A+ Certification / Beginners

Firmware and chipsets

People like to keep their world in a perceived state of order to give themselves a sense of control. This is often seen by the way we classify everything we see or work with into categories. Many of these categories seem very distinct until something comes along to challenge our opinions, and then the waters become murky.

One of these murky areas is the distinction between hardware and software, which at one point were thought to be distinct and separate. Software is programming code that is stored on your disk or on some other form of media. Hardware refers to the physical components - boards, peripherals, and other equipment - that make up your computer.

Firmware fills in a middle ground between software and hardware, where the distinct line begins to disappear. Firmware is programming code (software) that is contained in or stored on the IC (Integrated Circuit) chips (hardware) on your computer. This combination of hardware and software makes up the BIOS on several different devices, with settings stored in CMOS or flash RAM. This firmware is tied to the function of the IC chips that it is working with; in the case of a network card, firmware would manage network or PXE (Preexecution Environment) boot functionality of the card.

Most modern motherboards have a series of IC chips and firmware that work together to control the integrated functions of the motherboard. The compatibility of these chips and the code that ties them together is provided by a single supplier, and this group of chips is referred to as a chipset. Intel and VIA Technologies produce popular chipsets.

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In this tutorial:

  1. System Components
  2. Looking Inside the Box
  3. Memory
  4. Power supply
  5. Firmware and chipsets
  6. BIOS
  7. Checking Outside the Box
  8. Modem