Firmware Is the ‘Glue’ that Holds Hardware and Software Together
Here’s a challenge: Next time you’re sitting on a freezing cold chairlift in minus 20 below zero weather, the wind is howling, and you’re desperate to make some sort of conversation with the attractive snowboarder sitting beside you, try this one out: “Hey, can you help me figure out how to explain what firmware is?”
Okay, it might not be a great opening conversation line, but it is a great question. If you think only geeks can really explain the terms hardware, firmware, and software, you might be right. For now, let’s put on our geekiest geek hats and — briefly — delve into the world of what really makes these things tick.
When you turn on your computer, firmware provides the first instructions your computer has to follow. In Windows-based systems, it was called the BIOS. Nowadays, you may hear references to UEFI, but for our purposes, they’re the same thing: The match that lights the fuse! Firmware provides the most basic commands to tell your computer how to start reading keyboard inputs, boot from a device — like your hard drive or a USB, CD, or DVD — and display messages on your screen. For a computer, these are really basic functions.
The program — code or instructions — that makes that happen is an example of firmware. It’s a program, but it resides in a non-volatile but reprogrammable form within your home computer, business computer, or laptop. There’s something very much like the BIOS inside your NEMon Event and Holter recorders, too. It’s generally called firmware. Now you know!
The firmware in most devices changes infrequently. Your NEMon Event and Holter recorders are no exception. For example, even though NEMon has had about 20 Holter analysis software releases in the last 10 years, there have been only four or five firmware changes. When we update the firmware, it’s because we needed to address something big. If we could do it in software, that’s where we would!
There are two ways we can update your firmware. In the first method, you send us the card and we update your firmware in the lab and return the unit. For overseas accounts, this method is less practical, so we have a second method as well: We send you a Secure Digital (SD) card preloaded with the firmware update. When you plug it into a recorder, the recorder recognizes that it contains a firmware update, goes into a special mode, and updates itself. When the process is complete, you can reformat the SD card and use it as a regular SD card for capturing data in our recorders. Consider it a gift from us to you!
Finally, to find out whether you have the most recent firmware on your recorder, simply look at your recorder screen when you turn it on. Compare the version number displayed at startup to the version number shown in the “Latest Software and Firmware Versions” page of this newsletter. This section is part of every NEMon critical events newsletter. If you need a firmware update, let us know. We can help!
Contact us to learn more about updating firmware.