In our last article we took a look at what an operating system (Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Unix …) is, focusing on the software side of things as opposed to the hardware side of things. As a quick recap, the operating system is a set of commands (think of it as simply a bunch of information which your computer is able to read) whose purpose is to manage your machine. It takes information from you, the user, or your software applications (such as Acrobat Reader, Internet Explorer, Solitaire … etc.) and translates it into information that can be used by your PC’s hardware (your CPU, RAM, hard drive, video card, audio card … etc.). Ultimately, this is a rather broad simplification of the operating system; however, we here at Computer Repair Calgary believe that it does a reasonable enough job explaining its role.
So the operating system is concerned with translating information from one “language” into another “language”. This sounds reasonable enough, you may be thinking to yourself. However, what happens when you install a new keyboard or a new mouse? How about when you change your hard drive or your video card? How will your operating system talk with these new hardware devices, oh wise members of Computer Repair Calgary? Good question!
When you first purchase a new computer it generally comes with an operating system preloaded (at least this is true when buying a Windows PC or a Mac). This is evident to you, the end user, as you can generally boot up your computer and start using it right away (after you have gone through the startup/registration process). What you don’t realize is that your computer has also been preinstalled with a set of drivers. Drivers, as you may or may not have guessed, are special files consisting of a series of commands which allow your operating system to talk with your hardware, and your hardware to talk with your operating system. To put it simply, drivers are the real translators in your PC. They translate the operating systems language into a particular piece of hardware’s language.
It is important to note that the drivers necessary for your computer are dependent upon the operating system you are running in addition to the internal components of your computer. For instance, the computer used to write articles for Computer Repair Calgary is running Windows XP on a Seagate hard drive (for those who don’t know – Seagate is the name of a hard drive manufacturer). As a result we need a special Seagate driver which is compatible with Windows XP. That is only the hard drive, however. We are also using a GeForce FX 5200 graphics card; hence, we need a special GeForce FX 5200 driver compatible with Windows XP. The same can be said for each of the internal parts on our machine.
Although, for the most part, operating systems need specific drivers to interact with hardware components, they can sometimes use generic drivers. These are drivers which work with a broad array of hardware; yet, they don’t make use any particular elements true potential. If you have ever reinstalled an operating system, you likely know what we are talking about. Recently, a friend of Computer Repair Calgary brought in a machine whose hard drive had crashed. We grabbed a new hard drive, reinstalled Windows and turned everything on. Now, Windows loaded (which is a good thing) and we were able to see the desktop; unfortunately, the desktop looked atrocious. We could tell that Windows was using a default, generic, video driver. Consequently, the number of colours and the resolution of the output was extremely lacking (since this default driver was only able to approximate the capabilities of his video card). How did we solve the problem? First of all, we found out which video card he had in his PC. Second, we headed over to the manufacturer website. Third, we downloaded the appropriate video driver and installed it. Tada! After restarting his machine, everything was back to normal (relatively speaking).
This is an important lesson to remember. Upon adding a new piece of hardware (anything from a hard drive to a printer to a scanner), or upgrading your operating system, make sure to upgrade your drivers. This may be a simple process (generally printers and scanners will automatically install the appropriate drivers via the CD/DVD that comes with them) or a slightly more complicated process (where you need to manually upgrade your drivers for a particular device). We will not touch on how to upgrade your drivers this time; however, make sure to visit Computer Repair Calgary soon as we will be discussing this topic in the next week or two.