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How to explain firmware?

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Regular Advisor

How to explain firmware?

How do you explain what firmware updates are to someone? I have a general idea but I don't know a good way to describe it. Thanks
Craig Rants
Honored Contributor

Re: How to explain firmware?

Do they understand Windows terminology? You could compare it the BIOS or CMOS of a PC. I don't know how detailed you want you explanation, but most people go for that.

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is. " Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut
harry d brown jr
Honored Contributor

Re: How to explain firmware?


Firmware is programming that is inserted into programmable read-only memory (programmable ROM ), thus becoming a permanent part of a computing device. Firmware is created and tested like software (using microcode simulation). When ready, it can be distributed like other software and, using a special user interface, installed in the programmable read-only memory by the user. Firmware is sometimes distributed for printers, modems, and other computer devices.


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Scott Van Kalken
Esteemed Contributor

Re: How to explain firmware?

If it's someone who knows a little bit about PC's - I tend to use the example of a PC BIOS.

If it's someone who knows nothing about PC's, I use the example of the onboard computer in your car (if it's a recent car).

If you take your car to a mechanic, they get everything they need off the onboard computer, sometimes they update it.

Make sense as an example?

A. Clay Stephenson
Acclaimed Contributor

Re: How to explain firmware?

Hi Kathleen:

Firmware falls in the realm of both hardware and software although it's really software.

Firmware enables a machine to bootstrap itself (pull itself up by it's own bootstraps). The job of firmware is to give a machine the basic instructions on how to locate devices, how to communicate with devices, and what instructions to execute when the machine is first powered on. One of the most important reasons to update firmware is so that the machine can recognize new types of hardware.

Firmware also includes the interactive monitor software - the stuff that you see if you interrupt the boot process. The firmware is typically stored on non-volitile devices like EEPROM's though it the good old days to update firmware you literally removed one set of PROM's and replaced them with another.

Hope that helps, Clay

If it ain't broke, I can fix that.
John Payne_2
Honored Contributor

Re: How to explain firmware?

What has been said already explains what firmware is, but here is another post that talks about who should be incharge of it. (In case that is your next question...),,0x4bc2a2db8513d6118ff40090279cd0f9,00.html

Hope it helps.
Darrell Allen
Honored Contributor

Re: How to explain firmware?

Hi Kathleen,

It is difficult to explain things we just "know", isn't it?

How about the online Encarta dictionary definition from

firm??ware [f??rm w??ir ] noun
software stored on a memory chip: a set of computer instructions used so frequently that it is stored on a memory chip in a computer rather than being part of a program. See also software See also hardware

[Firm from the fact that the instructions will not be lost when the power is shut off]

I think I'd tell a non-techie that unlike software, it's not lost when the power is turned off and unlike hardware, it is programming that can be updated.

I might add that it is updated infrequently but used frequently, particularly to instruct hardware in how to work.


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Regular Advisor

Re: How to explain firmware?

These are a great help. Our office secretary is working up some support contract bids and I was trying to tell her what predictive did. I got on the line of firmware updates and tried explaining but I don't think I was doing a very good job. These help alot! Thanks SO much!