Back-to-Basics: What is a driver?

When the word driver is mentioned, the first thing you probably think of is the driver of a vehicle, or maybe a golf club if you are a golfer. But this article is really about device drivers, which are small computer programs.

Device drivers are software programs that take care of the communication between an operating system and computer hardware. They translate the generic instructions that the operating system will issue to hardware devices into specific instructions for a specific piece of hardware from a hardware manufacturer.

In Windows you can use the Device Manager to see which devices are present in the computer and what drivers they use.

Who makes device drivers?

A lot of device drivers are included with the operating system itself. If we look at Windows device drivers, then Microsoft makes a lot of device drivers, either by itself or in cooperation with various hardware manufacturers. This will generally ensure that the device driver is best suited for the appropriate Windows version and the hardware devices of those manufacturers.

But there are also a lot of manufacturers that make device drivers themselves, without the help of Microsoft. They will simply use the specifications for a driver from Microsoft for the Windows operating systems, and have their programmers write the device driver. This type of driver is often not included with the operating system, but is available only from the hardware manufacturer directly.

Why is a driver important?

Device drivers ensure that the computer hardware will work as intended. Without the driver, the operating system (Windows) will not be able to recognize the device when inserted or connected to the computer.

Using the correct driver will also ensure the hardware device will be fully supported. The wrong driver might offer only partial functionality. For example, a printer scanner device can be used for printing but not for scanning, or a video card will only offer limited screen resolutions, even when capable of higher resolutions.

If the wrong driver is used, there is also the risk of system instability. Hardware resources that are accessed by the driver software might be the wrong ones, and can cause the operating system to crash or hang. In Windows a blue screen error can be the result. The reason for this is that device drivers have a lot of high level access in the operating system to allow them to interact with the hardware devices, so if something goes wrong, it is immediately serious.

What is a signed and unsigned driver?

Signing refers to digital signing, which is a way to certify that a driver, or driver file, is authentic. In the same way that your signature under a document will show that you signed the papers, a digital signature is used to show that a driver was created by a certain software maker or hardware manufacturer. It also tells you that the driver was not modified after it was signed.

An unsigned driver therefore is simply a driver that has not been digitally signed, so there is no way to know for certain where the driver originated from or if it has been modified. That does not mean however that the driver is not valid, as some hardware manufacturers chose not to sign their drivers. Typically that only happens for older drivers, but many of those can still be used.

Windows Vista  and Windows 7 will not allow unsigned drivers to be installed by default, as a way to ensure the integrity of the operating system.

What are driver files?

If we specifically look at Microsoft Windows, then there are a few file types, or extensions, that are driver files. Older versions of Windows used the .VXD extension for driver files. But Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 all use the .SYS file extension for drivers. This is the main driver, but there are other files associated with a driver, either for installation (like: .INF, .CAT, .CAB, .MSI), or for operation (like: .EXE, .DLL, .CPL).

Depending on the hardware device, the size of a driver can vary significantly. Some drivers require only minimal installation, and only have a .SYS, .INF, and .CAT file, while others have a lot of support files for functional reasons and control panels, which allow the user to configure the hardware device. Typically printer drivers and video drivers tend to have large driver installation packages.

Why should you update drivers?

Like any software, drivers are created by humans and as a result they can contain errors, or bugs. These software defects will come up when the driver is used, so a driver update is created to fix those bugs.

Apart from fixing bugs, driver updates can also contain improvements to the driver software itself. This can result in better performance of the hardware supported by the driver, or new functionality becoming available to the operating system.

A third reason to update drivers is to make sure that maximum compatibility between the hardware and the operating system is guaranteed. For new versions of Windows, like Windows 7, it is often the case that older device drivers are initially used. This allows manufacturers to specify that their hardware is compatible with new Windows version, even if the driver is not the best possible version for that new Windows version yet. So driver updates are released later on to improve on the compatibility.

In the same way, new versions of the hardware are supported by existing drivers, while new versions of the drivers are created to improve the support for the new hardware version.

New Drivers: nVidia v266.58 GeForce

As can be expected, the new nVidia driver versions have several performance improvements that will particularly benefit game players. Support and performance of the popular Battlefield game are specifically improved.

New hardware supported in version 285.63 of the Nvidia GeForce drivers:

– GeForce GTX460 v2
– GeForce 405

In addition 3D Vision is now included in the video drivers, no need for a separate USB 3D Vision driver anymore. This includes several more 3D Vision gaming profiles.

Of course the Nvidia driver update also includes an updated version of the HD audio driver for the HD audio component on video cards. The new version is 1.2.24.0.

A nice improvement is present in the power saving feature, which is achieved by changing the clock speeds on the graphics cards depending on the graphics demands. The improvements result in faster adjustments of the frequency to ensure no lag of graphics power is experienced. In the same way, downscaling is also faster to save power when possible.

Several bug fixes are also included in version 285.62 of the GeForce drivers. If you have been experiencing video problems with specific games, applications or DirectX, make sure to upgrade the video driver and check for the problem again.

People who like to overclock their video cards, will notice that this option is not present any more in the default Nvidia control panel. Users now need to download the Nvidia System Tools software for that.

After installing the new Nvidia video drivers, make sure to check your resolution, and check the Adobe Flash player version. In same cases the screen resolution can change, and the latest Flash player (version 11) ensures online HD video content plays smoothly.

Also keep in mind that changing Nvidia driver versions, is always best done by running the installer for the approriate version. Uninstall the previous version, especially when you want to install an older version. The Windows driver rollback option does not work reliably with these drivers. Uninstalling the drivers from the Device Manager will not remove all Nvidia driver related software. Use the Uninstall option in the Control Panel instead.

For the full release notes on version 285.62, please check the nVidia website.

For a quick look at the latest drivers added to the DriverFinder database, please click here for our 24/7 updated driver feed.

OPEN: DriverFinder Business Partner Program

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We’re happy to announce that our Business Partnership/Affiliate Program is again OPEN!

As we have communicated with you a few weeks ago, we’ve temporarily closed our Affiliate Program due to some errant affiliates who were direct linking and using our domain name in Google advertising (and other paid ads).

We have ‘weeded out’ these affiliates and are now back in full swing and in full support of any business partner who wishes to promote DriverFinder and profit from its success.¬† As long as you promote DriverFinder via valid and acceptable marketing means, you have our full support!

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For this reason, we here at DriverFinder decided to further explain what exactly it is that you are downloading when you opt to download our product. Please do click this link to understand what the DriverFinder download is and why you can TRUST us: http://driverfinderpro.com/about-driverfinder-download.php

DriverFinder Affiliate Program

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We just wanted to give you a heads-up that due to some errant affiliates direct linking to the domain DriverFinderPro.com, we are temporarily closing our Affiliate Program. Please note that direct linking and using our domain name in Google advertising (and other paid ads) is in violation of our Affiliate Terms.

We do apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

And pls. do not hesitate to contact us if you’re promoting DriverFinder using valid and acceptable marketing means. We will of course, reinstate your account in this case.

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