Do CPUs require drivers? Everything else inside or connected to your PC seems to require drivers, so this is a pretty fair question to ask— and there is some nuance to it, as you’ll learn soon.
By the end of this article, you should know all the need-to-know information you need about CPU drivers, chipset drivers, and a few common CPU-related questions that tend to crop up alongside these CPU topics.
Let’s get into it.
A Quick Note on Drivers and How They Work
First, it’s important to clarify what a driver actually is.
A driver is basically a layer of software that allows a given piece of hardware to properly communicate with your operating system.
Some drivers are built into the operating system from the get-go, not requiring any extra downloads or conscious updates on the user’s side of things.
Generic networking and display drivers, for example, should still work before you’ve connected to the Internet and downloaded additional drivers. The same applies to generic mouse and keyboard drivers.
If you want to unlock more hardware features or your hardware isn’t being detected, you’ll instead be looking to download and update additional drivers directly from the manufacturer.
Graphics cards, for example, can still function off of Windows’ generic display drivers, but won’t have access to nearly the same level of performance.
Plus, features of the hardware like better color calibration or FreeSync/G-Sync won’t be available when stuck running on a generic display driver.
Basically, hardware-specific drivers serve to fill in the gaps where generic, OS-level drivers may not perform to the same level or offer the same features.
There are also times where the OS-level drivers may actually be preferable— for example, if your dedicated Realtek Audio drivers just aren’t cooperating with you, you may end up being better served with Windows’ default audio drivers. It has happened.
So, that’s the basics of drivers down.
Do CPUs need them?
Do CPUs Require Drivers? Technically, Yes
Technically, yes, CPUs do need drivers…but these are already built into your operating system of choice.
But You Don’t Need To Download CPU Drivers
Yes, Windows already has CPU drivers built-in. A modern Windows operating system shouldn’t have any issue properly detecting and working with your CPU, as long as your motherboard’s BIOS has also been updated to support the CPU.
You will never need to download or install additional drivers to get your CPU to function properly— which makes sense because you aren’t downloading much of anything without a functioning CPU— or even booting into an OS, for that matter!
Even Linux has necessary CPU drivers built directly into its kernel, so as long as you’re getting a recent version of the Linux kernel with your Linux distribution of choice, you don’t have to worry about CPU compatibility.
You Might Need a BIOS Update, Though
If you’re worried about CPU installation and compatibility issues, the more likely culprit will be your BIOS. Even if your CPU is compatible on paper with your motherboard of choice, your motherboard does require BIOS updates to function with compatible CPUs released after the Motherboard’s initial release date.
If you’re lucky, this will be done for you before it’s shipped, but you may end up needing to do it yourself.
So, what do you do in the situation where you have a CPU and a motherboard that’s supposed to be compatible, but requires a BIOS update for it to work?
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a motherboard that supports a feature called BIOS Flashback.
BIOS Flashback is a feature supported by many modern motherboard manufacturers (namely ASRock, ASUS, Gigabyte, and MSI) that allows for BIOS updates to be done without a CPU installed.
If you don’t have a BIOS Flashback feature supported by your motherboard, you’ll be a little stuck and need to find a different, Day 1 Compatible CPU to use for a BIOS update.
This could mean contacting your manufacturer for a loaner “Boot Kit” or being forced to buy/borrow a cheap Day 1 Compatible CPU to do it yourself.
Fortunately, most modern boards— especially those that support multiple generations— will enable BIOS Flashback without all this extra headache. And you can also just buy a newer board with your CPU from the beginning if you want to avoid this entirely.
For more on BIOS Flashback, especially if you need to use it to have your CPU be properly detected by your motherboard, head over to Alex’s How to Update BIOS Without CPU Guide for more information.
For now, though, let’s get back on the topic of CPU drivers specifically.
Why You Should Download Chipset Drivers
While you don’t need to download CPU drivers, you actually should be downloading Chipset Drivers.
While your device will boot and function without the presence of Chipset Drivers, you’ll be locked out of quite a few features and some performance until you download and update your chipset drivers.
Sometimes Windows can auto-detect and download these itself, but other times you’ll want to head directly to your manufacturer’s website for your dedicated Chipset Drivers.
Updated chipset drivers will add security and performance fixes, as well as features you may not have access to without them, like Intel’s Rapid Storage technology.
As important as your CPU is, remember: your Chipset on your motherboard determines quite a lot about the rest of your system, including whether or not you’ll be allowed to overclock that CPU and the maximum supported RAM speed, PCIe lanes, etc.
It’s always a good idea to download and update your Chipset Drivers!
But that and BIOS updates are the closest things to a “CPU driver” that you would need to download yourself.
As long as your BIOS is taken care of, your out-of-box compatibility will be fine, and any features or performance you might be missing out on will be found with Chipset driver updates rather than CPU driver updates, which aren’t really a thing.
Do I Have to Reinstall Windows After Upgrading My CPU?
Since this is an article about CPU drivers, chances are high that you’re installing a new CPU to your motherboard.
Fortunately, as already covered, it should work fine if your BIOS is up to par, but there are other concerns that can crop up, especially if you’re upgrading over an existing CPU rather than just starting with a fresh new system.
In the past, a Windows license could be notoriously fickle to hardware changes. For that reason, the rumor still exists today that you’ll have to reinstall Windows after upgrading your CPU or your RAM.
Fortunately, this is no longer the case, as your Windows license generally recognizes your system by your motherboard rather than any specific component.
You may need to reinstall Windows after a motherboard upgrade, though— or at least call up Microsoft to have the license transferred from your old motherboard to your new one.
You’ll only be able to transfer licenses with retail versions of Windows, though, not cheaper OEM versions often used to save a few bucks.
Do I Need Locked or Unlocked CPUs?
One key CPU feature tied to your chipset will actually be your ability to overclock your CPU.
If your CPU supports overclocking, you’ll still need a matching chipset with updated drivers to make the most of that overclocking potential.
But if you’re reading over this article as a prospective PC buyer or upgrader, you may be left wondering: do you need an unlocked CPU for overclocking capabilities?
You can click the glowy sentence above for a much longer answer to that question, but here are some quick notes on it if you’re curious.
CPU overclocking is a great way to boost your CPU performance, so long as the rest of your system (motherboard VRMs and power capacitors, your PSU, and your cooling) can keep up.
However, if your bottlenecks are tied to not having enough cores or threads for your desired workloads, an overclockable CPU may not be the best choice— instead, you should probably find a cheaper CPU with more cores and threads.
It’s very rare that a CPU being overclockable or not will determine whether or not it reaches your performance needs.
Make sure those basic needs are met before overclocking comes into the picture, and then choose to spend extra on overclocking-capable hardware if you want to past that.
Does Overclocking a CPU Reduce Its Lifespan?
Make sure that you have your Chipset Drivers up-to-date and that you’re properly maintaining your PC (frequent dusting, etc) and you should be fine!
What’s The Difference Between a CPU and an APU? Do APUs Need Drivers?
Finally, what’s the big difference between a CPU and APU— and does an APU need drivers?
Well, first up, an APU is pretty much just AMD’s marketing term for a CPU with an integrated graphics chip. Intel makes them too.
So when it comes to the difference, CPU vs APU largely comes down to marketing.
However, CPUs with iGPUs— or APUs, whatever— do still have extra graphics chips inside of them.
Past that, any concerns you have about CPUs and drivers should be addressed by now. I’ve covered pretty much everything I could think of.
Over to You
But if you still have any questions after reading through this article, let me know in the comments! I tried to make sure to answer any big questions about CPU drivers that I could think of, including things that are arguably more important, like motherboard BIOS updates and chipset drivers.