T he devices we use are powered by two things: the hardware inside them and the firmware that makes them tick. The firmware embedded on a device is the software that makes the hardware work as it should. All devices and hardware have firmware: smartphones have firmware, tablets have firmware, routers have firmware, even our smart TVs have firmware. Firmware is programmed by the manufacturers of hardware components straight from the factory. Like any software, firmware can also be improved, bugs can be found and repaired, new features can be added. Whenever a manufacturer releases a new firmware for one of its devices, if you happen to own that device , you can take it and upgrade its firmware with the new version. But updating firmware is a treacherous job that, if not done the right way, can render your device non functional. Or what some would call, bad firmware updates turns functioning hardware into bricks. That’s why, today, we’re going to show you the best practices for updating the firmware on any device. If you’re careful and you do it right, the risks will be minimal. Let’s get started:
Step 1. Know the model of your device and the firmware version it uses
First of all, you need to find out if there is a firmware update available for your device. In order to do that, you will first need to know the exact model name of your device and the current firmware on it. Depending on what kind of device you have, you can find this information in various ways. You can usually find the model and firmware version:
- Printed on the package box of your device.
- Printed on a sticker or directly onto your device, usually on its back side.
- Some devices come with bundled administration software. For instance, solid state drives from Intel offer an app called Intel Solid-State Drive Toolbox. If the manufacturer of your device offers such an app, it will probably show the model of your device and the firmware version on it .
- Some devices offer a web interface, like routers, firewalls, DVRs or IP cameras. This web interface shows their name and firmware version in one of their web administration panels.
- Some devices that have a display, like smart TVs, show their model name and their firmware version inside their menus with settings.
Step 2. Check if there are any firmware updates available for your device
Once you know the exact model name and the current firmware version on your device, it’s time to check whether an update is available. To do that, go online and look for the support website offered by your device’s manufacturer. If you don’t know on which website to go to, you can either do a search with Google or Bing, or look for the website’s address on your device’s manual. It should be listed there.
Then, on the manufacturer’s support website, look for a section called Drivers, Firmware or Download. Check if your device is listed and whether there are any new firmware updates available. Be very careful to identify your device exactly. A single letter or or different number in its name can mean that you’re looking at a different model than your own. Updating the firmware of your device with that from another device, even if only slightly different, will probably lead to a bricked device.
If you find a firmware version that’s newer than the one on your device, go ahead and download it.
Another thing to look for is whether the manufacturer of your device also provides a dedicated software tool for writing the new firmware. Depending on your device, some manufacturers can also include an executable file which you can use to write the new firmware. If that’s the case for you, then you should also download this tool.
Step 3. Prepare your device for the firmware update
Now that you have the new firmware update stored on your computer and ready to be written to your device, it’s time to prepare the device for this process. There are a few important things that you should do:
- Read the Readme file that is distributed with the new firmware update. If you see a Readme , don’t overlook it, as it will contain important information about the firmware and its upgrade procedure.
- Always use a reliable power supply for your device during the firmware update process. If you start updating the firmware on your device and the power is cut off, your device will be bricked. That’s why we recommend that you have an uninterruptible power supply connected to your device. Even if you update the firmware on your smart TV - you should plug it into your UPS. It’s the only 100% safe way to do it.
- If you are going to use a computer to update the firmware of a device, make sure that that the computer has no antivirus running on it. An antivirus is always good, except during firmware updates. It might think that the firmware update process is a malicious process and, as such, it could block the update. You don’t want that. Temporarily disable your antivirus software until you finish the firmware upgrade.
- If you’re going to update the firmware on a device using a USB memory stick or any other kind of external memory, make sure that you use a good memory stick. A USB memory stick or an external hard drive with bad blocks on it might lead to a failed firmware update.
Step 4. Backup the current firmware from your device
We’re almost ready to start the firmware update. But, before we get to that, there’s one more important thing to do. If you’re going to do this by the book, like a professional, you will first want to make a backup of your current firmware. If anything goes wrong with the firmware update process, you’ll still have a chance to recover your device and bring it to a working condition.
Not all devices allow you to save a copy of their current firmware, but if you can make a backup for the firmware on your device, do it!
Step 5. Update the firmware on your device
This is the final step: update your device’s firmware. Depending on the device type and how its manufacturer designed the firmware update process, things can be either easy or complicated.
For your average wireless router, all you have to do is launch its web interface in your favorite web browser, head to the firmware settings, point to the location of the new firmware and the start the update process.
Other types of devices will have different upgrade processes.
For example, Intel SSD drives use a tool called Intel SSD Toolbox, which is very easy to use. All you need to do is head to the Firmware Update section and press Update. The app will do everything and you will only have to reboot your computer for the firmware upgrade to finish.
For your smart TV or your media player, updating firmware usually means placing the new firmware file(s) on a USB memory stick, plug it into your device and press an Upgrade button from the settings menu.
And for your PC’s motherboard firmware (aka BIOS), it could mean using a specific tool provided by the manufacturer. But we’ve already talked about this in a previous guide on how to upgrade the BIOS. You can find it here: How To Update The BIOS Of Your Computer's Motherboard In 5 Steps.
These are just a few examples. The firmware upgrade process might be different for your device. It all depends on the approach and the tools offered by the manufacturer of your device. With the risk of repeating ourselves, always read the documentation provided by the manufacturer of your device! That’s the place where you’ll find the exact firmware update steps you’ll need to make.
Firmware is one of the most important parts of any “smart” device. It’s that thing that makes hardware know what, when and how to do the things it’s supposed to do. And just like any software, firmware too can be improved. If the manufacturer of your device offers new firmware packages for it, than you should definitely upgrade your device. But doing so without proper safety measures or doing it in a hurry can lead to disastrous results. Before doing any firmware updates for your devices, make sure that you walked through each and every step we’ve shown in this guide. It may save you from a lot of trouble.