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Author Topic: Mike Halsey article on firmware upgrades/updates ...  (Read 3332 times)
barney
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« on: November 27, 2011, 09:27:28 AM »

Firmware... If it Isn't Broken, Should You Fix it?

Wondering how the DC community feels on this matter, whether there is an sort of consensus?  As Mike remarks in the article, this tends to be a polarizing issue, with very few middle-of-the-roaders.

What's your take on firmware updates?  I can see regular driver updates, but firmware updates can be kinda chancy, at least in my direct experiences.  I've had more than one piece of hardware converted to paperweight status because of a failed or interrupted firmware changes, but that could be just me  undecided Grin.  I have been able to revert an update on a couple of occasions, but for the most part that was not a viable, or even an available, option.
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Stoic Joker
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« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2011, 10:10:24 AM »

We've had techs brick a machine several time doing a firmware update to resolve an issue that had nothing to do with the firmware. So I'm in the if it ain't broke, don't fix it camp.

If there is some additional new functionality/capability - That You Need - Okay fine ... That's considered a fix (in my book). I updated my phone to the new WMP 7.5 when it came out because it contained new fixes/features that I had an interest in/use for. Conversely I have not upgraded the firmware for my main machines Mboard that would allow it to use a newer, faster CPU ... Because I have no intention what-so-ever of buying one. It just ain't faster enough than the one I have now to be worth the money/headaches/risk.
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Shades
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« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2011, 10:25:01 AM »

If it isn't broken, no repairs are required or necessary or desired or even worth losing time over.

Hmm, guess its clear which side of this fence is appropriate for me.
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J-Mac
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« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2011, 11:31:50 AM »

Try asking about this in a support forum or on a support request for the particular hardware you're considering for a F/W update!

As an example, my Mobo - an ASUS - is two F/W updates behind, but ASUS told me that both address specific problems and that if I wasn’t seeing those problems I should not update the F/W. Yet Nvidia support naturally asks me for my system info and sees that my Mobo F/W is not updated to the most current. They tell me I must update it; I ask what the Mobo F/W will fix on my graphics card. They say they don’t know BUT my Mobo must be updated for them to help me. I tell them "No" and why, but they cry out, "Aha! If you won't update your Mobo F/W, then you are a buffoon and we cannot help you!"

OK, it didn't go exactly like that, but you get the gist of it. Typical hardware maker finger-pointing crap.

I don’t upgrade ANY of my hardware's F/W unless it is for a problem that I know the updated F/W is designed to fix.

Thanks!

Jim
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Deozaan
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« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2011, 11:57:08 AM »

I never really thought about it before, but I guess I'm also in the "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It" group. I usually never even know about a firmware update unless I'm experiencing a problem and during my search for a solution find out that I should update the firmware to the latest version.

Unless you're talking about things with forced firmware updates, such as the Sony PS3, Nintendo Wii, etc. In those cases you don't really have a choice if you want to play the latest games online, or without a significant amount of hacking.
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Eóin
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« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2011, 12:02:26 PM »

You do hear about things like firmware updates for harddisks which can improve performance. But I must admit I've never looked into getting any myself. The only time I've flashed new firmware for my PC was to update a BIOS to support a 64bit chip.

I do flash my phone quite often, but I see that more as software upgrading rather than firmware?
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barney
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« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2011, 12:19:37 PM »

J-Mac brings up an interesting point:  some necessary firmware updates cannot be performed unless some other component has been updated first.  Yeah, I know, that's not what he said, but that does resemble the situation presented.  That's a conundrum we encountered back in the VAX days when I was IT-involved:  risk bricking some bit of hardware because another bit needed updates that could not be performed unless the first bit was up-to-date.  Hopefully firmware updates in the IT arena are a lot less dangerous now - but I'd be surprised  Wink.
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barney
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« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2011, 12:28:46 PM »

Ooh, another thought, anent Deozaan's post.  Just got an LG TV, 55" (different thread), and whilst playing around with it, trying to figure out which tab A goes into which slot B, I received notice onscreen that there was new software - and it was being installed!  No option, no reversion, just a bald, "You're getting an upgrade."  I can't help but wonder what happens if such an upgrade/update fails  ohmy.  They're certainly not going to reimburse me for inability to use the set.  And what happens if the update craters and the set can no longer communicate?  They gonna send a tech out to do it manually?  I don't think so.  Can't help but wonder what procedure would be in that instance.
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Stoic Joker
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« Reply #8 on: November 27, 2011, 12:56:17 PM »

O_o Wow... You sure there was no (magic wand) miss-click on the LG firmware thing? Mine's got an option to check, but no auto/forced updating that I can see. Doesn't mean it wont decide to bone me tonight just for saying that...But we'll see... smiley


On J-Mac's Asus/Nvidia "issue", Lie. Seriously, just lookup the latest firmware ahead of time (so you can quip it off), and if it isn't applicable ... Just lie and say it's up to date. That way you can force them to either go to step two, page next, or at least "escalate" the issue up to someone brighter than a trained monkey. I'm tired of this Knee-Jerk flow charting "Support Tech"  nonsense where their first response to any question is to update the firmware (see bricked machine commentary in earlier post).

HP is classic for this shit; 49 series "firmware" error ... Well lets update the firmware then... WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!! Try cleaning/replacing the memory first because that's where the problem most likely actually lies. Firmware doesn't just up and break one day, and it sure as hell doesn't (read can't) wear out... Try looking at where the firmware is copied to at load/run time that will be an item that is (OTOH, classically) grenade prone.

