Whether you realize it or not, your computer is probably running device drivers and firmware. They are two essential types of computer software. Most computers come preinstalled with device drivers and firmware. While they serve similar purposes, though, device drivers and firmware aren’t the same.

What Are Device Drivers?

Device drivers are software programs that facilitate the communication between an operating system and a computer hardware component. They allow hardware components (see below) to interact with the operating system. Without a driver, the hardware component will essentially be useless. It won’t be able to perform its respective tasks.

Nearly all types of computer hardware components require a driver, including the following:

  • Network card
  • Graphics card
  • Storage drive
  • Motherboard chipset
  • Printer
  • Sound card
  • Controller

What Is Firmware?

Firmware consists of software embedded within a computer hardware component. More specifically, it’s a type of low-level software that facilitates basic tasks. You can use firmware to perform diagnostics, configure the hardware’s settings, reset the hardware to factory settings and more.

Differences Between Device Drivers and Firmware

Device drivers and firmware differ in several ways. For starters, device drivers are more common than firmware. As previously mentioned, nearly all types of computer hardware components require a driver. Whether it’s a network card, graphics card, storage drive or any other hardware component, it needs a driver. Otherwise, it won’t be able to interact with the operating system. Firmware is less common. Only some computer hardware components come with firmware.

Firmware is more portable than device drivers. It’s not restricted to any specific operating system. Rather, firmware can run most if not all operating systems. This is because it works independently of the operating system. Device drivers, on the other hand, aren’t compatible with all operating systems. Most device drivers are designed for a particular operating system, making them less portable than firmware.

There are third-party device drivers available. You can typically download the latest version of a given device driver from the developer’s website. Alternatively, you can find third-party device drivers offered by third-party developers. Third-party firmware is less common. Most firmware is only available via the official, first-party developer.

In Conclusion

Device drivers and firmware are two important types of computer software. They allow computer hardware components to carry out their operations. Device drivers are simply software programs that facilitate the interactions between a computer hardware component and the operating system, whereas firmware consists of low-level software that facilitates basic tasks with a given hardware component.