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What is Firmware -Types, How to Install Update Firmware in Windows/Mac

Firmware is nothing but software that has been permanently installed in a microchip, device, or machine, usually done by the manufacturer. This post will discuss in detail about what is Firmware, its types, how to install, uninstall & update Firmware for Windows and Mac OS.

What is Firmware

Unlike the usual standard software, to maintain, control or operate hardware in the background, Firmware is required. Firmware is stored in ROM (Read Only Memory) and without which basic computer devices would not work such as keyboards, hard drives etc.

Fig.1 – Introduction to Firmwares

Embedded software or embedded systems are also called Firmwares since they are planted into the hardware. Hardware and software are different by Firmwares, i.e., it exists between them. Like Hardware and Software, the word Firmware can be used for indicating one or many. However, for ease of understanding and to avoid confusion, we are using the word ‘Firmwares’ here.

To implement machine instructions, it uses lower-level instructions. Any computer program tightly linked to hardware is referred to as Firmware, including processor machine instructions for simple devices like remote controls, microwave ovens, or computer peripherals.

Firmwares are used in many devices found in most people’s homes like consumer products, computer peripherals, personal computers, automobiles, etc. Non-volatile memory devices like flash memory, ROM, EPROM, EEPROM hold the Firmware.

For updating Firmware, physical replacement of ROM Integrated Circuits is required, or through a special procedure, EPROM or flash memory are to be reprogrammed. Some Firmware devices cannot be changed after manufacturing, and they are permanently installed. Fixing bugs or adding new features to the device are common reasons for updating the Firmware.

Lets understand it with some examples. To detect a hard drive or video card in a computer, Firmwares are required. For a hard drive to know how fast to spin or when to stop, Embedded Firmwares are required. For a wireless network card, Firmware is required to understand how to use a particular radio frequency to connect to Wi-Fi.

Types of Firmware

Depending on the complexity of functionality and on where it is stored, there are three types of Firmwares, listed below:

  • Low-level Firmware
  • High-level Firmware
  • Subsystems

Low-level Firmwares

This software is stored on non-volatile memory chips like ROM, PROM, and PLA. This level is considered an intrinsic part of the hardware since low-level Firmware are stored on read-only chips that cannot be updated.

High-level Firmwares

To allow for updates, this Firmwares are used with flash memory chips. Compared to Low-level Firmware, they have often more complex instructions and makes it closer to software than hardware.

Subsystems

Semi-independent unit of a larger system is called a Subsystem. Since this level has its microcode embedded in CPU, LCD units, and flash chips, like High-level Firmwares.

How to Install Firmware

Follow the steps below to Install the Firmwares. Non-removal of the USB Flash drive or not turning off the instrument’s power is necessary.

  1. Download the Firmware.
  2. Connect the device to the USB flash drive
  3. Install it.

The zip file is downloaded to the computer. The computer is connected to a USB flash drive and *.prg file is extracted and copied to the root directory of your device. This is where you can find the downloaded files of the USB. Now, install the Firmware  by following the on screen instructions as series of different messages will be displayed. Once the update is completed, you will see a pop-up window which confirms that it is installed successfully. You can now remove the USB drive from the slot.

Fig. 2 – Downloading Firmwares Update

How to Uninstall Firmware

Non-volatile memory like ROM, EPROM, PROM needs Firmware for operation and functioning. Most devices get Firmwares updates regularly, but if something goes wrong when you run an update, you cannot just uninstall it. Instead of removing the Firmwares, you must replace it with another version of the Firmware. So, the steps are shown below:

  1. Another version of Firmwares are searched for your device on the internet. Firmwares can be any version created by a third party like an older version, a newer version, or an alternate version.
  2. Download the required version onto your device or computer if possible.
  3. The device is connected to your computer if needed, and the new Firmware is made to run. The Firmware to run is double-clicked on it. Select the location of its installation and click OK. The old Firmware will no longer be on your system once the new Firmware finishes the installation.

Firmware Upgrade to New Version

Fig. 3 – Firmwares Upgrade to New Version

How to Update Firmware on Mac OS

For the hardware on your Mac to run correctly, the instructions are provided by the Firmwares. The instructions control many low-level functionalities like thermal, power, and sleep management features. To improve the reliability of the hardware and to add additional new features to your device, updates to the Firmwares are essential.

New software and including updates to the Firmwares of Apple are provided through the app store. If you are not sure about the current version of your Mac Firmware, you can check the version number. Suppose the version is outdated and a current update is not available in the app store updates section, then you can download and install the current version manually and automatically, as shown below:

Automatic Update

To run the update automatically, follow the steps below:

  1. From the drop-down menu, click the Apple menu and select “Software Update”. This sends you to the updates section automatically by launching the App Store. If requested for information, the administrator username and password are provided.
  2. In the update section click the “More” button next to any OS update package and read the update description to see if it has the latest Firmware.
  3. Select the “Update” button next to the options containing the firmwares updates. To update all available software, click the “Update All” button. The administrator password and username are provided again. The update of Firmwares on Mac OS are done automatically.

Firmware Update for MAC

Fig. 4 – Software Update on MAC

Manual Update

To run the update manually, follow the steps below:

  1. Click the Apple menu, and from the drop-down menu, select “About this Mac”.
  2. Click the button “More Info” and select the “System Report” button.
  3. In the sidebar, select the “Hardware” option, and in the “Model Identifier” and “Boot ROM version” sections, note down the information. The Boot ROM version information refers to the EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) Firmware version.
  4. On the Apple support website, check the available Firmwares updates table to determine if the EFI firmware new version is needed. Click the link to download the Firmwares if the number for your Boot ROM version is earlier than the one listed on the website for your Mac.
  5. When it finishes downloading, double click the installation package and update your Mac Firmwares; follow the prompts in the installer.
  6. The “Shutdown” button is clicked. Hold down the power button until the power indicator light blinks after the computer shuts down. The Apple logo display and a long tone sound are heard with a progress bar indicating the update progress after releasing the power button. The computer is restarted and displays the message that the update is complete.

How to Update Firmware on Windows

When your computer gets an update, Microsoft has been installing drivers for your device. By going to Computer Management, a user can update the system firmwares manually. Also, some computer models may need to go to their support page and manually install the Firmwares. Follow the steps below to achieve the same.

Option to Search Firmware

Fig. 3 – Selecting the Option to Search for Drivers

  1. Go to Computer Management by pressing Windows key+X. Select the computer management. It can also be done by right clicking the Windows Icon and then selecting  Computer Management.
  2. Select Device Manager. On the right side, go to the Firmware option. If you do not find this, then your computer model is old, and you have to do the update process manually. Then Right-click on System Firmware> Select Update driver.
  3. Then select the option Search automatically for updated driver software.
  4. Now the windows will download automatically and search the Firmware for you, then finish the install and restart your computer.
  5. You should now see the new firmware version and model of your computer after the firmware update.

Note: Also, make sure your computer is plugged into the power source and do not turn off  your computer.

Also Read:
Printer – Types and Interfaces, Printer Buying Guide, Best Printers of 2021
Common Gateway Interface (CGI) – How it Works, Features & Applications
DVI Cable – Types, Pin Configuration, How to Identify hdmi DVI Connectors
BIOS (Basic Input Output System) – What is BIOS, Functions, Limitations
Chakrasthitha
Chakrasthitha
Chakrasthitha is a B.E (Medical Electronics) and has work experience in MatLab and Lab View Software as Design Engineer at BCS innovations and Manipal hospital as Biomedical Engineer. She is an author, editor and partner at Electricalfundablog.
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