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Firmware is a software program permanently etched into a hardware device such as a keyboards, hard drive, BIOS, or video cards. It is programmed to give permanent instructions to communicate with other devices and perform functions like basic input/output tasks. Firmware is typically stored in the flash ROM (read only memory) of a hardware device. It can be erased and rewritten.
Firmware was originally designed for high level software and could be changed without having to exchange the hardware for a newer device. Firmware also retains the basic instructions for hardware devices that make them operative. Without firmware, a hardware device would be non-functional.
Originally, firmware had read-only memory (ROM) and programmable read-only memory (PROM). It was designed to be permanent. Eventually PROM chips could be updated and were called erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM). But EPROM was expensive, time consuming to update and challenging to use. Firmware eventually evolved from ROM to flash memory firmware; thus, it became easier to update and user friendly.
There are levels of firmware:
BIOS, modems and video cards are usually easy to update. But firmware in storage devices usually gets overlooked; there are no standardized systems for updating firmware. Fortunately, storage devices do not need to be updated often.