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Article ED00013: What is a software driver and why do I need one?

Summary:

A description of what a software driver is and what it does.

Application:

External audio or video hardware (such as a USB audio interface) that connects to your computer to allow audio and/or video input and output from the machine.

Details:

In computing, a device driver (also referred to simply as a ‘driver’ or ‘software driver’) is a small computer program that operates or controls a particular type of device that is connected to the computer externally or internally. In the world of music technology, the hardware device in question is usually a USB audio interface, such as the PreSonus AudioBox, Avid Fast Track or Steinberg UR12 shown below.  These devices are attached to the computer externally via a USB cable:

iOne Small Avid Fast Track Duo and Solo 

The ‘driver’ provides a software interface to the hardware device in question, enabling the computer operating system (usually Windows or Mac OSX) and any relevant computer programs running on the machine to access the hardware device for their use. 

A simple example of this in action would be an Audio application, like Sibelius or Finale, using an external USB audio interface for audio output during playback, where the audio interface required a ‘driver’ to be installed before the computer would recognise it and allow such applications to make use of it.

Depending on the computer operating system and hardware device you intend to use, you may need to download/install the device ‘driver’ from the hardware device manufacturer’s website before it will work.  With USB audio interfaces, this is more common with Windows than with Mac machines nowadays, as many audio interfaces are manufactured to be ‘class compliant’ on the Mac platform, which means no driver installation is necessary for them to work on Mac OSX.  All of the devices mentioned and pictured above are 'class compliant' on Mac OSX.

If you connect such a device to your Windows or Mac machine and can’t find it as an input/output option in your audio software, the safest way to find the correct ‘driver’ to enable this is to go to the device manufacturer’s home page and look for the ‘downloads’ link, which will usually lead you to a ‘driver downloads’ page very quickly.  Below is an example of how you'd access driver downloads from the www.presonus.com home page for instance:

PreSonus download access via website


Note; if you're wanting to know how to select your specific USB audio interface as the input/output device for recording/playback with your audio application, please search on the device manufacturer and/or model name in the Music Education Network Knowledgebase, as we have many 'how-to' articles covering this for a range of devices and popular audio and music notation software.

See also:

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