What is Drivers in Windows and How to Troubleshoot?

The terms drivers, hardware drivers, or device drivers are very common in the computing environment. However, most people cannot tell what is a driver or its importance. Simply put, a driver is a computer program that enables communication between the operating systems (OS) or applications and the computer internal or attached hardware. It allows the OS/ application to initiate, use and control hardware components such as printers, displays, sound cards and any other external devices attached to the computer. In other words, device drivers act as translators between the devices and applications or OS that use the devices.

Driver Illustration
Driver Illustration

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Types of Drivers in Windows 10

  • User-mode Drivers – Interface between OS components and kernel-mode drivers. Example, printer drivers.
  • Kernel-mode Drivers – Interface between the OS components such as I/O, security, processes and threads managers and the hardware components. The kernel-mode drivers are stacked into layers:
  • Function drivers – Manages the reads and writes to the hardware or device (the main device driver).
  • Filter Drivers – Optional drivers that modify or add values to the behaviour of a device. Handle one or more devices and can be stacked above (upper filter) or below (lower filter) the function drivers to fix bugs or extensions to existing drivers.
  • Root Drivers – Interface directly with the physical peripherals’ I/O bus.
  • Class drivers – Microsoft supplied drivers that can dynamically link to function drivers simplifying the work for driver developers.
Driver Types
Driver Types

Why is Device Drivers Important?

Drivers allow your computer system to communicate and use devices that are connected to the PC to perform a certain task. For instance, to print a document, listen to an audio file, watch videos and take photos among other operations. This means that without the proper drivers for specific hardware installed, the hardware component will not function correctly. Besides, some software components that access the device using generic commands require device drivers to translate these commands into a language that the specific device can understand.

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Finding and Installing Drivers in Windows 10

For Windows 10 PC, device drivers are installed as built-in components of the OS. Once you connect a new device, the system identifies the hardware, searches for its drivers from its library, and then installs the drivers automatically. In case there are no matching drivers for the hardware, Windows may search for the drivers online and install automatically.

Another option is to install the drivers manually from a driver CD (supplied with the hardware) or downloaded and saved on your computer.

How to Troubleshoot Drivers in Windows 10?

If any hardware fails to function correctly when connected to your PC, the most likely issue can be with the drivers. Some of the driver-related issues include:

  • Malfunctioning or unresponsive hardware.
  • System instability.
  • Other computer errors.

In Windows 10, you can troubleshoot drivers from the “Device Manager,” a central point for managing both internal and external hardware.

  • To open the Windows Device Manager, right-click on the start menu button and select “Device Manager “from the context menu.
Open Device Manager
Open Device Manager
  • This will open a window displaying categories of the hardware connected to your computer.
  • Look for the malfunctioning device category and click the arrow to expand.
Device List
Device List
  • Double-click the specific device to view more details. A new pop-up window, “Device Properties” will show up and on the “General” tab you can see whether the device is working correctly or not under the “Device status”.
Device Properties
Device Properties
  • If the device driver is not working, you will also notice a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark against the driver.
Device Error
Device Error

To resolve the driver error, you can try the following options:

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Option 1: Uninstall Driver and Restart

  • Right-click the device and select “Uninstall device”.
Uninstall Device
Uninstall Device
  • Click the “Uninstall” button on the prompt that appears to confirm your action.
Confirm Action
Confirm Action
  • Restart the computer. When booting up, the system will reinstall the drivers automatically.

Option 2: Roll Back the Driver

Sometimes hardware problems can result from failed Windows 10 updates and in such a case, rolling back the drivers to a previous version could fix the issue.

  • Double click the affected device to open the properties window. Open the “Driver” tab.
  • Click the “Roll Back Driver” button to restore the driver to a previously working state.

Option 3: Update the Driver

Device manufacturers keep on updating drivers to adding more features or fix some bags. Your hardware may fail to function correctly if the current drivers are obsolete. To update the driver;

  • Open the device properties and on the “Driver” tab, click on the “Update Driver” button.
  • Windows will ask you to specify how you want to search for the drivers.
  • Select “Search automatically…” option to allow Windows to look for the drivers online and install automatically.
Drivers Search
Drivers Search
  • Allows Windows time to search and install the device drivers.
Searching Driver Online
Searching Driver Online
  • If you have downloaded the updated drivers and saved the files in your computer, you can browse and install the drivers manually.

Summary

Drivers make an important part of your computer system as they facilitate communication between the system and the hardware. If the right drivers are not installed, you may not have access or use a given device attached to your PC. Therefore, it is important to ensure the device drivers are up to date and working correctly to prevent hardware failure. In Windows 10, users can diagnose and resolve driver issues from the device manager using the above options.

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