Firmware is a piece of software that’s pre-loaded onto a hardware typically in its ROM (Read-Only Memory) to interact with other pieces of hardware or software. Firmware can be most easily thought of as the base software that provides any piece of hardware its functionality. Without firmware, most hardware with any sort of processing capability would not work.
When support documentation or tech support refer to firmware updates, they refer to updating the base software in the hardware. This is typically accomplished through a product’s software suite, a specialized firmware updater from the manufacturer or in the case of a motherboard, the BIOS or UEFI menu. As firmware provides all the functionality to the hardware, firmware updates allow hardware manufacturers to fix issues such as bugs, provide better optimization with certain pieces of software, or provide users with new features.
Firmware vs Drivers
Firmware is the base software required for hardware to function while drivers are the software that interface the hardware with the Operating System. As such, these are very different pieces of software. For example, a graphics card could easily use one piece of firmware for all types of operating systems however, the driver for Linux would be significantly different compared to the Windows driver.