What is a firmware?

Firmware or firmware is software that is integrated into a hardware element. You can consider firmware simply as “software for hardware”. However, firmware is not an interchangeable term for software.

Devices that you can consider strictly hardware such as optical drives, a network card, a router, a camera or a scanner all have software programmed in a special memory contained in the hardware itself.

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Where do firmware updates come from?

Manufacturers of CD, DVD and BD players often publish regular firmware updates to ensure the compatibility of their hardware with new media.

For example, let’s say you buy a pack of 20 empty BD discs and try to burn a video on a few of them, but it doesn’t work. One of the first things the Blu-ray player manufacturer would probably suggest is to update the firmware on the drive.

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The updated firmware would probably include a new set of computer code for your drive, telling it how to write to the particular brand of BD disc you are using, thus solving this problem.

Network router manufacturers often publish firmware updates for their devices to improve network performance or add additional features. The same applies to digital camera manufacturers, smartphone manufacturers (such as iOS and Android), etc. You can visit the manufacturer’s website for download firmware updates.

An example can be seen by downloading the firmware of a wireless router like the Linksys WRT54G. Just visit the support page of this router (here it’s for this router) on the Linksys website to find the downloads section, which is where you get the firmware.

How do I apply firmware updates?

It is impossible to give a global answer on how to install the firmware on all devices, since not all devices are identical. Some firmware updates are applied wirelessly and look like a regular software update. Others may include copying the firmware to a portable drive, and then manually loading it to the device.

For example, you might be able to update the firmware of a game console by accepting any prompt to update the software. It is unlikely that the device will be configured in such a way that you have to manually download the firmware and apply it manually. This would make updating the firmware far too difficult for the average user, especially if the device often needs firmware updates.

Apple iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads also occasionally receive firmware updates, as do Android phones and tablets. These devices allow you to download and install the firmware from the device itself so that you do not have to download and install it manually yourself.

However, some devices, like most routers, have a dedicated section in the administration console that allows you to apply a firmware update. This is usually a section that has a button Open or Browse that allows you to select the firmware you downloaded. It is important to read the device user manual before updating the firmware, just to ensure that the steps you follow are correct and that you have read all warnings.

Firmware Important Facts

Since any warning from the manufacturer will appear, it is extremely important to ensure that the device that receives the firmware update does not turn off during the application of the update. A partial firmware update leaves the firmware corrupted, which can seriously damage the operation of the device.

It is equally important to avoid applying the wrong firmware update to a device. Giving a device software that belongs to another device can cause that hardware to work more as it should. It’s usually easy to know if you downloaded the correct firmware by simply checking twice that the model number for that firmware matches the model number of the hardware you are updating.

As we have already mentioned, another thing to remember when updating the firmware is that first you need to read the manual associated with this device. Each device is unique and will have a different method of updating or restoring a firmware.

Some devices do not prompt you to update the firmware. Therefore, you should either visit the manufacturer’s website to see if a new update has been released, or register the device on the manufacturer’s website to receive emails when the new firmware is available.