Software updates aren’t just for PCs any more. Here’s how to fix bugs and add new features to your existing hardware with a few easy patches.
Loyd Case, PC World
These days, most of your electronics have miniature computers built-in: Home-theater gear, handheld devices, phones, and even appliances now have embedded smarts in the form of a microprocessor, memory, and software. And just like computer software, firmware–the software that runs on your gadgets–needs periodic updating.
Believe it or not, many new gadgets aren’t 100 percent complete when you buy them. Though a spiffy electronic toy may perform its basic functions, some of its promised features may be absent or incomplete. And to keep up with ever-changing kinds of content, your devices may require software enhancements to give old hardware new features.
To avoid antagonizing customers who might spend hundreds of dollars on a cool piece of hardware only to find a few months later that it no longer worked, manufacturers design much of their gear to allow updates. You won’t be able to get every feature of the latest and greatest product via downloadable updates, but firmware revisions can make your old equipment run faster and crash less often.
What Is Firmware?
Firmware is software stored in persistent memory–usually either flash memory or programmable, rewritable ROM (read-only memory)–that’s built into the device. Unlike apps loaded into your PC’s RAM, firmware doesn’t get erased when you power the system down. Firmware may store just the basic software needed to start up the system–like a PC’s BIOS–or it may store the entire operating system and applications suites, as with smartphones.