Firmware and Electrical Hardware Basics for Inventors

Firmware integration with electrical hardware components.When it comes to electronics, firmware and software are two terms that are frequently mentioned. For inventors, or those new to product development, these terms can seem ambiguous. Below we break down the difference between them and how firmware integrates with electrical hardware components and systems.

What is firmware?

“Firmware is a term for a piece of software that is stored on a hardware device in order to make it run properly. It is not really meant to be interacted with by the user once it is there. The firmware, once installed, is usually changed infrequently and only through updates from the manufacturer. Loss of firmware can often lead to a hardware device losing function entirely depending on the situation. Because of this reason, firmware is often stored on components that are electrically isolated from other parts of the system such as on a EEprom chip or flash memory.” (Global Electronic Services)

Without firmware, the most basic of devices would not function. When a device is powered on, firmware is the first part to run and starts sending instructions to the device’s processor to execute.

Firmware comes in various complexities and can be found in simple devices, like keyboards and hard drives, to more complex ones, like graphics cards and Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). (techopedia)

What is software?

“Software is most often meant to describe a program or piece of data that is meant to be viewed, changed or otherwise interacted with most often by the user. This includes utilities such as operating systems, word processers, executables, databases and other programs useful to the user. Software is designed to be updated frequently and usually can be removed or edited in a system without much consequence – other than perhaps loss of important data.” (Global Electronic Services)

Firmware and ECAD Integration

3D Design software (CAD) is used to generate three dimensional designs for various projects, such as, mechanical parts or architectural designs. For electrical printed circuit boards (PCB), there are other CAD programs that are best suited for designing these components.  Firmware is typically related to a particular set of hardware components of a device and usually communicate protocols, or tasks, to these set of devices.

While the use of Electronic Computer-Aided Design (ECAD) is used to design printed circuit boards, firmware design and programming is used to send instructions to the device. Firmware is typically a pre-programed set of values or instructions that are meant to be loaded onto an electronic device to assist with the operation or function for processing.

Examples of firmware include: consumer appliances, watches, phones, keyboards, TV remotes and cameras.

*This is the second post in a two-part series. Read part one: What is Electronic Computer-Aided Design (ECAD)?

Have additional questions about firmware, electrical hardware components or ECAD? Send us an email at


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April 2024

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