so keep it safe.
It follows, then, that if you haven't got a CD Rom of hardware drivers, act prudently and try to obtain them, rather than wait until you suddenly find yourself in need of them.
Why do you need drivers when everything is fine?
Well, when everything is fine, you don't, but when something does go wrong, and you find yourself having to reinstall your operating system (not an uncommon occurrence), all the installed drivers will be lost, requiring you to reinstall them too and your saved drivers will make things much easier to restore your computer back to working condition.
Most operating systems have a set of generic drivers which are used during installation, in order to get basic functionality with the various pieces of hardware encountered. These, in the main, are pretty basic, and any special features your hardware may offer, will not be available with these drivers. An example of this is the graphics card driver. The generic driver will allow you to see what's going on and little more. You can see the results of using the generic graphics driver when you move a window or scroll a web page. It's excruciatingly slow and jerky. Installation of the manufacturer's hardware specific driver will make available the card's enhanced features available to the operating system to speed it all up.
What hardware do you have?
To see what hardware is installed on your computer and the drivers (in XP), right-click on My Computer and choose Properties. In the window which opens choose the Hardware tab and click Device Manager. Here you can see a categorized list of hardware installed on your computer. Expanding a category will list the specific piece of hardware installed within that category.
(Here you can see some of the hardware installed on my computer.)
If you want to look at the details for a specific piece of hardware, right click on it and choose Properties from the menu.
(Here are the Properties for the Graphics Card. Any problems would be detailed in the Device Status box.)
Details about the driver currently installed for any piece of hardware can be found on the hardware tab.
(Driver details for the Graphics Card)
Other hardware has additional tabs for accessing features specific to that type of hardware for example CD/DVD Drive, Mouse etc.
Of course that's all well and good when everything's running ok, but what about if you experience problems with a piece of hardware? If you open Device Manager as explained above, any problems the operating system is having trying to communicate with a piece of hardware will be highlighted.
(Here you can see there's a problem with the Graphics Card.)
In almost all instances, something like the above means that the operating system cannot communicate with the device, because there is no driver or, possibly, the wrong driver is installed.
If you already know which piece of hardware it is, specifically the make and model, then it becomes a relatively simple task to obtain the right driver and install it. Almost all manufacturers, certainly the more well known ones, maintain websites from which you can download the driver for your hardware. Google is a good place to start looking for manufacturers and drivers.
If, however, you aren't sure what hardware you have, you can find help to try and identify it by downloading an excellent piece of free software called Belarc Advisor
. The information regarding your system, hardware and software is collated and presented in your browser. You can save this information, or print it and retain it for future reference if you suddenly start experiencing problems.
Run the program and look under the appropriate heading (Display in the above example), where you should find information relevant to the hardware you have installed. Much of the information contain in Belarc's report will help you identify which driver you need.
For example, for my sound driver, I would need to look for a Realtek AC'97 Audio Driver (quite a common driver), for an ASUS P5P-800-VM Mainboard (because my sound card is built in), which is compatible with Windows XP, my operating system. The first port of call, then, would be ASUS' website, and look for Support or Driver Downloads etc. In the worst circumstance, if I couldn't find what I was looking for, I could email them asking for help or Google again. There are many websites www.driverguide.com
for example, which maintain collections of drivers for many types of hardware and for many operating systems.
Once you have downloaded the driver, it might, in many cases, be a simple executable file, which, when run, will install itself automatically and your hardware will work ok, perhaps after restarting. In some cases, you might be required to install the driver file manually, in which case return to Device Manager, right click on the piece of hardware in the list and choose Update Driver from the menu. A Wizard will start to help you install the driver. Within the Wizard, tell it you will choose the driver to install and navigate to the location you downloaded the driver to. It's looking for the .inf file, which holds the necessary information about the hardware that your operating system needs.
Hopefully, the driver will be installed with no problems and your hardware should now be recognized by your operating system. In some cases you will be told that the driver does not have any information about your hardware, in which case the driver is incorrect, and you should look again for the correct one, failing which, there are many sites such as www.softwaretipsandtricks.com
, where people with experience can help you find what you're looking for.