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by Ray DeCosta

Q. My CD burner isn't working properly. A friend told me I should update my firmware. What is firmware and how to I go about updating it?

A. Firmware is a hard-coded set of instructions to a chip in your CD burner, router or video card that acts like a driver. For instance, the firmware in a CD burner may tell the equipment how fast a particular brand and style of CD may be burned. All this information and more is stored on a chip inside your burner.

Don't let the term "hard-coded" or "firmware" fool you because there is a way to upgrade everything. However, to do so requires a very careful following of instructions. If this isn't one of your skills, you'd best leave things alone because you can "brick" (totally ruin) your equipment otherwise.

Typically, you would go to the manufacturer's website and find the most recent firmware available for your equipment. The manufacturer will also provide complete instructions on how to install the new firmware. Most of the time you should expect to run a small download which will install itself automatically. However, the exact method of doing so will vary greatly.

If the manufacture's directions tell you to not turn off the power until the update is completed, take that warning to heart. If the update doesn't complete properly, you may find yourself in serious trouble. Another general rule to follow is to not update your firmware unless you have a very good reason for doing so. "If it works, don't fix it!"

Published: Courier 10/4/09 - Page 5C