Difference between software and firmware in computer?

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A fully functional Personal Computer isn't just the machine itself, but also the programs it runs. The best machine is useless without programs for it.

A typical PC will consist of three 'segments': hardware (the physical machine), firmware (the built-in programming for the machine) and software (the programs said machine runs).

The difference between "software" and "firmware" is very simple. Firmware is a very special type of software that comes loaded into Your hardware, which tells it how to run correctly. Don't think about hard disks, it's more of a "built-in memory chip" kind of thing. The firmware will tell the device what it can do, how fast should its components operate and the like. It will also tell the rest of the computer how to communicate with the device, what it supports and so on. Even Your hard disk has firmware on it - it determines how the physical device stores bits of information, for example. The DVD burner You may have also has firmware in it, that determines its writing capabilities (and much, much more). And most importantly, firmware comes from the hardware vendor - they write it for their hardware, so it's a very specific kind of a program. You could say it's one of a kind.

Software, on the other hand, is hardware-independent inasmuch as it can be ran and operated without regard for what computer You're using (of course, if the program was designed to work with some hardware, it may throw errors at You - but it has to be working in order to do that!). Software comes from many vendors, even from people like me - volunteers (think: Free Software Foundation, Linux etc.).

So, to sum it up, firmware is a very specific kind of software, one You don't buy in a store - it exists in Your hardware (Your graphics card, hard drive and even Your phone) and allows it to operate correctly. And it's provided by someone who really knows the specific device You are using - typically its manufacturer.
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