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What Is Firmware in Computer Systems?

December 17, 2019 No Comments

Featured article by Adam Edmond, Independent Technology Author

Most people have heard of software or hardware, but if you are simply an average tech user who knows how to navigate a smartphone and not much else, you are likely unfamiliar with the word “firmware.” Yet firmware is essential to the operation of any computerized system, so it is important to understand what it means as well as how you can use it to your advantage.

Firmware is a permanent part of a hardware device, such as a keyboard, hard drive, or video card. It is what is programmed into a specific device to allow it to communicate with other devices. In the case of the keyboard, for example, a blue tooth keyboard contains certain firmware that signals to the computer that the keyboard needs to connect with it—without you touching a button.

These instructions, which are embedded into software stored on a small memory chip on the motherboard, are called BIOS (pronounced by-oss), or Basic Input Output System, and they control both the input and output functions of a device. BIOS firmware, for example, is responsible for the Power-On Self-Test (POST) that occurs when you first start your computer.

In layman’s terms, pre-installed BIOS firmware makes it possible to operate your computer. It is the first software that begins to run the moment you physically boot up your computer. It also provides start-up services to operating systems and programs. On top of that, its settings are non-volatile, meaning that even if a device loses power for some reason, its settings will still be saved.

Firmware is not only critically important for turning on your computer, but it is also instrumental in creating potentially life-saving research tools. Firmware development companies are routinely involved in the creation of medical devices for the healthcare industry as well as those used for educational purposes, industrial automation, and consumer electronics.

In one instance, firmware development services played a key role in a University of London study that examined the effect of exposure to noise on the cardiovascular systems of children and adults. Firmware was created so that the portable electrocardiogram device researchers developed, which was used to track participants’ heart rates along with individual noise levels, could record the data and send it to mobile phones via Bluetooth.

Another project involved improving existing software for robots, which were used as part of a learning program for 9-14-year-old students to learn to code. Part of the project also involved creating a portal where students could interact with the robots. While specific processes were involved, firmware development was essential in the successful execution of the project.

So, in a nutshell, that’s firmware. Summed up, it is the software embedded into a device (or piece of hardware) that makes your electronics function without you even thinking about it. This could include but is not limited to the software that maintains the clock settings on your computer or the software inside of televisions and other appliances.

Now that you understand firmware, you can officially add one more word to your technical vocabulary!

DATA and ANALYTICS , SECURITY

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