What is a Driver?

A driver (aka “software driver” and/or “device driver”) is a piece of software that allows a computer’s operating system (OS) to translate output and input information signals to communicate with internal and external hardware.

Devices such as printers, keyboards, speakers, mice, and graphics/audio/network cards all use device drivers, and each hardware device will have its own OS-specific driver. While drivers are relatively small programs, installing ones not designed for (or compatible with) your computer, OS, and/or piece of hardware can cause far-reaching and hard-to-diagnose problems.

Computers typically come with several hundred drivers pre installed while additional drivers may come from software CD-ROM installation discs or be downloaded from developer/publisher websites.

Whenever you attach a new piece of hardware that doesn’t work or update/upgrade your OS and develop functionality problems with existing hardware, then the problem is likely driver-related.

What Happens When Drivers Fail?

Because drivers access hardware functions to operate as well as working in a privileged environment, whenever something goes wrong, an array of problems may result ranging from the hardware device not operating correctly (or at all) to critical system operational issues such as recurring computer crashes.

Where Can I Find & View My Computer’s Drivers?

To see the drivers associated with specific hardware in Windows 10, follow these steps:

Open the Device Manager.

  1. From the list of devices attached to your computer, select the arrow next to a device name to see all associated hardware.
  2. Right click a piece of hardware and select Properties.
  3. Select Driver to see:
  •         Driver provider
  •         Driver publication date
  •         Driver version
  •         Digital signer

How Do I Automatically Update Drivers?

In Windows 10, your drivers will typically be updated automatically. To make sure this feature is activated, follow these steps:

  • Select Start.
  • Select Settings.
  • Select Update and Security.
  • Select Advanced Options.
  • From the pulldown menu beneath Choose how updates are installed, select Automatic (recommended).

From the Update and Security screen you can also choose to immediately search for updates by selecting the Check for updates option. At this point, Windows Update will immediately identify your system’s configuration and download all appropriate drivers for it.

Should I Use Third-Party Applications to Update My Drivers?

Do not use third-party applications or freeware download sites to scan your system and update your drivers. This will likely install unwanted adware as well as potentially using outdated drivers and/or corrupted files. Using Windows Update, the Device Manager, and/or files downloaded directly from manufacturer sites are the only safe means to update your drivers.

How Do I Manually Update a Driver?

If you are having problems with a particular piece of hardware, follow these steps to individually update its driver:

  1. Open the Device Manager.
  2. Select the arrow next to the device’s name not working correctly to view its associated hardware.
  3. Right click a piece of hardware and select Properties.
  4. Select Driver.
  5. Select Update Driver.

Windows 10 will search for an updated driver version, and, if one is found, the wizard will walk you through the steps to install it. And if this still doesn’t work, the Properties screen will give you the necessary information about the driver—provider, publication date, version, and digital signer—so you can go directly to the manufacturer’s website to search for, download, and install the newest driver version.

How Do I Manually Download & Install a Driver?

If you need to download a driver manually, only use the manufacturer’s website. Within their site, find the support and/or download pages or do a search to find driver downloads. Download drivers specifically for your computer, OS, and hardware device.

Driver downloads will come in one of two ways: a single executable file or a zip file. After you download an executable file, all you should have to do is double click it to install the driver. However, with a zip file you will have to extract the file first.

In Windows 10, right click the file to access a menu with the options to either Extract or Extract all the files in the folder. Once you do this, a wizard should walk you through the rest of the extraction/installation process.

If not, you may have to look in the uncompressed folder for the executable install file to run. If you’re still having problems, find the .inf file for your version of Windows that’s with the driver files. Right click the file and select Install.

What Do I Do If Windows 10 Says the Driver Signature is Invalid?

Windows 10 will only install a signed driver with a valid digital signature. A digital signature is an electronic security feature which identifies the driver’s publisher and verifies that the original contents of the driver package have not been modified.

When a driver is unsigned; signed by an unverified publisher identity; or has been modified since its release, Windows 10 will not allow its installation.

If you are sure you want to install a driver with an invalid digital signature, follow these steps on Windows 10:

  1. Open the Power Options menu.
  2. Hold down the Shift key while selecting Restart.
  3. After the computer has restarted, select the Troubleshoot option.
  4. Select Advanced options.
  5. Select Startup Settings.
  6. Restart your computer again.
  7. On the resulting Startup Settings screen, select F7 to disable driver signature enforcement.
  8. Restart your computer.

As soon as your computer has restarted, you’ll be able to install unsigned drivers.

What Other Driver Resources Are Available?

As noted above, the vast majority of your driver updates will be taken care of by using Windows Update, the Device Manager, or downloading and installing drivers directly from manufacturer CD-ROMs or websites.

However, if you would like to learn even more about computer device drivers in particular or Windows 10 in general, check out these resources: