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Encyclopedia > Firmware
A microcontroller, like this PIC18F8720 is controlled by firmware stored inside on FLASH memory

In computing, firmware is a computer program that is embedded in a hardware device, for example a microcontroller. It can also be provided on flash ROMs or as a binary image file that can be uploaded onto existing hardware by a user. Image File history File links PIC18F8720. ... Image File history File links PIC18F8720. ... A USB flash drive. ... RAM (Random Access Memory) Look up computing in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Computer software (or simply software) refers to one or more computer programs and data held in the storage of a computer for some purpose. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with embedded microprocessor. ... Flash memory is a form of EEPROM that allows multiple memory locations to be erased or written in one programming operation. ... A Hexdump of a JPEG image. ...


As its name suggests, firmware is somewhere between hardware and software. Like software, it is a computer program which is executed by a computer. But it is also an intimate and vital part of a piece of hardware, and has little meaning outside of that particular hardware.

Contents

Origins

A typical vision of a computer architecture as a series of abstraction layers: hardware, firmware, assembler, kernel, operating system and applications (see also Tanenbaum 79).
A typical vision of a computer architecture as a series of abstraction layers: hardware, firmware, assembler, kernel, operating system and applications (see also Tanenbaum 79).

The term "firmware" was originally used for micro-programs written for micro sequencers such as AMD29xx. Later on, it was coined to indicate a functional replacement for hardware on low-cost microprocessors. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... A typical vision of a computer architecture as a series of abstraction layers: hardware, firmware, assembler, kernel, operating system and applications (see also Tanenbaum 79). ... For other uses, see Hardware (disambiguation). ... See the terminology section, below, regarding inconsistent use of the terms assembly and assembler. ... A kernel connects the application software to the hardware of a computer. ... // An operating system (OS) is the software that manages the sharing of the resources of a computer. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... A microprogram is a program consisting of microcode that controls the different parts of a computers central processing unit (CPU). ...


In practical terms, firmware updates can improve the performance and reliability, indeed even the basic available functionality of a device, and many devices benefit from regular firmware updates. One of the most common devices to have regular firmware updates are recording devices such as optical media writers (DVD, CD, HD DVD, Blu-ray), as media technologies extend, so firmware updates ensure hardware is kept up to date and compatible.


Evolved firmware uses

Firmware has evolved to mean the programmable content of a hardware device, which can consist of machine language instructions for a processor, or configuration settings for a fixed-function device, gate array or programmable logic device.


A common feature of firmware is that it can be updated post-manufacturing, either electronically, or by replacing a storage medium such as a socketed memory chip.


Firmware can — but is not required to — expose an externally accessible interface. For example, in some modem implementations the firmware is not directly accessible, but
is part of a combination of hardware and firmware that responds to commands from the host system.


Firmware has traditionally been stored in ROM, however cost and performance requirements have driven component vendors to adopt various replacements, including non-volatile media such as EEPROM and Flash, or SRAM solutions, such as the firmware loaded by an operating system device driver, as described below.


Firmware and device drivers

Most devices attached to modern systems are special-purpose computers in their own right, running their own software. Some of these devices store that software ("firmware") in a ROM within the device itself. Over the years, however, manufacturers have found that loading the firmware from the host system is both cheaper and more flexible. As a result, much current hardware is unable to function in any useful way until the host computer has fed it the requisite firmware. This firmware load is handled by the device driver. Windows XP loading drivers during a Safe Mode bootup A device driver, or a software driver is a specific type of computer software, typically developed to allow interaction with hardware devices. ...


Firmware in many devices can now be updated without the need for additional hardware, often through the use of vendor-provided software.


Firmware support challenges in PCs

In some respects firmware is as much a software component of a working system as the operating system. However, unlike most modern operating systems, firmware rarely has a well evolved mechanism for updating itself to fix bugs and addressing functionality issues that are detected after the unit is shipped.


The easiest firmware to update is typically the system boot-related firmware, such as the BIOS in PCs. Some devices, such as video adapters and modems, frequently rely on firmware that is loaded dynamically by the operating system device driver, and thus is updated through the operating system update mechanisms entirely transparent to the user.


