Uses of Firmware

Personal computers

In some respects, the various firmware components are as important as the operating system in a working computer. However, unlike most modern operating systems, firmware rarely has a well-evolved automatic mechanism of updating itself to fix any functionality issues detected after shipping the unit.

The BIOS may be “manually” updated by a user, using a small utility program. In contrast, firmware in storage devices (harddisks, DVD drives, flash storage) rarely gets updated, even when flash (rather than ROM) storage is used for the firmware; there are no standardized mechanisms for detecting or updating firmware versions.

Most computer peripherals are themselves special-purpose computers. Devices such as printers, scanners, cameras, and USB flash drives have internally stored firmware; some devices may also permit field upgrading of their firmware.

Some low-cost peripherals no longer contain non-volatile memory for firmware, and instead rely on the host system to transfer the device control program from a disk file or CD.

Consumer products

As of 2010, most portable music players support firmware upgrades. Some companies use firmware updates to add new playable file formats (codecs). Other features that may change with firmware updates include the GUI or even the battery life. Most mobile phones have a Firmware Over The Air firmware upgrade capability for much the same reasons; some may even be upgraded to enhance reception or sound quality.

Automobiles

Since 1996, most automobiles have employed an on-board computer and various sensors to detect mechanical problems. As of 2010, modern vehicles also employ computer-controlled anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and computer-operated transmission control units (TCUs). The driver can also get in-dash information while driving in this manner, such as real-time fuel economy and tire pressure readings. Local dealers can update most vehicle firmware.

Leave a Reply