Update firmware

Want to upgrade your computer for free? Here’s how.
 
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  • Updated:3 Jan 2006
 

01 .Introduction

Update-firmware-iStock
Firmware, as the name suggests, is somewhere between hardware and software. It's like an operating system located on your hardware that controls its basic functions. These days, all hardware devices use firmware — expansion cards and USB adapters, optical and storage drives, digital cameras and other peripherals, even your mobile phone.

Firmware used to be read-only — it limited what the hardware could do. Nowadays, however, most firmware can be updated to give your hardware new features and capabilities. A common example of a firmware upgrade is a broadband modem upgrade. Many people can install new firmware on an existing modem in order to take advantage of the new broadband technology ADSL2, rather than having to buy a new one.

You could make your DVD burner able to use faster DVD media, turn your ADSL modem into an ADSL2 modem in an instant, or give your computer the ability to handle USB 2.0, all by updating the firmware.

Please note: this information was current as of January 2006 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


When to upgrade

  • If your hardware's working well, there's no need to update the firmware. But firmware can add capabilities to existing hardware — if you can't read a DVD that a friend burned for you, it could be a firmware-related issue.
  • If you think a firmware upgrade could solve your problem, the first step is to gather information. Firmware upgrades performed incorrectly — for example applying the firmware for the wrong model - can render your hardware unusable.
  • For this reason, it's vital that you identify your model and its current firmware before you proceed.

TIP: Firmware upgrades performed incorrectly — for example applying the firmware for the wrong model — can render your hardware unusable. For this reason, it’s vital that you identify your model and its current firmware before you proceed.

Identification

It can be tricky to locate your hardware model number.

The best spots to try are:

  • The box, if you still have it
  • The user manual
  • The hardware itself. The model number may be attached as a label, printed on the circuit board or engraved into the chassis.
  • Hardware with its own software interface, may list the firmware on a screen within that software. This is often the case for digital cameras or broadband modems.
  • The start-up screen. Some systems (but not all) display information about the model of motherboard, optical drive and other components installed in your computer when you press the pause/break key as your computer starts.
  • The Windows Device Manager:
    • Start
    • Control Panel
    • Performance and Maintenance
    • System Hardware
    • Device Manager
    • System Devices.
  • Diagnostic software, such as Sisoft Sandra Lite, downloadable from www.sisoftware.net.

Once you have the model number, check your hardware's firmware revision at the manufacturer's website. It should include information about how to check your current firmware, if needed.

 
 

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02.Update your DVD burner

 

The most common reason to upgrade a DVD burner’s firmware is to add support for additional CD or DVD media.

All manufacturers use slightly different procedures and you may find you need to log in as an administrator before updating, uninstall packet writing software (such as DirectCD or InCD), disable certain drive properties or even reconnect the drive to your computer in a certain configuration before you can upgrade firmware.

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions — we’ve listed some common steps that should serve as guidelines.
  • Download firmware to match the exact model of your drive from the manufacturer’s website. Keep in mind that model numbers may have only slight variations but a 1693S is different to a 1693SX.
  • Unless the manufacturer confirms that you can use the firmware update for your exact model, don’t use it. There may not be a firmware upgrade for your model.
    Make sure, too, that the firmware’s suitable for your operating system and system specifications, where the manufacturer offers different versions of firmware for a single hardware model.
  • Once you’ve confirmed that there’s an available firmware upgrade for your model and system specifications, download it. Before you begin installation, ensure that the drive is empty — remove CDs or DVDs and close all other programs so that nothing interrupts the update process, then disconnect the internet.

If you use broadband:

  • Start
  • Control Panel
  • Network and Internet Connections
  • Network Connections
  • Select your internet connection
  • right-click
  • Disable (remember to enable it again once the upgrade is complete).
  • Switch off your screen saver and antivirus program

Once you’re prepared, run the update — this may mean unzipping a file, then running an application, or it may just involve double-clicking a file. Most firmware updaters (but not all) show you a list of drives found, including the current firmware installed, and an option to start the update or exit.

Don’t touch the drive and leave the computer alone while the firmware update is occurring and don’t use your keyboard or mouse. You can’t cancel the update once it has begun. Wait until you see a message saying that the firmware has updated successfully, then restart your computer. Always check that the drive works as expected.

03.Update your broadband modem

 

Broadband modem firmware updates often take advantage of new security protocols or faster speeds.

As with DVD burners, each product’s different, and there’s a lot of variation in how a firmware upgrade is accomplished. We can provide a general idea of what tasks are involved, but you should always check with your modem’s manufacturer before proceeding. Instructions that work for one model won’t always work for another so get specific help for your product.

  • Configurations and settings may be lost during the update. Write them down before you start.
  • The current firmware revision is usually listed within the web interface for your modem. Status or utilities pages are the most likely spots to find this information — look for the ‘software version’ or ‘firmware revision’.
  • Download the firmware upgrade from the manufacturer’s website. Most modems are updated from within the web interface — log in through a standard address (such as 192.168.1.1) and check the settings for an option to update firmware. If you’re not sure where to find it, check the user manual. When you run the firmware update, you’ll usually need to locate and select the file you downloaded to begin the update process. It’s important that you don’t touch your modem, cable or computer while the upgrade occurs.
  • Depending on the manufacturer and model, you may have to restart the modem or reset it to factory defaults once the upgrade is complete.

Wireless modem/routers must generally connect directly to a computer for firmware upgrades and you may need to assign your computer a specific network address before upgrading.

Firmware upgrades frequently change the web interface — you may find that options and settings have moved around within the layout. Most manufacturers release a new manual to go with each firmware upgrade to cover such changes.

Glossary

Web interface: Browser-based access to settings and preferences, usually located by typing in a standard web address.

04.Third party firmware

 

The manufacturer is your first port of call for firmware upgrades and changes, but you’ll commonly find third party firmware revisions for DVD-ROM drives or burners online.

  • While the features provided are often highly desirable (a region-free DVD drive, for example, or extra features for your burner), there’s no support if things go wrong.
  • There’s no warranty or guarantee that they’ll do the job and if you choose to use them the responsibility for any errors, problems or mistakes is entirely yours.
  • Modified drives or hardware aren’t supported by manufacturers.

DVD-ROMs

PC DVD-ROM drives are region-coded and many only allow five region changes before they lock into a single region. 'Flashing' utilities provided by third parties are available online to remove region coding.

Burners

Crossgrade utilities provided by third parties can turn one model of burner into another by the same manufacturer and provide additional features.

What if it all goes wrong?

Despite preparation and care, things can and do go wrong with firmware upgrades. We don’t recommend upgrading firmware if you’re reasonably new to computers. Sometimes the firmware doesn’t successfully install, in which case you can try again or contact the manufacturer for help. Your hardware should function normally if an upgrade doesn’t take.

An interruption to a firmware upgrade can render your hardware unusable. The manufacturer may be able to assist, but it’s likely to mean sending the hardware back for repair.

If you make an error selecting the firmware, however, you may not receive any help or support. Given that an error can result in an unusable piece of hardware, we were disappointed with the information available from manufacturers. It’s far too common to find only a file for download, with no attached instructions.

We’d like to see hardware manufacturers provide clear, unambiguous instructions for updating firmware. We’d also like to see more firmware update utilities that diagnose and update hardware automatically to alleviate confusion.

Sounds too hard?

You can ask a technician or service centre to install firmware updates for you if you don’t feel qualified.

Glossary:

Crossgrade: A firmware upgrade that allows one product model to mimic another.