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Ask, February 2012

February 1, 2012

A lot of gear these days suggests or even requires checking for firmware updates before installing software updates. However, I''ve heard that if you do firmware updates incorrectly, you can really screw up your gear. Is that true, and if so, what''s a “correct” firmware update procedure?
A. Schrader
Portland, Oregon
Via Email

A firmware update modifies gear at a very fundamental level, sometimes including the section that “wakes up” the gear when you turn it on. If this becomes corrupted, in addition to introducing possible operational issues, the gear may not function at all. Although in many cases you can simply try again if a firmware update doesn''t work, it''s important to make sure any firmware update completes successfully.

The most important factor is to avoid interrupting power going to the device performing the updating (usually a computer) and the device being updated. For a successful software update, use an uninterruptible power supply to power your computer and the device being updated. (Note that these days, updates are often performed by loading a file from an SD card or USB thumb drive, which can simplify matters compared to using a computer.) With battery-powered gear, check that the batteries are fully charged; a laptop can also be a good choice for updating if its battery is charged, as the updating process usually takes only a few minutes and you won''t have to worry about the power to the laptop being interrupted.

Regarding the connection between devices (typically USB), make sure the cable is plugged in tightly, and the device being updated is sitting securely on a surface and can''t be accidentally moved. Don''t trip over the cable, either—and if you have pets, don''t let them in the same room where you''re updating gear. One good jump on a table at an inopportune time could mean the end of the update.

Finally, read the instructions twice—once before performing the update, then while performing the update. Follow these instructions to the letter; one misstep could mean trouble.

—The Editors
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