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I can understand why windows has to install driver software for never before seen peripherals such as webcams or usb microphones, but how come, after plugging in a flash driver for the first time, the same make flash drive will not require a new driver, but a flash drive from a different manufacturer will. Is there a different driver per flash drive (as far as make and manufacture is concerned)? What is this device driver software and where is it installed?

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A driver is software that allows an operating system, such as Windows, to communicate with hardware. Modern hardware, such as flash drives, webcams, printers, etc, have a chip on them that tells the OS what the device is. This allows the OS to check its database of drivers to see if it already has driver for the hardware. If it doesnt, Windows will ask you for the driver, as well as search the Microsoft website for a possible match for the driver. If it finds it, Windows will add that to its driver database for future use.

So why do USB flash drive from different manufacturers require different drivers? It is because they use different hardware (chipsets) to control the device. If the two different manufacturers use the same chipset to control the flash drive, another driver wont have to be installed, since it knows how to communicate with that chipset. Also, a manufacturer doesnt necessarily have to use the same chipset in its own devices. Perhaps a newer technology is available and therefore a newer chipset is needed, and therefore a new driver is needed.

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Does this happen behind the scenes in linux as well? and how does a bios capable of booting from usb manage these different chipsets? – agz Jan 22 '13 at 7:15
Linux, Macs, and all modern OSs work this way. As for how BIOS is capable of reading and booting off USB drives, Im not entirely certain. Im assuming there are low level functions that are common across the majority of USB flash drive chipsets that allow them to be read and booted from. – Keltari Jan 22 '13 at 7:38
@agovizer Most flash drives implement Mass Storage Device interface. For such devices, OS is usually uses the same driver. Nevertheless the OS, Windows in this case, needs to update its device list and thus installs driver. – Alexey Ivanov Jan 22 '13 at 10:17
are all these drivers that get installed already builtin to windows? I didnt need internet to install the usb drivers. – agz Jan 22 '13 at 20:23
Microsoft OSs include drivers for many of the common devices at the time of the OSs release. However, it doesnt have everything. – Keltari Jan 22 '13 at 20:25

In Windows you will often see the OS installing drivers even if you just plug the USB stick in a different port.

This is because it needs to implement a driver for each instance seen by the OS - so when it sees that instance again it can just run, whether or not an identical driver is used on a different port.

Specific identifiers are used as well, so each driver is linked to that device - another identical USB stick will use a different driver.

The upside is that this reduces the risk of an incorrect version - each install is specific, so should be right.

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That was the case up to and including Windows Vista: if you connected the same flash drive to another USB port, Windows treated it as another device and installed drivers for it as if it was a new device. The behavior changed with Windows 7: it understands you use the same device on another port and does not install new instance of drivers for it. – Alexey Ivanov Jan 22 '13 at 10:13

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