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What Is Firmware?

Firmware software is embedded in hardware. It can be described as “software for hardware”. software and firmware are two different things, so they cannot be interchangeable.

You might consider devices that are strictly hardware like an optical drive or network card TV remote, router and media player. All of these devices have software that is stored in a special memory.

Lifewire / Adrian Mangel

Where Firmware Updates Are Sourced

Firmware updates are often released by manufacturers of CD, DVD, or BD drives to ensure that their hardware is compatible with new media.

Let’s take, for example, a 20-pack BD discs. You try to burn a video to a handful of them but it fails. The Blu-ray drive manufacturer will likely suggest that you update/flash your firmware.

The firmware update would likely include a new set computer code for your drive. This instructs it how to write to the specific brand of BD disc that you are using.

To improve network performance and add new features, network router manufacturers release firmware updates. This is true for smartphone manufacturers, digital camera makers (like iOS and Android), and other devices. These updates can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s site.

You can download the firmware for a wireless router such as the Linksys WRT54G. To download the firmware, visit the router’s support page.

What Firmware Updates Do

As we have already mentioned, the purpose for any firmware update is to make some changes to existing software. What a specific firmware update does depends on its context and the version.

If a firmware update is made to a media player, it may include additional codec support that allows it to play new formats of music. This firmware might be installed if your device doesn’t support the file format you have currently saved your audio files in.

You can often read the list of changes in the firmware before you make the decision to apply a firmware upgrade.

How to apply Firmware Updates

Because not all devices are alike, it’s difficult to provide a universal answer on how to install firmware. Some firmware updates can be applied wirelessly, and they just look like regular software updates. Some firmware updates require you to copy the firmware onto a portable drive, then manually load it onto your device.

You might be able, for example, to update the firmware of a gaming console simply by accepting the prompts. It is unlikely that your device has been set up so you need to manually download and apply the firmware. It would be difficult for an average user to update the firmware, especially if it is needed frequently.

Apple devices such as iPads and iPhones occasionally receive firmware updates. Android phones and tablets also get these updates from time to time. These devices allow you to download and install the firmware directly from your device. Typically, firmware updates for mobile devices are obtained wirelessly, in which case they might be called firmware-over-the-air (FOTA) or over-the-air updates.

Some devices, such as most routers have a section within the administration console that allows you to apply a firmware upgrade. You can access this section by clicking the Open, Browse buttons that allow you to select the firmware that you have downloaded. Before you do this, make sure you have read the user manual.

How to Upgrade Your Router’s Firmware If that’s what your doing, or visit the support website of your hardware maker for more information about firmware updates.

Important Information About Firmware

As any manufacturer will warn, it is crucial to ensure that the firmware update does not cause the device to shut down during the process. The firmware can be corrupted if it is applied in a partial manner. This could seriously affect the device’s functionality.

It is equally important to not apply the wrong update to a device. It can cause hardware to stop functioning properly if it is given software from one device. Double-checking the firmware model number matches the hardware model number is a good way to check if the firmware you downloaded is correct.

As we have already said, it is important to read the manual before you attempt to update firmware. Each device is different and each device will have its own method of updating or restoring the firmware

You may not be prompted to update some devices. In these cases, you will need to check the manufacturer’s site to verify that an update has been made or register your device so that you receive emails about new firmware.

Ascher Opler is believed to have been the first to use the term hardware. He described it as an intermediary term between computer software and hardware in a 1967 computer magazine article called “Fourth Generation Software”. Referring to the above, software was first used a decade ago in a paper by John Wilder Tukey (titled “The Teaching of Concrete Mathematics”)

FAQ

  • How can you update your router firmware?


    The firmware update can be downloaded directly from the manufacturer. After that, log in to your router’s settings hub to find the firmware section. This section can be found under Advanced and Management, although it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Follow the instructions on screen to apply the firmware update.

  • How can you update the firmware of your AirPods?


    Before updating your AirPods make sure that you go to Settings > Bluetooth > Information icon> About. Download and install the firmware patch if it is available. Then, place the AirPods into their cases, and then connect the case to a power supply. Keep the case close to your iPhone.

  • What are the two types of firmware found on motherboards?


    BIOS is the acronym for Motherboard firmware. It stands for Basic Input Output System. The two types of BIOS that are found on a motherboard are typically UEFI and Legacy BIOS.

  • How can you update the firmware on a Samsung TV

    If your TV is powered and connected to the Wi-Fi network, it will automatically download and install any updates. To update your firmware, turn off your TV by going to Settings > Support > Software Upgrade > Auto Update (or Updo Now).

  • How can you disable the firmware password for a Mac?


    To disable the firmware password from a Mac, restart your Mac in Recovery Mode. Next, choose Utilities > Start Security Utility or FirmwarePassword Utility. Next, click Turn off Firmware Password> to re-enter your password > quit this utility > restart the Mac.

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