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What Is an OpenGL® Video Driver?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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An OpenGL® video driver is a type of computer file that allows the hardware and software on a machine to properly identify and recognize OpenGL® code and programming. Many different types of programs can use OpenGL® for rendering computer graphics on a Personal Computer (PC), especially in PC games that use three-dimensional (3D) graphics. In order for these programs to function properly and display graphics accurately, the Operating System (OS) has to be able to recognize the way in which these graphics are produced. An OpenGL® video driver is a file that is used by the OS and a graphics card to do so.

The purpose of an OpenGL® video driver is similar to how other drivers are used by a computer. When a computer is started up, also called “bootstrapping” or “booting,” there is software on the motherboard called a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). This software handles the startup of hardware such as the processors, Random Access Memory (RAM), and hard drive. At a certain point, however, these functions are “handed over” to the Operating System or OS on a computer, at which point the OS takes control and handles further functions.

In order for the OS on a computer to recognize and properly interface with various pieces of hardware, however, it uses files called “drivers.” These files are often developed for a particular OS and certain pieces of hardware, which can be fairly generic or very specific. Video card drivers, for example, are typically used by the OS on a computer to recognize a video card and to properly function with it.

An OpenGL® video driver is a particular type of video card driver that expands upon the effectiveness of the OS itself and the video card. Rather than allowing the OS to simply recognize and use the card, this type of driver is developed specifically for the use of OpenGL®. This is a graphics library that is commonly used to allow games and other graphical applications to display video in a way that can be recognized by a wide range of systems.

For the OpenGL® platform to be fully effective on a computer, however, an OpenGL® video driver may need to be installed onto it. This type of driver is often based on a specific OS, not only a certain platform like Windows® but also the version of the OS that is used. An OpenGL® video driver is also usually developed for a specific video card, though some developers may create drivers that function with a variety of cards they design. The best driver for a particular card is typically provided by the company that manufactures it, though some third-party drivers can also be effective.

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