O firmware is software developed for specific hardware. It contains both basic and advanced instructions on how a particular piece of hardware should work and communicate with other devices. In other words, it is the presence of firmware that defines if the hardware is functional or if it is just junk mail.
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Firmware communicates directly with the hardware
In general, firmware is written in a low-level language, also known as machine language. It is a type of programming that is based on binary numbers. Therefore, it is best suited for writing instructions for hardware components. The firmware contains all sorts of input/output instructions that the hardware must execute.
Another common feature of firmware is that it is not easy to change what is programmed. That is, a lay user will hardly be able to change, erase or corrupt the data written in the firmware. In many cases, physical access to the device is required to be able to make any kind of firmware change. It is like a “permanent software” of the hardware.
What types of equipment have firmware
Basically, every electronic device we use has firmware. As explained above, firmware is the set of instructions that dictates how the hardware works. So without firmware installed, any electronic device becomes a mere piece of plastic and electronic circuitry.
Here are some examples of devices that have firmware:
- photographic cameras;
- Cell phones;
- video game consoles;
- Hard Disks;
- Streaming devices (Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, Roku and others);
- Modems and Routers;
- video cards;
- Motherboards (BIOS and UEFI, for example);
- Smart TVs;
- And many others.
As you can see, practically everything electronic has firmware.
Why it’s important to keep firmware up to date
Remember I said that it is very difficult to change the firmware content? Yeah, even so, from time to time, manufacturers release updates for the firmware of their products.
Just as it’s important to install updates for Windows, Android, iOS and all the other programs and apps you use every day, it’s also important to install firmware updates.
Firmware updates are useful for a number of things. For example, the manufacturer may add new functions and features through a firmware update. Or else improve device performance. And, in the most common cases, fix bugs and security vulnerabilities. In all these situations, performing the firmware update is extremely important.
How to update a device’s firmware
The answer to this question will depend on the type of equipment we are talking about. Firmware update varies from device to device. Some are as simple as updating an app on the Play Store.
A good example is firmware updates for video game consoles. when the Sony Or the Microsoft release new firmware for the PlayStation or Xbox, it’s simple to update. Just connect the device to the internet and it automatically downloads and installs the new firmware version.
However, other devices may require more time and more knowledge from the user. For example, updating the firmware of a motherboard or a router is not so simple. In case of motherboards, you need to use special software to overwrite old firmware. In some cases, it requires you to save new firmware to a portable storage drive and manually load it onto the device.
Therefore, the best way out is to search on the manufacturer’s website how to update the firmware of the equipment in question.
Cautions when updating the firmware
We have already seen that updating the firmware of electronic devices is super important. But this process requires extra attention. After all, a failure or an error in the update can completely compromise your device. We call this “bricking”. That’s when the electronic device becomes just dead weight, useless.
To prevent this from happening, here are some recommendations. The most important of these is do not turn off the device. Here, the most guaranteed solution is to keep the equipment plugged in at all times. Especially mobile devices such as cell phones. Even if the battery is full, plug it in for warranty.
If in the middle of the update there is a power failure, the installation process will be interrupted. And this corrupts the firmware of the equipment.
Also be careful not to confuse firmware versions. Or, even worse, installing one brand’s firmware on another brand. Here the good old attention already solves. Double or triple check that the firmware update number matches your device’s reference number.
Following these tips, the chance of something going wrong when updating the firmware is very small.