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In this series on productivity, author Jess Stratton takes you through the latest tools that will help you run your business and life more efficiently. Each installment covers a particular feature or technique in a different online tool, such as Google Apps, Skype, YouTube, Mint.com, Etsy, and more. Learn about topics ranging from recording and publishing video chats to managing your finances online.
Note: Monday Productivity Pointers is currently on a break, but stay tuned for new tutorials!
My name is Jess Stratton, and welcome to Monday Productivity Pointers. A great skill to know how to do is, how to perform a firmware update on all your key pieces of hardware. So there's two key questions here, one, what is firmware, and secondly, why would you need to update it. So let's talk about what firmware actually is first. Now you've heard of software, which is a computer program that you install yourself. The software code was written to run on our particular operating system you're using like windows eight or Mac OS, although an operating system, like windows eight is also a piece of software.
So the operating system itself is a piece of software, and you're installing a piece of software on top of that operating system. Now the software interacts with the hardware. Hardware is the physical elements of your computer. Things like the hard drive, a stick of memory, a network card. These are all examples of computer hardware. Now firmware is a very low-level code that interacts directly with the hardware, and it's actually written directly on to the read-only memory of that hardware.
This means you can't accidentally overwrite what's there. It's possible, and that's what I'm going to show you how to do today, but it's very hard to do by accident. Now firmware is what allows so many devices to already come with built-in menus. Lots of devices use firmware. Now think about everything you use that already comes with a built-in menu or a setting screen you could get to. Things like blu-ray players, MP3 players, cell phones, routers, even your PC. Now, I know I said the operating system was software, but think about the buy off screen you see before the operating system even loads.
That's firmware. Now this is why many devices, especially internet routers, have that nice friendly factory reset button. If things aren't working, you can press the button for a few seconds, and it restores itself to like it was the day you bought it. The same can be said for cell phones too. You can restore them to their factory settings, which many people do to either fix a major problem or get ready to sell it to somebody else. So that's what firmware is, and the next question I need to answer is, why would you ever need to update it? There's two common reasons.
The first is the reason that you'd update software. To fix bugs and solve problems. Hardware, like an internet router, is definitely not immune to bugs at all. And the companies that make the hardware, they also release newer versions of firmware to solve problems that consumers have with the hardware. The second reason is, that even as newer technology becomes available, you don't need to buy a brand new piece of hardware, you can just update the firmware. Here is a great example. Many Blu-ray players and TV's come with built-in readiness to connect to services like Netflix, Amazon, Pandora etc.
Let's say the TV manufacturer has now partnered with YouTube. Giving all new TVs that get sold the ability to connect to that service in the main menu also. Well if the TV manufacturer has given you a mechanism to be able update the firmware of the television, you can update that menu so that when it's all done, you'll also be able to connect to YouTube. And now, on to the last question. How does one actually do a firmware update? I am going to show you how to do a pretty common one, which is an internet router firmware update.
The first thing that you're going to need to do is make sure a firmware update is actually necessary, is there is some risk involved, which I will talk about. So are you trying to solve a problem that can only be fixes with a firmware update? Or is there a really good feature you want? You certainly don't have to keep it updated just because. It's not like a software update, which is pretty okay to do on a regular basis. Firmware updates are usually only done to solve a very specific need. So let's start updating. I've logged into my router, and I'm on the main screen.
Now, unfortunately, every model router is going to be a little bit different, so I can't tell you exactly how to get to the firmware update screen. In my case, I had to click advanced, and go through some more menus and click firmware upgrade on the left hand side, and it brought me to this screen. So you're just going to look for something that says, firmware upgrade. Now you can press the check now button, in which it will automatically go out to the internet, and see if there is a new version. In this case it found one. Right, I can see the current version here, and I can see what the new version is.
Now, there's actually nothing wrong with my router. I'm just going to do this upgrade to show you how it goes. So, hopefully it all goes according to plan. In your case again, you're only going to do this to either solve a problem or to get a new feature. So I'm going to click this Force Upgrade button, because I want to go through with the Firmware Upgrade. I can click this button and it's now downloading the new version. Once it downloads it, its then going to install it. Depending on the size of the firmware upgrade, it may take a while to download it though generally they're not big.
Okay, this firmware update is probably pretty quick because there's no such message here, but it's also important to read what it says because many times it says, it's very important that you don't turn off the device while this is happening. This is a very serious message. If the process get's interrupted, the firmware won't fully install itself, and here's the problem with that. The mechanism to give us the UI, and the chance to fix things and re-install it's self, is actually part of the firmware, that we're installing.
So if it's not there, there's no way to fix this hardware. And there's actually a term for that, it's called bricking the hardware. The term comes from having a piece of hardware, such as this router, and rendering it useless. It's now become a brick, or a paper weight, which is all the physical box will be good for, so it is a serious warning. So let's just give this a few more seconds and it'll probably bring us back to this main firmware upgrade screen again, and here we are. We're back to the screen, and if I look I can see that the status is okay.
The internet version is up to date and our current version is that new version that we were upgrading to. So this was a successful firmware upgrade. And now, hopefully, I fixed that problem that I had or can use that new feature.
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