Firmware and BIOS Updates: Overview

October 13, 2011, By Christian Cawley

Pretty much all devices that you find in your home – from a microwave oven to a mobile phone – have an embedded operating system running on the processors and memory. This OS is designed to allow you to use the gadget or device as necessary, but many pieces of hardware are actually incomplete when first purchased.

While the minimum feature set is available, some hardware has an absence of capable features. These can be enabled thanks to a firmware update, the name given to the process of installing a new version of the embedded system software onto your equipment.

The result of this is that many manufacturers design hardware to allow updates. Some might be sold at a lower price point if only a few features are enabled, for instance, while more expensive but similar items have more features ready to use. This means that with the right upgrades a piece of low-cost hardware can be reconfigured to offer the same features as a more expensive item.

So, firmware updates are powerful – but how do they relate to a Windows or Linux PC?


Firmware Updates for Blu-ray Players

If you have a Blu-ray player installed in your PC, this might need regular firmware updates to allow you to view features that might be introduced with revisions to the Blu-ray standard. Before proceeding you should check the recommendations of the manufacturer, and the following rules of thumb should help when it comes to the job of upgrading firmware:

Confirm that you have a reliable power source: if your computer plugs into the wall this shouldn’t be a problem; for mobile phones or laptops, however, you should never rely on battery power.

If possible, create firmware backup: the current state of your hardware should be backed up as new firmware may introduce a bug that can only be removed by restoring the old version.

Log any changes: making a note of any changes that you have made to your device may prove useful as some firmware backups can reset the device settings.

Updating PC or Laptop BIOS

You can also update your PC’s firmware. This is known as the BIOS (although in some com putters it might be the extensible firmware interface or EFI) and features settings for various aspects of your computer, such as fan speed, CPU clock speed, boot order and various other settings.

The process of updating the BIOS differs from computer to computer; some will allow you to run an update program via the operating system, but most rely on the update being saved to a removable disk (typically a USB stick) which is then used to update the firmware from within the BIOS.

Updating a PC motherboard BIOS has been quite tricky in the past, but over the last few years the process has been refined, and now pretty much anyone can manage to perform this task. We’ll take a look at the whole process from beginning to end later in the week.

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