In contrast, storage device firmware is rarely updated with the same consistency as other parts of the system. Further, the mechanisms for detecting firmware versions and updating them are not standardized. As a result, these devices tend to have a significantly higher percentage of firmware-driven functionality issues, as compared to other parts of a modern computer system.


Examples

Examples of firmware include:

  • The BIOS found in IBM-compatible Personal Computers;
  • The platform code found on Itanium and Itanium2 systems, Intel-based Mac OS X machines, and many Intel desktop boards is EFI compliant firmware;
  • Open Firmware, used in computers from Sun Microsystems and Apple Computer;
  • ARCS, used in computers from Silicon Graphics;
  • RTAS (Run-Time Abstraction Services), used in computers from IBM;
  • EPROM chips used in the Eventide H-3000 series of digital music processors.
  • Adding features on the PSP
  • The PS3 has updates similar to the PSP
  • The iPod's control menus
  • The Xbox 360 Dashboard Updates (like including 1080p HDTV Resolutions)
  • The Common Firmware Environment (CFE)
  • Timing and control systems for Washing machines
  • FPGA and CPLD programming files used to configure hardware for a variety of purposes.

This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Itanium is the brand name for 64-bit Intel Microprocessors that implement the Intel Itanium architecture (formerly called IA-64). ... The Itanium 2 is an IA-64 architecture microprocessor developed jointly by Hewlett-Packard and Intel, introduced on July 8, 2002. ... Mac OS X (IPA: ) is a line of graphical operating systems developed, marketed, and sold by Apple Inc. ... The workings of the Extensible Firmware Interface The Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) is a software interface between an operating system and platform firmware. ... Open Firmware (also, OpenBoot) is a hardware-independent firmware (computer software which loads the operating system), developed by Mitch Bradley at Sun Microsystems, and used in post-NuBus PowerPC-based Apple Macintosh computers, Sun Microsystems SPARC based workstations and servers, IBM POWER systems, Pegasos systems, and the laptop designed by... Sun Microsystems, Inc. ... Apple Inc. ... ARCS is a firmware bootloader (also known as a PROM console) used in most computers produced by SGI since the beginning of the 1990s. ... Silicon Graphics, Inc. ... This page is a candidate to be copied to Wiktionary. ... IBM redirects here. ... EPROM. The small quartz window admits UV light during erasure. ... The PlayStation Portable , officially abbreviated as PSP) is a handheld game console released and currently manufactured by Sony Computer Entertainment. ... “PS3” redirects here. ... The PlayStation Portable , officially abbreviated as PSP) is a handheld game console released and currently manufactured by Sony Computer Entertainment. ... iPod (fifth generation) in Apple Universal Dock, iPod nano (second generation) and iPod shuffle (second generation) iPod is a brand of portable media players designed and marketed by Apple and launched in 2001. ... It has been suggested that Xbox 360 Elite be merged into this article or section. ... 1080p is the shorthand name for a category of display resolutions. ... High-definition television (HDTV) means broadcast of television signals with a higher resolution than traditional formats (NTSC, SECAM, PAL) allow. ... Front-loading washing machine. ... A field-programmable gate array or FPGA is a gate array that can be reprogrammed after it is manufactured, rather than having its programming fixed during the manufacturing — a programmable logic device. ... An Altera MAX 7000-series CPLD with 2500 gates. ...

See also

A ROM image, or simply ROM, is a computer file which contains a copy of the data from a read-only memory chip, often from a video game cartridge, a computers firmware, or from an arcade games main board. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... LinuxBIOS is a free software project, endorsed by the Free Software Foundation,[1] aimed at replacing the proprietary BIOS firmware found in most computers with a lightweight firmware system designed to perform only the minimum of tasks necessary to load and run a modern 32-bit operating system. ... A microprogram is a program consisting of microcode that controls the different parts of a computers central processing unit (CPU). ...

References

External links


 
 

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