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What Is Firmware?

More Than You Ever Needed To Know…


Welcome back my loyal readers. The Tech Guy is back from a wonderful summer at calculator camp and I am ready to lay down some knowledge for y’all. I think a great topic for discussion is firmware, yes mysteries of firmware are about to be revealed to you, my loyal readers.

As far as an explanation of firmware let’s start with the definition. Firmware is the link between Hardware and Software. The firmware is the set of instructions (similar to software) that is programmed on a chip inside the device (hardware); it contains all of the programming that makes the device do whatever it is that the device should do. Let’s look at DVD burners as an example, like the kind in an Accutower DVD duplicator. The firmware is basically what makes a burner a burner. Included in the firmware is a table that tells the drive how to burn on different media, for example, how fast the disc should spin, how intense the laser should be, how quickly the laser should flash on and off, even what the drive will do when the eject button is pressed. Basically the firmware is what gives the drive its capabilities.

It is important to realize that firmware has been around for decades and is in a lot of the devices that you use everyday. Almost every component in your computer has firmware. Your DVD player, your TiVo, your iPod, your cell phone, your DVD duplicator, all have firmware, even your microwave oven has firmware.

Because the firmware is programming, it can be updated from time to time to fix problems and even enhance capabilities. Let’s get back to our example of the DVD burner. In the case of a DVD burner, firmware updates can help the drive to burn better and recognize more media. When the drive leaves the factory it is programmed with the latest firmware available. As time passes, problems can be identified or new media may be released that the drive may not fully understand. These issues can often be solved with a firmware update, often called "flashing".
Old EPROM Chip (Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory)
To flash a device you will need to follow the instructions from the manufacturer, who will usually provide a detailed procedure or a PC utility to perform the update. As an example, to update the firmware in your Accutower DVD duplicator, you burn the firmware to a disc and use the menu option for “Update Firmware”.

Once the burner is updated you should have the highest compatibility and functionality available. This is also another argument that supports using name brand media, because the drive manufacturers will address issues that support media from name brand manufacturers, and not the generics. Firmware is often overlooked and is the best chance of solving most burning issues. (I make this bold because it is the most profound thing I have said in a long time)

In case you wanted to know, the term "flashing" comes from old EPROM computer chips that were erased with flashes of UV light, EPROM stands for (Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory). New EEPROM Chip (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) The chips had a small window that was uncovered and flashed with a bright UV light to erase the data. These older chips were eventually replaced with EEPROM chips that are cheaper and more reliable, EEPROM chips are erased electrically instead of with light, EEPROM stands for (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory). So remember not to take your old EPROMS into the tanning bed with you.

The Tech Guy is back and I promise you new articles are in the works and coming soon!