Understanding how to update computer drivers is critical to the normal operational routines of the sending and receiving of information between your hardware and the operating system.
The communication between devices in a computer system, is key to an efficiently working computer system. It therefore makes sense to have an article that digs deep into all things device driver related.
We therefore start with the basics around what device drivers are, and how they work exactly. Understanding the fundamentals of what we are talking about really helps to provide the context for understanding the subsequent sections.
We then delve into where drivers are stored in different operating systems. All files need to be stored somewhere in the File Management structure, even files for device drivers. Now we have a good driver foundation, we can look at examples of what typical device drivers are used for.
Now we are in a position to explore the step-by-step processes for installing, updating, and also removing, computer drivers. This is the main section and purpose of the article.
We then look at what to do if you receive the dreaded no device drivers are found message. The article would not complete without some pointers to how to troubleshoot computer driver issues.
So, what are computer drivers, as device drivers are also known as?
Device drivers are small software programs that enable your operating system to communicate with hardware devices such as printers, sound cards, graphics cards, and more. They act as a link between the operating system and the hardware, translating the operating system's requests into actions that the hardware can understand.
For example, when you print a document, the operating system sends a request to the printer driver, which then converts that request into a format (called the Printer command Language) that the printer can understand and execute. The printer driver also handles tasks such as setting the print quality and paper size, and it provides feedback to the operating system about the status of the print job.
Device drivers are critical to allowing all operating systems to work with a wide range of hardware devices. Without device drivers, each hardware device would have to be specifically programmed to work with a particular operating system. This would obviously be an unnecessary, time-consuming and complex task.
Device drivers are generally supplied by the device manufacturer, and they are specific to the operating system that you are using, i.e. the computer drivers are written for each type of operating system, and you simply download and install the drivers for the operating system you are using.
It is important to keep your drivers up to date to take advantage of bug fixes, performance improvements, and new features. I spent a lot of time in my early days as an IT Support Officer manually updating device drivers on clients computers. It was generally opportunistic whilst resolving another issue, and they were almost always out of date.
Now we know what device drivers are, it is time to look at how computer drivers actually work.
As we have seen, computer drivers are critical to operating system communications with local computer hardware components. The following steps show in general how computer drivers work practically.
The process is usually completed quickly. That brief pause you experience after clicking the print button is, in part, the device driver in action, passing the request on to the printer.
The image below shows a simplified diagram of the process to help understand more clearly.
Computer drivers are important as they allow the operating system to control and interact with the hardware in a meaningful way. Without them, the operating system would not be able to communicate with the hardware, and the hardware would not be able to function properly.
Now that we know how device drivers work, we next take a look at where they are stored on the various popular operating systems.
I thought it would be useful to know where the driver files are stored in each of the popular operating systems. It helps with the context of the article, and it allows you to see the files for yourself, under the bonnet if you like.
These files are loaded into memory, or RAM, when invoked, i.e. when you click the print button, or automatically as part of the O/S loading process.
On Windows-based computers, device drivers are stored in the "C:\Windows\System32\drivers" folder. This folder contains the installed and active drivers for all the hardware devices installed on your computer.
Often you will see a folder called "C:\Drivers". This is where the source files for the drivers can be stored. It is often from here that device drivers are installed.
On Linux-based computers, device drivers are stored as part of the Linux kernel and are loaded automatically when the system boots. In some cases, device drivers may also be stored in the "/lib/modules" folder.
On macOS computers, device drivers are stored as part of the operating system and are also loaded automatically when the system boots. Apple also provides drivers for a wide range of hardware devices through its "Software Update" feature, which allows you to download and install the latest drivers for your Mac.
Now that we have seen the driver files and where they live on your computer, we next take a look in more detail at the types of devices drivers that exist.
There are "loads" of computer drivers working away in the background to enable your computer system to function smoothly. The list below is not exhaustive, but aims to describe the key device drivers in use on modern computers.
Each driver provides a way for the operating system to communicate with the hardware so that the hardware can be used correctly and effectively.
Now that we know what device drivers are used for, let's look in detail at how we can update computer drivers.
Understanding how to update computer drivers is an important task that can help improve the performance, stability and security of your computer. The following steps describe the general process for how to install drivers manually on Windows-based computers.
At this stage, you should unzip the driver files, find the folder the source files have been opened to ("C:\Drivers", for example), then run the *.EXE or *.MSI file to install the drivers. If the source files do not have an *.EXE or *.MSI installer file, follow the next steps.
If you select "Search automatically for drivers", the operating system should search all files and folders, and find/install the latest driver files you have downloaded.
My personal preference is to locate them myself. That way, I know the driver files I have downloaded are definitely being installed.
Alternatively, you can also use third-party driver updater tools such as Driver Booster, Driver Genius, or Snappy Driver Installer to automatically update your drivers. These tools can save you time by automatically detecting and downloading the correct drivers for your system. This is how to update all drivers automatically.
It is always a good idea to back up your important data and create a restore point before updating drivers, in case something goes wrong during the process.
Now we know how to update computer drivers, we next look at what to do if you ever have to uninstall a device driver.
In some rare cases, you may need to uninstall the driver software if it is causing problems with your computer.
For example, I've seen computer users at home insist on having the absolute latest drivers installed at all times. Whilst this is an admirable trait, it is not just a lot of work, but it can and has caused instability in how their computer functions.
Often this is because they have downloaded test drivers, or installed the incorrect driver type for their device.
So, with the warnings out of the way, this is how you uninstall device drivers on a Windows-based computer.
After you have uninstalled the driver, Windows will automatically search for and install a new driver the next time you start your computer, or you can manually update the driver using the steps outlined in the previous section.
I don't usually recommend uninstalling device drivers. It causes more issues than it resolve more often than not for home computer users.
Do I need to mention again that backing up important data before undertaking such tasks is an important task before undertaking any major computer change? I hope not! :)
Now we know how to uninstall drivers, we next look at what to do if you get the dreaded "No device drivers were found" message.
The "No device drivers were found" message means the operating system was unable to find a suitable device driver for the hardware you are trying to install. This can happen for several reasons, including:-
If you are encountering this error, there are several steps you can try to resolve it, including:-
There are more complex methods to address this error message, including the identification, and subsequent Internet search for, the device's hardware ID, which can be found in the Property list of the Details tab for the hardware device listed in the Device Manager.
However, again at this stage, my suggestion is to replace the hardware in question with a more modern, compatible device. Even if/when you are successful, the found drivers are often unstable, or fail to work after a period of time.
Understanding how to update computer drivers is important to minimize future issues, and to ensure the security of your computer is maintained.
I always maintain that you should update all device drivers with files issues by the manufacturer of your system and peripherals, whether that be your graphics card, sound card, or even your Laptop's mouse pad. This is because you receive more access to features or settings to fine tune your driver setup. However, this is a manual process, unless you use driver update tools such as Driver Genius.
There are, of course, PnP, or Plug and Play drivers, featured in modern operating systems. This is where the device is automatically recognized, and the O/S uses the PnP feature to locate and install and configure the appropriate driver in its database, or INF (Information) file, for immediate use.
PnP is also capable of automatically removing device drivers. For example, when you unplug a PnP device, such as a Printer, the operating system uninstalls the device driver and removes it from the Device Manager. This keeps your system clean and uncluttered from unnecessary device drivers.
PnP is much more convenient and easier to manage for many home computer users. I do think this is fine in numerous instances, but my preference is still top use the drivers from the manufacturer's website whenever possible.