What Is A PC Driver?

Your computer contains all kinds of hardware, such as disk drives, DVD/CD-ROM drives, network adapters, and sound and video cards, as well as external devices, such as printers, keyboards, monitors, and USB drives. When you install an operating system (OS), such as Windows or Linux, that OS needs to be able to talk to the hardware in your computer to display items, play sounds and videos, and write data to and read data from an external drive, as well as other tasks.

That’s where drivers come in. A driver is a small piece of software that acts as a translator between a device and the OS and programs that use the device. The driver tells the OS, and installed software programs, how to talk to the hardware in your computer. For example, when you buy a printer, it usually comes with a driver on a CD (or, in recent years, a URL for download the latest driver software from the internet) that tells the OS how to print information on each page. Without the driver, the printer will not know how to interpret the data sent to it, if the data even makes it to the printer.

NOTE: Many drivers such as keyboard drivers and mouse drivers are already installed with the OS when you buy a computer.

The drivers installed in your system to talk to the devices are managed using the Device Manager. To access the Device Manager in Windows 7, enter “device manager” (without the quotes) in the Search box on the Start menu. Click on the Device Manager link under Control Panel.

All your hardware device categories, such as Display adapters, DVD/CD-ROM drives, and Mice and other pointing devices, are listed and the specific devices are listed below each heading.

If you are having trouble with a device, it’s helpful to know the version of the driver currently installed in your system. You may need to email this information to the manufacturer, or tell them over the phone. It’s also helpful if you are trying to find a solution yourself on the internet on various sites and forums.

  • To find out the version of a driver, right-click on the driver in the Device Manager and select Properties from the popup menu.

On the Properties dialog box, click the Driver tab. The Driver Provider, Date, Version, and Signer are listed. You can find out more information about the driver using the Driver Details button. Notice that you can also update the driver from this tab, disable the driver, uninstall the driver, and even roll back the driver software to the previously installed version, in case an update caused a problem with the device.