What Are Computer Drivers and Why Do You Need to Keep Them Updated?

What Are Computer Drivers and Why Do You Need to Keep Them Updated?

If you’ve attached a peripheral like a webcam or a printer to your computer, you might have noticed that it installed a driver. In the days of removable media, the computer might have even asked you to insert the CD or floppy disk containing its drivers.

Nowadays, you’ll usually download and install drivers via the internet or a peripheral’s built-in memory. But what exactly is a driver? And why should you keep it updated? Read on to find out more.

What Is a Device Driver?

Every part of your computer, from a network card or a keyboard to a unique device like a 3D printer, requires a software component. These software drivers enable your operating system and gear to communicate with each other.

For example, if you press a key on your keyboard, the driver converts the signal it registers into an action the operating system can understand. It will then transform this action into a command the application you’re using will execute.

Without a driver, your computer can’t use any of the hardware attached to it, rendering it useless.

Where to Find Your Computer’s Attached Hardware

If you’re using a Windows device, you can find your hardware drivers in the Device Manager. To open it, right-click the Start Menu button, then choose Device Manager. The Device Manager window will open, showing you a list of all the hardware attached to your computer.

Device manager on Windows 11

When you double-click on any of the devices in this list, its properties window will open. You can select the Driver tab to see its driver version, manually update the device driver, and even roll back the driver to a previous version.


Mac users can find their hardware in Apple Menu > About This Mac. When the System Overview window opens, click on System Report to see the Hardware Overview window. From here, you can see all the hardware attached to your Mac.

Should You Install Custom Drivers?

GeForce Experience driver update window

Nowadays, both Windows and Mac OSes have comprehensive driver support. Most devices will work out of the box, as soon as you attach them to your computer. This plug-and-play functionality makes it very convenient to add peripherals.

However, if you want to get the most out of your devices, you should try to get drivers that support each specific piece of hardware. That’s because these custom drivers allow you to take advantage of the exact features of that model.

Features could include:

  • Different audio modes for sound cards.
  • Enhanced compatibility for graphics cards.
  • Manual control for webcams.
  • RGB lighting control for RGB-equipped devices.

Why You Need to Updated Drivers Frequently

In the past, you didn’t need to update your computer or its hardware. While this may sound convenient, it actually produced more problems and could expose your computer to security issues. There are several important reasons to update drivers.

Staying in Sync With Operating System Updates

Mac updates for Big Sur

When you update your operating system, your old peripheral drivers may no longer be fully compatible. That means your hardware won’t work as you expect or could even stop functioning altogether. Driver updates ensure that your peripherals work perfectly with your OS’s latest patch.

Ensuring Compatibility With New Software

Updating drivers can also allow your OS to take advantage of newer software, unlocking the potential of your hardware. A driver update can optimize the hardware for more recent apps, like later versions of Adobe Photoshop or popular new games.

Fixing Bugs

When peripherals become available, many users try them on a variety of systems. This can help to reveal previously undetected issues. Developers and manufacturers typically release updated drivers to address these issues. Updates ensure you get the very best experience possible.

Providing Security

GeForce Game Ready Driver security update notes for driver version 497.29

The most important reason you should update your drivers is for device security. That’s because hackers and cybercriminals can find weaknesses in old drivers and exploit them. They might even gain access to your operating system’s secure environment.

Some drivers communicate directly with your computer’s kernel, at a very low level. A vulnerability in the software could allow direct access to your OS, letting unwanted programs hijack your system.

How to Update Your Computer’s Drivers

windows update in Windows 11 settings

The simplest way to update your drivers is to do it via your computer’s built-in service. In Windows, you can do this through its settings. Open the Start Menu, go to All apps, then scroll down to Settings. In the Settings window, click on Windows Update, then press the Check for updates button.

The computer will then check Microsoft’s servers for updates to your current OS, including its drivers. If it finds one, it will inform you, then download and install the update. Otherwise, it will display You’re up to date.

If you’re a Mac user, open up System Preferences, then choose Software Update. In the Software Update window, you will see the system connect to Apple’s servers and check for updates. If it finds any, it will inform you of the update and ask you to install it.

macOS update to Monterey

You can also set your Mac computer to update itself automatically, especially as new drivers come online. To do so, click on the tickbox marked Automatically keep my Mac up to date.

Alternatively, you can manually update each peripheral on your computer to ensure it gets the latest features. You usually do this with significant computer parts, like graphics drivers or printers. To do so, you’ll need to visit the manufacturer’s website for the part you want to update and download the latest driver.

If you’re on an Apple device, you might have to authorize the app in your Mac’s Gatekeeper settings. If you’re on a Windows PC, you can automatically update all your custom drivers via a third-party app like Driver Booster 8.

Better Features, Better Security

Drivers are essential to any computer system. Without them, the operating system won’t understand the input you send to it with your peripherals. And they won’t understand how to deal with the output your computer sends to them.

By ensuring you have the latest drivers installed, you’ll ensure your entire system will work smoothly. You can get the most out of your graphics drivers, maximize the features of your audio system, and even push the capabilities of your webcam.

Most importantly, you’ll keep your system stable and secure. You’ll benefit from fixes to bugs that your devices’ manufacturers discover. A driver update can also close exploits, loopholes, and weaknesses in your computer’s security.

So don’t ignore your OS when it asks you to download and install an update. This is one way to ensure a continuous experience while using your computer. And in case the update fails, you can always roll it back to a more stable build.

Harddrive Benjamin Lehman Unsplash
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