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What Is Firmware? Firmware Definition (Meaning) in Computers

Whenever you try upgrading your PC or building one from scratch, you always have to deal with installing firmware.

While firmware is something that has been around for quite some time, there are users that have no idea what it is exactly, and what purpose it serves.

What Is Firmware

That’s precisely why we’ve taken the liberty to write this article, to explain in greater detail what firmware is, what does it do, and why it is important.

What Is Firmware, And What Does It Do?

Firmware, also known as software for hardware, is a basic program that comes embedded within hardware, providing low-level control over them.

Firmware Definition

In a sense, a device’s firmware can be considered a primitive form of an operating system.

It usually acts as an interface, allowing for a more standardized operating environment between thze hardware associated with it, and other third-party software.

What Devices Come With Firmware?

Pretty much any device imaginable can have firmware installed, from components such as a PC’s GPU to peripherals such as mice and keyboards.

More so, firmware isn’t limited just to PC components and peripherals, since pretty much any type of hardware comes with firmware pre-installed, such as television remotes.

Firmware vs Drivers: What’s The Difference?

Firmware vs Drivers

How do firmware and drivers differ in terms of their build?

Firmware is a basic program embedded within a piece of hardware that enables a device to perform its duties without the need of installing additional software.

On the other hand, a device driver is a more complex type of software that allows different hardware components to interact with each other.

How do firmware and drivers differ in terms of their update process?

One key difference between firmware and drivers is the way that they are updated.

On one hand, firmware is rarely updated and usually involves complex processes such as specialized standalone applications, custom boot mechanisms, and more.

On the other hand, driver updates are more often released since they need to keep up with the everchanging code of the PC’s OS.

Additionally, obtaining driver updates is much easier, and there are also plenty of third-party tools available that serve that specific purpose.

Where is firmware stored vs where are drivers stored?

In short, firmware is stored on its device’s memory, while a driver is usually stored inside the PC’s OS, on the hard drive.

Both can be rewritten or deleted, although this should never be done if you don’t have the necessary experience, or if you don’t have a way to provide a backup.

What Are The Different Types of Firmware?

BIOS Firmware

The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is the first thing that your PC runs through every single time you boot it, even if it’s so fast that you can’t visually see it.

The BIOS performs an initial check of your PC’s hardware, ensuring that all components run properly and interact with each other the right way.

Once the BIOS is done, the bootloader activates the OS that is stored on your hard drive and delegates it to your RAM.

The BIOS has been a reliable staple for all PCs for quite a few years, but it is slowly becoming outdated since hardware has evolved a lot in the past 20 years.

For example, BIOS still uses 16-bit code while pretty much every single consumer-grade PC and laptop runs 32-bit and 64-bit code.

EFI Firmware

The EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) follows right after the BIOS when booting a PC, and it loads files stored on the ESP to activate your installed operating systems and various PC utilities.

One advantage of the EFI over the BIOS is the fact that it allows a PC to boot using software that is trusted by the manufacturer, all thanks to the Secure Boot feature.

Firmware Update: How to Check

How to check for firmware version

As mentioned earlier, firmware can also be updated, and if you know your BIOS version, it becomes a lot easier to find the latest version for the firmware running your devices.

Here’s how you can check for device firmware:

  1. Press Windows + X
  2. Select the Device Manager from the Power User menu
  3. Right-click on the desired device driver, and click Properties
  4. Go to the Details tab and select the Property drop-down menu 
  5. Click on Hardware Ids
  6. The firmware version will be located in the Value table

How to update firmware?

Updating firmware can be a bit tricky since not all firmware is updated the same way.

While certain firmware may be updated like any other software, some can only be done by copying the firmware to a portable drive and then manually loading it to the device.

Because of this, the administrative console features a dedicated section for certain devices so that firmware updates can be applied more efficiently.

One thing you should remember is that during an update you should never turn off your device since this can lead to irreparable damage to your system.

Additionally, remember that the hardware manufacturers are the only ones that are authorized to provide firmware updates, and these help fix bugs and improve system functionality.

Firmware Meaning: closing thoughts

As you can see, a device’s firmware is the backbone of its functionality, and while it is primitive and simplistic, it is still vital if you need that device to work properly.

However, firmware is just one aspect that you need to consider if you want your PC to run properly since drivers and software are also important.

All in all, we hope that you now have a better understanding of what firmware is, what does it do, and how you can manage it better.

If you’d like to read more articles explaining such fundamental terms, let us know by leaving your feedback in the comments section below, and we’ll cover your desired topics as soon as possible.

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