Firmware is a term that encompasses all software for hardware. It is a program for various pieces of hardware and computer components such as keyboards, graphics cards, hard drives, etc. The program code is embedded in each piece of hardware. It is needed to execute permanent instructions that make communication between devices possible and also allow them to perform their functions.
It may see some resemblance with drivers here, and you will be right. Firmware does the same things but has a different approach as it is stored on the original hardware pieces (while drivers must be installed in your operating system). Another difference between firmware and drivers that the former can run automatically and perform pre-programmed actions without any control, while drivers are supervised by your operating system.
Types of firmware
If you think that your operating system is the first to awake when you turn your PC on, you are wrong. When you push the power button, BIOS steps into the play first. It is an essential part of the operating system as it makes all necessary preparations – it checks hardware on the run and analyzes it for unknown errors. When it is done, and everything seems to be fine, BIOS sends a signal to the bootloader that starts poking the operating system to wake up and get to work. BIOS directly manages all main components of your computer and won’t allow the system to boot if something is broken. This is a very reliable piece of firmware that is stored on a chip on your motherboard. It is rarely updated and didn’t receive any major upgrades during the last two decades. Due to this, it became more and more outdated, that is why modern technologies required another software to work with. For example, BIOS works on the 16-bit code, and most modern computers and devices run 32-bit or 64-bit code.
EFI stands for Extensible Firmware Interface (also known as UEFI – Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). It is a system firmware of a new generation. It comes with instructions for the CPU on how to start the computer, check components, and then pass the right of control to the bootloader. EFI is any type of firmware that has certain advantages over BIOS. For example, it makes sure that your computer is using only trusted software approved by the hardware or PC manufacturer. In addition to that, it has a better, more user-friendly interface.
It is important to know your BIOS version as it allows you to check whether you have the most recent version of the firmware or not. On computers with Windows, you can use the Command Prompt tool to get the firmware version data. Another way to do it is to use an upgrade assistant.
In Windows, you can see the firmware information for any installed component. To do that, just open Device Manager (press Win+X and select it from the list), then select the hardware you want to check, right-click it and go to Properties. In the Details tab, find a drop-down menu and select Hardware ID. The current version of hardware will be written in the value table.
Generally speaking, to see the firmware version of any hardware, you can open Devices Manager, expand the category, select the hardware, right-click on it and click Properties. Now under Details tab, from the Property drop-down menu, select Hardware Ids. Here in the Value table, you should see the firmware version.
How to Update Firmware?
Hardware manufacturers are in charge of firmware updates. Major updates are usually announced as they contain bug fixes, interface improvements, enhanced options, and patched security holes. Most firmware updates can be installed just like a standard software update. But in some cases, it becomes a more complicated and time-consuming process requiring you to copy the new firmware on a portable storage device in order to load it on the device manually later on. Some devices, for example, DSL routers have a dedicated interface with a section to control and install firmware updates.
We always recommend installing the latest firmware updates as soon as they are released by manufacturers. Try to make all needed preparations to prevent device shutdown during firmware updates as it may have serious consequences that might even affect its works. In most cases, it is enough just to let the updater to finish without using the device.
What is the difference between firmware and software?
We often see terms “firmware” and “software” used as interchangeable – one program or a set of computer programs required to perform particular tasks on the machine. It is not correct. The work it does defines the category of the program.
Here is a simple explanation. The software is a virtual thing so that it can be altered, deleted, and copied. Just like any other file stored in the computer’s memory, the software can be accessed by the user at any time and replaced. It is not the case with firmware as it is often stored within devices. Thus it cannot be replaced by the user. Firmware is critical for any device, so it is done deliberately to protect the device. If the chip with firmware is removed or damaged, it may cause severe consequences.
Unlike firmware, software is updated rather regularly. The information in it is often modified each time you use the corresponding application. The firmware contains basic instructions for devices, so it does not really need regular updates. In most situations, there is no need to change/alter firmware configuration on devices.