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In A Flash

10 Jul, 2002 By: Steve Geishirt imageSource

In A Flash

technicians, many of us have become familiar with printer drivers and their need
to be upgraded when certain problems occur. Now we are hearing more about
firmware upgrades that can cause printer errors. To boot, those of us who are
familiar with it need to learn how to flash it when it is still in the printer.
What is firmware? What is flashing firmware? How does this work and do I really
need to know this? This article will discuss these questions and more.



know what a printer driver is, but what is firmware? Firmware is a program, much
like those on your computer, although computer programs are often called
software. Firmware is the computer program, or code, that makes the “internal
computer” in your printer go through its steps to act like a printer. Remove
the firmware from your printer (i.e. remove the program that runs the printer),
and you get a non-functioning printer that just sits there and looks at you.
Since firmware is a program that runs your printer, internal functions, and
attached accessories, this program can also have glitches in it, like any
computer software. 


upgrades are not really new. I still remember upgrading the firmware on the HP
LaserJet III printers many years ago. Of course, at that time most of us
didn’t see it as a firmware upgrade. A determination was made, with the help
of certain error codes, to replace the formatter. In the past, these firmware
problems tended to be rare due to the simplicity of the machines, but they are
becoming more common as printers grow in complexity. This is not isolated to HP
alone; Lexmark has firmware on their printers and it sometimes needs replacement


HP, the firmware problems seemed to come to a head with the 5Si, which had five
firmware upgrades. This had to be costly to HP as the firmware was soldered
directly to the formatter, thus you could say they had five formatter upgrades -
ouch! The replacement model for the 5Si (the 8000) took on a different approach
to firmware by placing it on a removable DIMM (Dual Inline Memory Module), which
many of us know as the ROM (Read Only Memory). Upgrades to the firmware were
much easier as it meant removing the old ROM-DIMM and replacing it with the new
upgrade. This worked well, except for when technicians and customers alike
thought it was just another RAM-DIMM and tried to replace it, only to find the
printer would no longer boot up - blank display. Lexmark put their firmware ROMs
on the opposite side of the board so it was more obvious that this SIMM (Single
Inline Memory Module) or DIMM, was special. The HP 4000, 4050, and 8100 also had
firmware DIMMs that could be easily upgraded. Although, since the ROM-DIMMs were
essentially programs, they have a tendency to carry a pretty hefty price tag. 



couple of years ago, a big change in the world of firmware took place when the
HP LJ 8150 was introduced as having flashable firmware. Flashable firmware uses
Flash RAM, which is a nonvolatile read/re-writeable EEPROM - or in layman’s
terms, a type of memory that can erase the old material (firmware in this case)
and overwrite it with the new material. Computers, which also have firmware,
have had the capability of being upgraded or flashed over the network for the
last couple of years now. Flash RAM is not new on printers in general. Many of
you will recognize this as a less expensive long-term storage option to a hard
drive, which Lexmark first introduced, and later, HP. This allowed the customer
to store common forms and company logos, for example, in the flash memory. The
advantage to this is faster printing and the document takes up less of the
network bandwidth, since these bulky items are simply waiting to be retrieved at
the printer. 


with the firmware being placed in flash RAM, the upgrade of the old firmware to
the new is greatly reduced in cost. The only complications are to determine if a
printer needs to be upgraded, and then where to get the new firmware, as well as
how to install it.



determine if an upgrade needs to take place, you can check the service notes -
that is if you’re authorized to retrieve them. If you’re not, there are
other options. You may contact one of the many technical support companies that
provide support, as they can often help determine if the symptom or error code
you have applies to a firmware problem. Another way of making this determination
is to go to the firmware download area on the HP web site and read through the
readme.txt file that accompanies the firmware for that model. The “readme”
file not only informs you of the symptoms of a possible firmware problem, but
also explains how to do the upgrade. To get to the firmware area, go to the HP
web site and choose drivers. Choose the driver of the printer you are looking
for. Once in the driver download area, choose “not applicable,” which will
take you to the bottom of the screen. You’ll be able to see “Firmware”
listed under type broken out for each operating system. The operating system is
important, because you need to download the file to your computer before you can
copy it to the printer. I would strongly suggest you read through the
instructions before attempting the upgrade. This area will also provide you with
the most recent version date of the firmware, which you can compare to the
Firmware Datecode on the Configuration Page. If the datecode on your
configuration page is older than that listed on the firmware download area, you
may need to do the upgrade. Locate and open the “readme” file to look for
the symptoms you have identified on your customer’s printer.


problems used to be common for accessory connection problems or strange error
codes, such as 49s or 79s. Now, with all the different software and speed at
which the printers are hitting the market, firmware problems can be just about
anything. So if you are stuck, do not think that you should eliminate the
firmware without checking into it first.


leave the detailed explanation on how to do the upgrade to HP via the readme.txt
file. However, the upgrade is done via the parallel port, or network using Web
JetAdmin on your computer. It is helpful to have some computer or even network
knowledge depending on how you are doing the upgrade. If you’re confused after
reading through the instructions, it might be wiser to have the company’s
network person do the upgrade. Identifying the problem and its solution in the
first place is the most important part to get the customers printer up and
running again.


HP models that allow you to flash the firmware are:

9000, LJ 9000MFP

4100, LJ 4100MFP




8100/8150 Copy Module (MFP unit)


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