You have probably already heard of a driver if you have ever had problems with your computer and hardware that is supposed to work or if you are a long-time user of computers. For example, you have a problem with the new printer you just bought: once connected to your computer your printer does not work. Why does this happen? By asking for help from a person, by looking for assistance on the web or simply by reading the manual, you will be suggested to install the printer driver for your operating system.
But then what is a driver? How to install a driver in Windows 10 or Windows 11 ? And how do you update your Windows drivers ?
Note: the screenshots were taken on a PC running Windows 11 but the procedure is the same for Windows 10 !
Definition of a driver in computier science
A driver is a computer program that allows a peripheral device (printer, keyboard, mouse, graphics card, sound card, etc.) to work with the operating system of your computer. It acts as the link, the interface between the hardware and the operating system.
Basically, without a driver, the peripheral will not be able to perform its function because the computer’s operating system will not be able to give instructions to the peripheral to use it.
Each hardware connected to a computer uses a driver specific to the operating system: a driver specific to Windows 10 will not work most of the time with another version of Windows (Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Vista) and even less with a Mac or a computer running Linux.
Generic driver or manufacturer driver ?
Each operating system has a base of generic drivers in order to make work the most possible hardware in a preoccupation of maintenance and simplicity for the user who is not always at ease with the drivers.
These drivers work for a large number of common peripherals and manage the main functions of the hardware (printing for a printer, displaying for a graphics card, etc.) but it also happens that a piece of hardware, especially a recent one, is not recognized by the operating system. In this case, the peripheral will not work and you will have to use the driver provided by the manufacturer to make the hardware operational.
Vendor drivers are theoretically better optimized and therefore more efficient because they better match the technical specifications of the hardware. Moreover, they generally offer more options and functionalities. In the case of a printer for example, the driver provided by the manufacturer allows to know the ink level of the ink cartridges, which is not possible with the generic driver.
Where can I find the right driver to make my equipment work ?
Most of the time, the driver is provided with the hardware, often in the form of a CD (and yes, your CD-ROM drive can be used for something else than converting your CDs into mp3). But with the democratization of the Internet, it often happens that you have to look for the right driver on the manufacturer’s website!
A simple search in your favorite search engine or directly on the manufacturer’s website will allow you to find the driver compatible with your operating system. All you have to do is download it and install it.
Be careful, I strongly recommend you to install only the drivers found on the manufacturer’s website and to avoid the software that abound in the search engines results and that promise you to find the right driver by installing a software. They may contain malware, viruses or other Trojan horses. Hence the importance of having an antivirus installed: a free antivirus will protect you in real time from potential threats, its paid version often offers tools to update its outdated software and drivers.
Installing a driver on Windows 10 or Windows 11
When adding a new device, Windows will search if it has a driver compatible with your hardware.
If it does, it will automatically install the driver without any intervention from you, your device will be usable immediately. This is called Plug and Play.
Before the development of the internet, finding a driver could be a real ordeal. Fortunately, it is now quite easy to find the driver for your hardware on the manufacturer’s site by entering the name of your hardware in a search engine. Once you have found the file, all you have to do is double click on the downloaded file and follow the instructions, which may vary depending on the type of hardware.
It is also possible to install a driver directly from the operating system, without going through the Internet browser.
Windows allows the installation of drivers via its device manager which lists all the devices present on your computer.
Install a driver on Windows 11
- Open the device manager by right-clicking on the Windows Start Menu icon in Windows 11 at the bottom left of your screen.
- In the device manager, hardware that does not have a driver is marked with an exclamation mark on a yellow background with the designation Unknown device.
- Right-click on the unrecognized device and click on Update Driver…
- Click on Automatically search for an updated driver
Windows will search your computer and the internet for a driver to run the hardware.If it finds the driver, Windows will automatically install it.
If it does not find it, you will have to go and find the driver yourself on the website of the manufacturer of your hardware and install it manually.
Installing a driver on other versions of Windows
The principle is the same, only the way to open the device manager is different!
- Open the Run window by pressing the Windows button and the R key.
- Type devmgmt.msc and click OK, the device manager should appear.
There is no driver for my operating system, what can I do ?
Sometimes, especially with older hardware, there is no driver for a recent operating system.
For example, some drivers for old printers or scanners () are not available for Windows 11…
In this case, search and download the driver for the most recent version of Windows (Windows 8 for example).
Under Windows 11, to install a driver for another version of Windows :
- Right-click on the downloaded file and then click on Properties in the context menu.
- In the Compatibility tab, check the boxes Run this program in compatibility mode for (choosing the version of Windows for which you downloaded the driver) and Run this program as administrator.
- Click on Apply then on OK and launch the driver installation by double clicking on the file.
It often happens that this trick allows to use the driver of another version of Windows and that it allows the good functioning of the peripheral.
If not, contact the support of the manufacturer of your hardware through the manufacturer’s website.
Update drivers under Windows 10
Use a driver software like Driver Booster to update your drivers
The solutions described below are not always obvious for novice Windows users who already have a lot of new concepts and basics to assimilate. So there is a solution that is well suited for less advanced users or those who don’t want to bother with driver updates: use a software that detects and updates your drivers for you, such as the IObit Driver Booster software.
IObit Driver Booster offers several interesting features related to drivers:
- automatic and secure driver updates via a huge driver database (over 8 million drivers)
- optimized driver updates for video games (graphics drivers and Game Ready drivers) and closing of
- background Windows processes and services that might slow down your game
hardware fixes (audio crackling, network problems)
Note that there is a free version (Free) and a paid version (Pro) that brings more features and a priority for Windows driver updates (faster driver download). To see in detail the differences between the free and the paid version of IObit Driver Booster, click here .
Update drivers via Windows Update
This is the easiest way! Windows Update automatically updates your drivers when it notices that your drivers are out of date. You don’t have to do anything, Windows Update takes care of everything!
This works well for big brand hardware like Nvidia graphics cards for example but it is not always the case with exotic or old hardware.
Update drivers via the device manager
You can force the update of a specific driver by going through the device manager once again.
- Open Device Manager by right-clicking on the Windows 11 Start menu and selecting Device Manager.
- Locate the device whose driver you want to update in the list, right-click it and then click Update Driver.
- You will then have two options: automatically update your driver by letting Windows search online for the most suitable one, or by specifying the location of the driver that you have downloaded beforehand.
Update your drivers manually by downloading a driver installation program
Another possibility: identify the reference of the hardware to be updated (e.g. find the model of your graphics card or find the model of your motherboard) and go directly to the manufacturer’s website to download the latest driver. Be sure to take the right version of the driver for your operating system. If you are not sure about the version of your Windows (32 bits ? 64 bits ?), I advise you to follow my tutorial to know if your Windows is a 32 bits Windows or a 64 bits Windows.
So, I hope you know more now about Windows drivers, their installation and update!