Firmware is a type of software that is embedded in the device that controls all its functions. It is stored on the ROM, EPROM, or flash memory within the device by the manufacturer. It is found in devices such as computers, routers, smartphones, cameras, smart homes, etc.
The main function of firmware is to boot the device and control and manage its routine operation. Examples are system BIOS, UEFI, plug-and-play, hard drive, and printers among others
Functions of firmware software
Firmware is responsible for controlling the basic functions of a device and can be updated to improve performance and fix issues. Other specific function includes:
- It controls and manages the booting process of the device. When the device is powered ON it first gets instructions from the data stored on the ROM or flash memory which is help initialize.
- It establishes an interface between the hardware components of the device with other device software. This enables it to communicate with other hardware that it works in collaboration with.
- It carries out the device’s routine operations and deals with any request that it receives.
- To ensure device security by booting and maintaining confidential data.
Advantages of having firmware
- It enables the device to interface with other hardware and software.
- It can be updated either manually or over the internet to improve device performance and remove bugs.
- It is more of a hardware operation and users don’t need to understand how it works or even do any configuration.
- Firmware is embedded on the device at no extra cost to the user. Again also the upgrades are free.
- It is difficult to troubleshoot any problem that starts from firmware software for standard device users. Troubleshooting requires a user with advanced knowledge of the device.
- If updates are not done right or complete the device will not function as expected.
- Manufacturers can use it to restrict using third-party software and hardware on their devices.
Why does the firmware need an upgrade?
When doing a firmware upgrade you should be cautious and it should be done only when necessary. The upgrade should only be done when the manufacturer recommends it or when the device has a problem that can be solved by upgrading. These are some of the benefits that you may achieve by upgrading.
- Manufacturers can release a new firmware update to solve a system bug that was on the previous version. Most manufacturers will notify the user in case of a major upgrade to deal with bugs.
- Firmware upgrades that are done for devices like smartphones are intended to add new features and capabilities to the device. Sometimes if you don’t upgrade to the latest update some features may stop operating.
- Device security is a major concern in this digital age. Any time manufacturers realize their device has a security breach they can release a new upgrade to implement new security features.
- New features from an upgrade can increase the operational speed of the device.
- Some of the firmware updates can be aimed to optimize the operation of the device. This means without changing the hardware the device can operate optimally than before upgrading.
- One of the firmware functions is to boot the device. The upgrade can aim to increase or optimize the booting process of the device.
Examples of firmware on devices
Firmware being software that is part of the hardware means almost all device that has some electronic components has it. The examples below are some of the hardware that has it and its main functions on that device.
- System BIOS: this is the commonly known firmware that is installed on the computer. BIOS is used by computers during booting. It confirms that all hardware is functioning before passing over the process to the operating system. You can read more on the process of booting a computer.
- Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI): this is the replacement of the system BIOS that was used in computers. It is used to boot in modern computers.
- Plug and play: the firmware support devices that are mostly connected using USB and HDMI connectors. When these devices are connected to the computer they are recognized and users don’t need to install any software
- Hard disk firmware: this controls, govern and manage how the hard disk is used. One part of hard disk firmware is in a chip within the drive motherboard while the other part is on the platter a section called the service area or zone. The booting of the disk starts from the chip data which passes control to the instruction on the service zone.
- Smartphone firmware: the program helps the phone during booting and interfaces different hardware components on the device.
- Routers firmware: it helps the router to connect to the network, manage protocols, boot, and manage security among other functions.
- Printer firmware: it is installed on the printer memory and it instructs it when booting. Manufacturers also code the type of toner, ink, and other consumables that the printer can use. This is why you cannot use toner or cartridges from a different vendor for your printer.