I'd dare say that HP's "support " personnel have cost our company close to $3,000 in bricked formatters because of this reflexive answer in the past year alone.
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barney
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« Reply #9 on: November 27, 2011, 01:17:27 PM »

OK, maybe it's different now ... one would hope so ... but when I was involved, a lie wouldn't always help.

I know, we tried  tongue

Well, sometimes ... but sometimes the firmware update to the framifram really was dependent upon an otherwise unnecessary update to the gigawhat.  'Course, the vendors had/have the advantage of accesses that we didn't/don't, and they also had/have recovery resources that we didn't/don't  Sad.

Funny you should mention HP ... one of the biggest problems we had  smiley.  I've been out for a decade, so 20-10 years past.  Guess some things never change  huh.

(I'll respond to the LG on the other thread ... some new developments  tongue.)
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40hz
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« Reply #10 on: November 27, 2011, 02:24:38 PM »

We've had techs brick a machine several time doing a firmware update to resolve an issue that had nothing to do with the firmware. So I'm in the if it ain't broke, don't fix it camp.

If there is some additional new functionality/capability - That You Need - Okay fine ... That's considered a fix (in my book).

+1 x10^6 !!!

Once again SJ and 40hz are found sitting on the same park bench, passing a bottle back and forth, saying the same things, and wondering why they ever got into this business. Grin



If it ain't broke - or you don't need it - leave well enough alone.

Especially if it's for 'enterprise' deployment. Cool
« Last Edit: November 28, 2011, 06:07:08 AM by 40hz » Logged

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Ath
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« Reply #11 on: November 27, 2011, 02:29:20 PM »

Reading this thread, it seems to boil down to 1 point: Ask yourself: What's in it for me?

No improvement? No Go. Cool
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barney
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« Reply #12 on: November 27, 2011, 02:40:54 PM »

He, he, he ... kinda thought it'd go this way.  Don't think I've ever met a coder that was not, at heart, a conservative.  And there's a lot to be said for that  thumbs up.  I won't  Thmbsup.
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db90h
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« Reply #13 on: November 27, 2011, 11:31:44 PM »

You need to clearly indicate what type of firmware you are speaking of. In this case, I assume you are referring to PC BIOS updates. Unless there is a bug that is affecting you, I would advise not to worry with it, as they are barely even used beyond the bootup process anymore. It is not like it will make any difference in performance (though perhaps new options it offers could, theoretically). Review updates to see if any pertinent bugs have been fixed though, something that is very rare.

Most modern devices probably have a recovery copy of the firmware to boot from in case of corruption, making bricking of them near impossible, but who knows, I've not checked. The days of bricking things due to firmware updates are definitely going away at some point though, as we have enough extra storage capacity to safely perform updates by always having a reliable backup copy of the firmware to use in case the checksum on the new firmware fails at bootup. In other words, check to see if firmware is valid. If so, boot to it. If not, boot from recovery. On update, only update new firmware. Never touch bootstrap or recovery firmware copy. When we didn't have enough space to store an extra copy, this was an issue, but no such much anymore, at least for properly designed devices.

The above 'recovery firmware' is used by wireless routers and such, for instance, except their recovery firmwares provide only one role: Flashing a proper firmware onto the device.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2011, 11:43:02 PM by db90h » Logged
barney
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« Reply #14 on: November 28, 2011, 08:58:06 AM »

You need to clearly indicate what type of firmware you are speaking of.

I took the article to mean any [update capable] firmware.

I have on my desk a D-Link paperweight.  Long story short; tech support said I needed to flash new system firmware, system lockup during update, system no longer accessible, paperweight.

I had a Panasonic IP camera that [according to support] required a firmware update, applied the update, camera never worked again.

When I worked at MCI, a significant number of failures in the field were due to crashed/improper firmware updates.  (A few were tFTP failures, most were not.)  We had one (1) support group dedicated, in part, to that very problem.

BIOS updates are relatively simple, usually superfluous unless you've installed some physical element that requires such.
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« Reply #15 on: November 28, 2011, 09:11:38 AM »

+1 for the "leave well enough alone" camp.

New updates and all that jazz... That's for suckers to figure out the problems. I. Can. Wait. smiley
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40hz
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« Reply #16 on: November 28, 2011, 10:13:31 AM »

Most modern devices probably have a recovery copy of the firmware to boot from in case of corruption, making bricking of them near impossible, but who knows, I've not checked.

 Having a recovery option doesn't prevent someone from bricking a device. It simply makes recovery from a screwup easier.

And yes, today virtually any device in this category can be fixed without replacing a chip. But the hassles can be major if you need to reload a firmware image after first hunting down an elusive proprietary TFTP client (and sometimes wire up your own special cable) to do a JTAG load - or better yet, learn the pleasures of first 'cracking the case' in order to short a few pins just to get to the point where your box will let itself be pinged. Fun stuff. like all science faire projects.

A secondary chip with a backup is always nice. But not every device ships with one of those. Last I checked that's more a PC mobo thing, and also not universal.

Not that it matters. Microsoft and Intel want the BIOS gone, so it will soon become a case of the 'firmware' being nothing more than a bootstrapper that gets what it needs off the disk drive to boot up.

Funny thing. This idea is being presented as innovative. Guess they forgot about the old Compaqs and IBMs that booted that way back in the 80s.

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