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A Guide to the Different Types of Firmware



A Guide to the Different Types of Firmware


Companies waste about a third or more of their IT budget on unnecessary products and services. If you’re trying to cut costs, don’t ignore your company’s firmware updates.

What exactly is firmware, and what different types of firmware are available for your business? Read on to find out.

Reviewing this guide will help you make more informed decisions about your company’s technology needs. Determine what types of firmware you need to prioritize today.

What Is Firmware?

Firmware is programming. It’s written into a device’s non-volatile memory (static, random access memory). Non-volatile memory remains on your hardware device even when it’s turned off.

During the manufacturing process, companies install firmware directly onto pieces of hardware.

Firmware is used to run programs on the device. While it’s thought of as software, there is a difference between firmware and software. Firmware enables the hardware to function properly.

Some hardware manufacturers use embedded firmware to control a device’s various functions. It’s sometimes written into:

  • Flash memory
  • Erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM)
  • Read-only memory

Think of firmware as a microprogram that falls between software and hardware.

Firmware exists on everything from Internet of Things (IoT) devices to our smartphones.

Firmware vs Software

Some people think of firmware as a type of software. However, there are differences between these types of technology.

Firmware provides basic machine instructions to a piece of hardware. It ensures the hardware functions and communicates with other software on the device.

Firmware also offers the device’s hardware with low-level control.

Sometimes, firmware is called “software for hardware.”

Firmware instructs a piece of hardware to communicate with devices, start up, or perform basic tasks. Software is used for interaction like videoconferencing, listening to music, word processing, or browsing the internet.

One of the biggest differences between firmware and software is that firmware is not designed to be user-friendly. Software, on the other hand, can improve the user experience. Software is meant for users and allows them to accomplish specific tasks.

The software uses firmware to communicate with a piece of hardware.

While the firmware is bound to the underlying hardware, the software isn’t.


Using firmware is essential to your company’s daily operations. Updates can help fix bugs, roll out new features on a device, or improve a device’s security. For example, it can help prevent firmware hacks.

Each update tells the hardware how to behave in a modified or new way.

Updating your firmware on a routine basis ensures the hardware is operating securely and efficiently. Some updates involve program alterations to fix bugs or create patches against specific vulnerabilities. Failing to update your firmware could leave the hardware vulnerable.

You should upgrade your devices with the latest hardware to:

  • Save money on repairs and maintenance
  • Ensure components work as intended
  • Improve firmware performance
  • Upgrade devices without upgrading hardware
  • Fix issues
  • Install new features and functions
  • Improve execution times

Most internet-connected devices check for an update and install the firmware automatically. Some device manufacturers, however, require users to download the new firmware update to install it manually. It’s important to check for regular updates to ensure your firmware is up-to-date.

For example, you can find firmware files for different mobile brands from XDA Firmware here.

How often a device needs updating will vary depending on the device.


All firmware is usually categorized based on the level of hardware integration. The three main categories include:

  • Low-level firmware
  • High-level firmware
  • Subsystem firmware

Low-level firmware is an intrinsic part of a device’s hardware. It’s stored on read-only, non-volatile chips. As a result, you can’t rewrite or update low-level firmware.

Any device containing low-level firmware will only have a one-time programmable memory.

High-level firmware, on the other hand, allows updates. It’s usually more complex. If you’re upgrading the firmware on a computer, it’s likely located on the flash memory chip.

Subsystem firmware is part of an embedded system. It can be updated and it’s more complex than low-level firmware.


Remember, firmware is found on different devices and pieces of computing equipment. In fact, it’s often found on devices that aren’t considered computing devices, too.

For example:

  • Personal computers
  • Home appliances
  • Automobiles
  • Mobile devices
  • Storage devices
  • Smart cards

The firmware on your personal computer is usually embedded in a memory chip on the device’s motherboard. Peripherals on the computer, such as video and graphics cards, also contain firmware.

Home appliances can include your washing machine or dishware. They contain firmware to help the machine communicate with a computer. This firmware is used to control operations and configure settings.

Your car might contain small computers, sensors, or other embedded systems. The firmware will enable each system to perform a specific task.

Mobile devices include your laptop, tablet, or mobile phone. The firmware on these devices ensures the hardware works with the downloaded software. For example, your Android or iOS device will receive firmware updates.

These updates improve the device’s performance and protect it from vulnerabilities or security threats. Updates also add new features to the device.

Storage devices can include hard drives, USB drives, or other portable storage devices. The firmware on these devices allows them to function with a computer.

Smart cards feature an embedded chip, which contains authentication, encryption, and functionality details.

Upgrade Your Enterprise’s Firmware Today

Don’t neglect to make firmware updates to your devices. Avoiding updates could affect the device’s functionality or leave it vulnerable to an attack. Instead, keep using firmware to ensure your device works as expected.

Understanding the different types of firmware running on your company’s devices will ensure you make the necessary upgrades.

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