What are computer drivers?

A computer driver is a set of files that help your computer’s operating system interface with certain pieces of hardware.

As you probably know, your computer has many internal components, like a motherboard, sound card, network card, and video card. It may also connect to different types of external hardware like a printer, scanner, or some USB devices. Have you ever wondered how your computer’s operating system communicates with such hardware?

Computer driver definition

A computer driver is a set of files that help your computer’s operating system interface with certain pieces of hardware, like a graphics card. Think of it as a team of translators passing instructions between a factory’s management and its machinery operators. As long as the drivers are doing a good job, things are likely to run smoothly. But like a scene from a bad sitcom, mistakes from the translators can lead to chaos on both ends.

What do computer drivers do?

Computer drivers help your operating system use hardware correctly. Each piece of hardware has its own drivers, and usually, drivers are written by the hardware manufacturers. Some hardware may not work at all without a driver, while others may only offer basic functions. So, if your fancy new RPG keyboard isn’t offering advanced functionality, you may need to install the drivers. 

Why do computer drivers cause crashes?

Computers crash for many reasons. Your machine may suffer performance issues due to a faulty component, an inadequate power supply, or defective hardware, or it may crash because of a malware infection that requires a free antivirus scan. But you may also see the Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) due to malfunctioning computer drivers. In fact, most crashes occur because of bad drivers (double entendre not intended). 

Here are a few reasons why computer drivers may be crashing your computer:

  • Buggy coding
  • Faulty installation
  • The drivers are outdated
  • Conflicts with other drivers
  • Conflicts with hardware

Why do drivers need updates?

Compared to how things used to be, updating drivers is a minor convenience nowadays. A few operating system generations ago, sourcing and installing drivers was significantly more challenging. Moreover, drivers were less stable.

Nowadays, Windows users simply have to hit the Windows key + S and type Windows Updates to find the latest certified Windows driver update for their PC. Usually, the biggest inconvenience of installing new drivers is waiting while your computer updates. However, the hassle is worthwhile for a few good reasons:

Stability

Programmers can make mistakes that lead to unstable drivers. And sometimes, previously good drivers may conflict with a new piece of hardware or software and lead to instability. For example, your hot new video game may be crashing because of a conflict with your graphics card’s driver. Fortunately, proactive companies regularly develop and release better drivers for their supported products.

Features

In the competitive world of computer products, manufacturers sometimes release items without all the features ready for consumption. Perhaps the programmers need more time to develop better drivers, or they may be waiting for an update for your operating system to unlock a feature. In such situations, you may get more out of your hardware with a driver update.

Performance

Drivers can also enhance performance like frame rates in video games. A new video card driver may overcome performance bottlenecks, boost your GPU’s clock speed, or fix glitches. Similarly, a new driver for your printer may help your machine print faster by using less memory to do the same job.

Security

Many people don’t realize that regularly using your computer driver updater can stop a dangerous virus or ransomware attack on your PC. For example, the RobbinHood ransomware strain introduces a vulnerable kernel driver to a system in some cases. Of course, we always recommend using antivirus/anti-malware with ransomware protection because vulnerable drivers are just one of many attack vectors the malware can employ.

Best way to update computer drivers

To stay safe, always download your drivers from authentic sources because you never know if a third-party platform has injected malicious code into a driver to attack unsuspecting users. Malicious drivers can be pretty dangerous because they control hardware. For example, an infected driver for your monitor could theoretically leave it inoperable. Similarly, a backdoor driver can give a threat actor control of your computer.

You also want to avoid Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) that claim to optimize your driver installation. PUPs like Driver Booster oversell their importance in order to sell software. Thankfully, the right anti-malware software can shield your PC from different types of malware or PUPs that may impact your drivers. To protect your devices, you can try Malwarebytes free before subscribing to on-going, proactive protection for your computers and mobile devices. 

Articles from Malwarebytes Labs

Read more about computer drivers and cybersecurity from our Malwarebytes Labs writers:

Select your language