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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A typical firmware-controlled device: a television remote control. Consumer products like this have been using firmware since the 1970s.

In electronic systems and computing, firmware is the combination of persistent memory and program [1] code and data stored in it. Typical examples of devices containing firmware areembedded systems (such as traffic lights, consumer appliances, and digital watches), computers, computer peripherals, mobile phones, and digital cameras. The firmware contained in these devices provides the control program for the device. Firmware is held in non-volatilememory devices such as ROM, EPROM, or flash memory. Changing the firmware of a device may rarely or never be done during its economic lifetime; some firmware memory devices are permanently installed and cannot be changed after manufacture. Common reasons for updating firmware include fixing bugs or adding features to the device. [citation needed] This may require physically changing ROM integrated circuits , or reprogramming flash memory [2] with a special procedure. Firmware such as the ROM BIOS of a personal computer may contain only elementary basic functions of a device and may only provide services to higher-level software. Firmware such as the program of an embedded system may be the only program that will run on the system and provide all of its functions. Before integrated circuits, other firmware devices included a discrete semiconductor diode matrix. The Apollo guidance computer had firmware consisting of a specially manufactured core memory plane, called "core rope memory", where data was stored by physically threading wires through (1) or around (0) [3] the core storing each data bit.

1 Origin of the term 2 Personal computers 3 Consumer products 4 Automobiles 5 Examples 6 Firmware hacking 7 See also

8 References

Origin of the term[edit]

Ascher Opler coined the term "firmware" in a 1967 Datamation article. Originally, it meant the contents of a writable control store (a small specialized high speed memory), containing microcode that defined and implemented the computer's instruction set, and that could be reloaded to specialize or modify the instructions that the central processing unit (CPU) could execute. As originally used, firmware contrasted with hardware (the CPU itself) and software (normal instructions executing on a CPU). It was not composed of CPU machine instructions, but of lower-level microcode involved in the implementation of machine instructions. It existed on the boundary between hardware and software; thus the name "firmware". Still later, popular usage extended the word "firmware" to denote anything ROM-resident, including processor machine-instructions forBIOS, bootstrap loaders, or specialized applications. Until the mid-1990s, updating firmware typically involved replacing a storage medium containing firmware, usually a socketed ROM. Flash memory allows firmware to be updated without physically removing an integrated circuit from the system. An error during the upgrade process may make the device nonfunctional, or "bricked".

Personal computers[edit]

ROM BIOS firmware on a Baby ATmotherboard

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, USB drives, have firmware stored internally. Some devices may permit field replacement of firmware. Some low-cost peripherals no longer contain non-volatile memory for firmware, and instead rely on the [5] host system to transfer the device control program from a disk file or CD.

Consumer products[edit]

As of 2010 most portable music players support firmware upgrades. Some companies use firmware updates to add new playable file formats (encodings); iriver added the Vorbis format this way, for instance. 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, illustrating the fact that firmware is used at more than one level in complex products (in a CPU-like microcontroller versus in a digital signal processor, in this particular case).

Since 1996 most automobiles have employed an on-board computer and various sensors to detect mechanical problems. As of 2010modern vehicles also employ computer-controlled ABS systems and computer-operated Transmission Control Units (TCU). 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.

Examples of firmware include: In consumer products: Timing and control systems for washing machines Controlling sound and video attributes, as well as the channel list, in modern TVs EPROM chips used in the Eventide H-3000 series of digital music processors

In computers: The BIOS found in IBM-compatible personal computers The (U)EFI-compliant firmware used on Itanium systems, Intel-based computers from Apple, and many Intel desktop computer motherboards Open Firmware, used in SPARC-based computers from Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corporation, PowerPC-based computers from Apple, and computers from Genesi ARCS, used in computers from Silicon Graphics Kickstart, used in the Amiga line of computers (POST, hardware init + Plug and Play autoconfiguration of peripherals, kernel, etc.) RTAS (Run-Time Abstraction Services), used in computers from IBM The Common Firmware Environment (CFE)

