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What are firmware updates?

...and why do I need them?

Firmware plays an important role in many of our electronics these days. But what exactly is it, and why is it so important?

nav receiver

What is firmware?

"Firmware," generally speaking, refers to the programs that help a device do what it's supposed to do; it's the background programming that runs the machine. That's in contrast with the "software" that we use to do stuff on the machine: games and programs on a computer, music files on an MP3 player, and the discs we watch on our Blu-ray disc™ players. This is a simplified definition and comparison, but it's reasonable enough for the purposes of this article.

Why does firmware need to be updated?

Most of the gear we use today is as much a computer as it is an audio or video device. As such, sometimes the manufacturer makes improvements to the programs that run the device (firmware). These improvements are released as firmware updates. We can expect to see firmware updates for everything from our Blu-ray players and video game consoles to our car stereos.

Xbox 360

The old Xbox 360 gained lots of new features after a firmware update.

The same thing goes for software updates, and we're all probably more familiar with those. Our computers constantly check for updates for the programs we run: new versions of video players or iTunes®, for example.

To simplify the issue: whether an update is for a device's firmware or software doesn't really matter. They both work the same way. The point is that sometimes updates are released and we need to apply them to our gear.

Where do the updates come from?

These updates tend to come from one of two places:

  • Manufacturers — Firmware updates usually come from the manufacturer of the item.
  • Software providers — Sometimes other companies might release updates for the software that an item is using, such as when Adobe® releases an update for its Flash player, which many of us use for watching Internet videos.
Kenwood DNX890HD

Navigation receivers are a good example of the type of gear that may require firmware updates.

Car stereo navigation receivers present a good example for how updates could come from multiple sources. Potential updates could take any of these forms:

  • Firmware updates for the functionality of the stereo would come from the manufacturer.
  • Navigation software updates could add features or improvie performance (firmware).
  • Occasional map updates keep the directions as accurate as possible (software).

How do I apply the update?

Updating the gear like an MP3 player or camera is easy when you can connect it to your computer. If your television, Blu-ray player, or game console are connected to the Internet, then updating them can be this easy too. It'll depend on the specific equipment, of course.

For other gear, you will typically download the firmware update to your computer and then transfer it to your device via thumb drive or SD card. Simply load the update via the USB or SD card input, and it should take care of itself from there. Read the manufacturer's website for the specifics of your equipment.

A caution about applying updates

Before applying an update, especially in the case of firmware, you need to make sure that the update is for your exact model of device. Applying an update intended for a similar-but-different model could result in your gear becoming non-operational. The old firmware gets overwritten (replaced) by new operating instructions that aren't compatible with your model, which means your device won't work anymore. That's referred to as "bricking" your gear.

So always double check those model numbers before applying a firmware update.

How do I find out about updates?

There are three things you can do to stay abreast of firmware updates.

  • The best way to make sure you're alerted to important updates for your device is to register your purchase with the manufacturer. Fill out the registration card that comes with it or register it online at the manufacturer's website. That way, the manufacturer knows you own one of their devices and can alert you if a really important update comes along.
  • The other way to keep on top of updates is to occasionally visit the manufacturer's website and look up your equipment model or a list of released firmware updates. This might be the only way to learn about updates for minor issues.
  • If you really like your gear, join a message board or social media feed dedicated to that brand or device. Hanging out with other users is sure to keep you informed about any changes.

Here's a good example. By navigating to the support section at Kenwood, I discovered messages about firmware updates for iPod® and Bluetooth® compatibility with several of their receivers.

When in doubt...

Whether your favorite gadget is your iPod, your Blu-ray player, your car stereo, or your laptop, firmware updates are important for keeping it running smoothly. Just take care and don't apply any updates not meant for your specific model. Whenever in doubt, turn to the manufacturer for confirmation. And if you purchased the item from Crutchfield, our tech support crew can help you out too.

  • Chris from Boise

    Posted on 7/13/2023

    I'm having problems finding the firmware updates for the BOSS BE920WCPA-C, can you give me the link?

    Commenter image

    Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    on 7/14/2023

    Hi Chris, If bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support and we'll be happy to help you find what you need. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, I'd suggest a quick Google search or contacting BOSS directly.
  • bruce johnson from WILMINGTON DE

    Posted on 11/12/2022

    I have a denon DRA800H 2 channel network receiver. The only features i use on this receiver is cd playback and bluetooth. I should not have any need for a firmware update, is this true?

    Commenter image

    Ken Nail from Crutchfield

    on 11/14/2022

    Bruce, Probably not. But better to check with Denon to be sure.
  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/23/2018

    Sherly, not likely, but contact your modem manufacturer if you have any trouble. If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system.

  • Sherly from ****

    Posted on 2/23/2018

    Hi! Thanks for you support , i have a question, do you know if am i going to lose the internet connection if the manufacturer send a firmware update to my modem?

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/4/2017

    Josh, if you bought your gear from Crutchfield, give our Tech Support a call for free help troubleshooting your system. Otherwise, you can try JVC's support center at (800) 252-5722.

  • Josh dykstra from Waupun

    Posted on 5/3/2017

    When I try to update my jvc car stereo it just says update cancelled. I downloaded the firmware, but nothing happens.

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/16/2017

    Patrick, sorry to hear that. I think your best bet would be to call the support line for your router or repeater. Maybe they can help. Or your Internet service provider. Best of luck.

  • Patrick from Northern Ireland

    Posted on 2/13/2017

    Ok, so I have a Wifi repeater that I got especially for my PC, & was wired via ethernet into my PC. It worked fine (a stable 25mbps download speed, 4mbps upload speed; aprox - which is what my Laptop was also getting). Recently, lets just say 'someone' decided to plug out both the router and the repeater, ever since they were plugged back in the connection (even after resecuring both connections multiple times) has been differing very much (not as frequent as some other people that Ive seen in forums; could differ every couple of minutes, could take a couple of hours) going from 25mbps to 1mbps etc etc. Even after I gave up on the repeater and tried a standard tplink all I get on my PC now is 10mbps at a struggle, I even tested it again on my Laptop and all I get now is 10mbps in comparison to the 25mpbs I had before - I have full bars now as Im using a normal tplink instead of the repeater) because the repeater now refuses to work at all after multiple resets) but Im only getting the 10mbps regardless of the device Im using. Any suggestions? Im beginning to think its possibly the modem firmware. Also, its key to note that well before I got my PC or anything the Wifi would sometimes randomly crash, showing 'limited access' on multiple occasions. This meant the WiFi was essentially down. Also, Ive considered connecting the PC up to the router itself directly via ethernet - the only thing that put me of that is a friend of my did that but was still only getting 1mbps.

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/2/2017

    Sandi, without knowing more about your phone, my best suggestion is to restart your phone. If that doesn't work, stop by your nearest service provider's store. They should be able to help.

  • Sandi from Ft Worth

    Posted on 12/31/2016

    The install update appeared on my phone I clicked install later and now the only option is to install now. I can't get it off. What can i do to remove it.

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