There are few problems more frustrating than a printer that won’t print. The interruptions and disconnections that are so typical of these devices often turn the printer from an innocent piece of office equipment into a target of workplace rage.
As it turns out, connection issues like this often come down to a driver conflict—a catch-all term referring to a problem with the software used to communicate with an external device.
By learning how to recognize driver conflicts on your Mac, you can resolve connection problems through software maintenance and computer cleanup, instead of chucking your printer into the nearest dumpster.
Common Causes of Hardware Interruptions
When looking to fix a hardware disconnection issue, there are a few other culprits that we should rule out before looking for driver conflicts:
- USB or physical connection issues
- Operating System (OS) incompatibility
- Lack of the proper driver
If you can rule out these three simple issues, following the steps below, you’ll know that your hardware should be working on your Mac. This gives you a foundation from which you can then perform deeper troubleshooting.
1. How to Check the Physical Connection
With any hardware problem like this, you should first look at the physical connection. Using a USB cable that you know works, connect your device directly into the USB port on your Mac. For troubleshooting, you want to avoid USB Hubs, as they can cause disconnections with some more current-hungry gear.
Next, go to the Apple menu in the top bar, and select About This Mac. In the new window that appears, click on System Report.
This will launch a System Report of your Mac; for troubleshooting purposes, this is one of the most important apps on your Mac. The System Report displays a read-out of all peripherals connected to your Mac, as well as a handy index of drivers and extensions, which we will look at later.
In the Hardware section in the left column, select USB. If there is a successful hardware connection, your device will be displayed here regardless of any software or drivers needed to use it.
If your device is not listed here, it means it is not making a physical connection to your Mac—try a new USB cable.
This same process holds true for FireWire and Thunderbolt devices, too. Any physical connection to your Mac will be displayed in the Hardware column, under its respective category.
2. How to Check Your macOS Driver Compatibility
To communicate with non-class-compliant hardware, your Mac must run certain pieces of software to speak its language—these are drivers.
In a perfect world, all drivers would be compatible with all versions of macOS; however, in the real world, updating drivers requires development resources that are sometimes unsustainable for companies to continue developing. As a result, what was once state-of-the-art technology can often be phased out, resulting in macOS incompatibility.
To check if your hardware is compatible with macOS, pop over to your search engine of choice, and search for “OS Compatibility of [Your Hardware].” Most manufacturers will have dedicated landing pages to check your hardware compatibility, as shown below for a Focusrite audio interface.
3. How to Install a Driver Properly on a Mac
Once you have confirmed the macOS compatibility of your driver, you should properly install the software. It’s typically located in the Support or Downloads section of the manufacturer’s website.
On newer versions of macOS, you’ll need to manually approve third-party drivers. While installing, if prompted to grant security access, click Allow. Otherwise, the driver will not be allowed to run and your Mac will not be able to talk to your hardware.
If nothing comes up during the installation, you can always go to System Preferences > Security to double-check that verification isn’t required. If it is required, there will be an Allow, Open Anyway, or Show Details button in the lower right-hand corner of the screen:
At this point, you will have resolved the vast majority of driver connection issues by confirming your hardware connection, macOS compatibility, and properly installing your driver. If your device still isn’t connecting, you can now confidently turn your investigation towards driver conflicts.
Checking on Your Drivers
Now that you know there’s a driver conflict on your Mac, how do you fix it? To start, go back to the System Report and scroll down to the Disabled Software section.
Here, the System Report will display a list of any drivers that have been disabled by the Mac. For example, if you didn’t perform the security step mentioned during the driver installation, your driver would be listed here as “No User Consent.”
If your driver is listed here, a full uninstall and reinstall followed by a restart of your Mac should fix it.
If your driver is not listed here, head down one section to the Extensions section. This section gives a list of all the drivers on your Mac. Sorting by Obtained from allows you to see all the third-party drivers, which is generally where driver conflicts occur.
There are a few red flags you should be aware of to spot bad drivers. In the screenshot below, two potential problem drivers are selected in blue.
These drivers exhibit a few red flags:
- Last Modified: Any drivers over 10 years old will typically be out of date and need to be replaced or removed.
- Notarized: With macOS 10.15 Catalina, Apple introduced a notarization system for third-party drivers. If they are not notarized, they should be removed.
- Not Signed: If no developer is identified, the driver is too old to run on your version of macOS and should be removed.
How to Remove Problem Drivers on a Mac
With the likely culprits of your driver conflict found, you can now remove them via Finder. In the System Report, you can view the location of these drivers by selecting them and looking for the Location.
Following these file paths in Finder, you will be brought to two different Libraries, in the Macintosh HD folder and in the System folder.
Drag the driver troublemakers to the Trash, empty the Trash, and restart your Mac. You’ve just resolved your Mac’s driver conflict!
What to Do After Resolving Driver Conflicts?
If you’ve followed the steps up to this point, you’ll have confirmed a valid hardware connection, confirmed macOS compatibility, properly installed your software, and removed potential driver conflicts.
If you are still experiencing disconnections, it is time to contact your device’s manufacturer for further support. That said, following these steps should get you on your way 99% of the time.
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