In routers and firewalls: OpenWRT - open source firewall/router OS based on Linux m0n0wall - embedded firewall distribution of FreeBSD IPFire - free Linux router and firewall distribution fli4l - - free Linux router and firewall distribution

In NAS systems: NAS4Free - open source NAS OS based on FreeBSD 9.1 Openfiler - free Linux based NAS OS

Firmware hacking[edit]
Sometimes third parties create an unofficial new or modified ("aftermarket") version of firmware to provide new features or to unlock hidden functionality. Examples include: Rockbox for digital audio players. CHDK

and Magic Lantern


for Canon digital cameras.

Nikon Hacker project for Nikon EXPEED DSLRs. Many third-party firmware projects for wireless routers, including: OpenWrt for wireless routers.

RouterTech for ADSL modem/routers based on the Texas Instruments AR7 chipset (with the Pspboot or Adam2 bootloader).

List of wireless router firmware projects


Firmware that allows DVD drives to be region-free. SamyGO, modified firmware for Samsung televisions. Many homebrew projects for gaming consoles. These often unlock general-purpose computing functionality in previously limited devices (e.g., running Doom on iPods).

Most firmware hacks are free and open source software as well. These hacks usually take advantage of the firmware update facility on many devices to install or run themselves. Some, however, must resort to exploits in order to run, because the manufacturer has attempted to lock the hardware to stop it from running unlicensed code. Newer custom firmware hacks have also focused on injecting malware in devices such as smartphones. [9][10] One such injection was demonstrated on the Symbian OS at MalCon, a hacker convention.

See also[edit]

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In computing, firmware is a computer program that is "embedded" in a hardware device, that is, an essential part of the hardware.[1] It is sometimes called embedded software. An example is a microcontroller, a part of the microprocessor that tells the microprocessor what actions to take. It can also be a larger program stored on flash memory, or uploaded onto existing hardware by a user. As its name suggests, firmware is somewhere between hardware and software, connecting the two worlds. It can mean slightly different things to different people, especially as stand-alone electronic devices become more like computers. Like other software, it is a computer program which is run by a microprocessor. But it is also linked to a piece of hardware and has no meaning without it.

1 On a Computer 2 On an Electronic Device 3 Examples 4 Other pages 5 References

On a Computer[change | edit source]

A computer can have both firmware and software - the firmware is permanently stored in the computer, such as the BIOS, and cannot be easily changed or added to. Software, even the OS can be replaced by reformatting the hard drive, for example. Software includes the applications that a person operating a computer sees, like the web browser or a word processor. Sometimes a device driver is called firmware, since it is needed to run that piece of hardware, like a printer or a video card. The device driver is on the main part of the computer and can be easily updated (if an update exists).

On an Electronic Device[change | edit source]

Other electronic devices may not look like a computer, but they still have a program inside telling them what to do. This is also called firmware. A TV cable box, an elevator controller, a card reader in a hotel door lock, all run firmware. In this case, the firmware is the only software on the device and it runs everything, from handling button presses to turning motors on or off. In the past, firmware was stored in ROMs but now it is stored in media that can be written to such as EEPROMs and Flash. Firmware in many machines such as routers can now be updated without any special

hardware, other than a computer and a USB cable. This is done by downloading a new version from the World Wide Web to update the device, using instructions from the device manufacturer. An electronic device is said to be "bricked" if it cannot be started because of firmware issues, because it is then as useful as a brick. Loading the wrong firmware into a device might cause this. Firmware is stored as a binary image file.

Examples[change | edit source]

Examples of firmware include:

The BIOS found in IBM-compatible Personal Computers; Code inside a printer (in addition to the printer driver that is on the computer); Software controlling a heart defibrillator Software controlling the lights in an office building Software controlling electronics in a car - the radio, the ABS (anti-lock braking system), engine controls, etc.

Software controlling newer household appliances (microwave ovens, dishwashers, etc)