So you’re using your computer to work on an important document and everything seems fine, but when you try to print it out, nothing happens. Or maybe you’re running a graphics-intensive program, and without warning the display crashes, and you can’t get it to work again.

These types of experiences can be pretty scary as it seems your computer has suddenly decided to self-destruct all on its own. However, there’s no reason to panic as you most likely just need to update a driver.

What is a Driver?

A driver—more specifically known as a device driver—is simply a software program used by a computer to operate a piece of attached hardware:

  • Video adapters
  • Sound cards
  • Printers
  • Image scanners
  • Network cards
  • USB peripherals (mice, keyboards, microphones, webcams, and external hard drives)
  • Digital cameras

Your computer uses different drivers for the varying types of hardware above (and more!) to communicate with those devices through the communications subsystem or computer bus which the hardware is connected to.

Windows comes with a number of drivers already installed so you can often plug and play different components on the spot; however, sometimes you’ll need to install a driver from a manufacturer’s CD-ROM or download it from the Web.

Automatic Updates

The good news is Windows has the ability to automatically update and install drivers. Follow these steps for Windows 10 to make sure this option is enabled:

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

In addition, on the Update and Security screen you can choose to immediately search for updates by selecting the Check for updates option. Upon doing this, Windows Update will immediately identify your system’s configuration and download all appropriate drivers for it.

Manual Updates

However, you may still be having problems with a particular piece of hardware so you’ll want to try updating its driver individually.

To do that, follow these steps:

  1. Perform a system search for your Device Manager and open it.
  2. From the resulting list, find the device causing problems.
  3. Select the arrow next to the device name to see all associated hardware.
  4. Right click a piece of hardware and select Properties.
  5. Select Driver.
  6. Select Update Driver.

After this, Windows will search for an updated driver version. If it finds one, 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—version number, date published, and manufacturer—so you can go directly to the manufacturer’s website to search for, download, and install the newest driver version.

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Computers and their unexpected problems often seem to embody this maxim. However, a little patience and a little information gathering should take much of the mystery out of the driver problems you encounter.