Keeping software up-to-date, regardless of whether it’s something as simple as a note-taking application, or a more critical component of the device you’re using, such as its operating system, is good practice, and the firmware of your 3D printer is no exception to this.
On the other hand, the process of updating a 3D printer firmware is, without a doubt, more complex than updating software on your mobile device or your computer, which can make it challenging to keep your 3D printer firmware up-to-date, especially if you don’t have a lot of technical expertise.
Today, we will discuss whether it’s possible to update the firmware of your Ender 3 without an Arduino board or not, which is one of the most-asked questions in the community regarding the firmware updating process due to the many factors involved and an overall lack of information regarding this subject.
So, is it possible to update an Ender 3’s firmware without using an Arduino?
As an Arduino (or any other device that allows you to interface with the ISP pins) is only required for installing a bootloader, which, while is a pre-requisite for updating the firmware of your Ender 3, does not necessarily make an Arduino mandatory for firmware updates.
Moving forward, we will dive deeper into the relationship between updating the Ender 3 firmware and Arduino, find out whether it’s possible to install a bootloader to the Ender 3 without an Arduino or not and take a quick look at how to find out if an Ender 3 already has a bootloader installed.
Is It Possible to Update Ender 3 (Pro/V2) Firmware without Arduino?
We can all agree that the topic of updating firmware can get confusing with the different types of mainboards, the necessity of bootloaders, and an overall experience that isn’t very user-friendly when compared to updating other electronic devices.
To answer the question before diving deeper into it, let’s start by saying that it is indeed possible to update the firmware of your Ender 3 without an Arduino, as an Arduino acts as a way to interface with the ISP pins of your Ender 3, which we use to install a bootloader, and nothing more.
While the Ender 3 having a bootloader is a pre-requisite for updating the firmware, the Arduino itself does not relate to the process of firmware installation, making it impossible for it to be a necessity for installing firmware in any shape or form.
So, if you have already installed a bootloader to your Ender 3 (8-bit board), all you require to update the firmware is a USB cable that allows you to connect your computer to your Ender 3, and if you have an Ender 3 that already came with a bootloader installed (32-bit board), you can easily update the firmware by copying the firmware to an SD card.
On the other hand, if your Ender 3 does not have a bootloader installed, we recommend reading the upcoming section, where we will take a deeper dive into how an Arduino relates to the process of installing a bootloader.
Is It Possible to Install a Bootloader to Ender 3 (Pro/V2) without Arduino?
We can consider installing a bootloader to be even more complex than updating firmware, with the user-friendliness of the process taking an even bigger hit due to the technical expertise and equipment required to conduct the process successfully.
While you don’t necessarily need an Arduino for the process of installing a bootloader to your Ender 3, there is no denying that an Arduino is a budget-friendly and accessible device that gives you a quick way to interface with the ISP pins of your Ender 3 and install the bootloader.
ISP (in-system programming) pins allow us to interface with the microcontroller on the Ender 3 and what we need to use to install a bootloader to the Ender 3, which is where an Arduino or any other device can interface with these pins come into play.
Practically speaking, you can use any device that allows you to connect your computer to the ISP pins, such as a Raspberry Pi that also contains GPIO pins, similarly to an Arduino, or an even more basic device called a USBASP (or USBISP), which is an in-circuit programmer for Atmel AVR microcontrollers (the microcontroller in the Ender 3).
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that the process of installing a bootloader with an Arduino is much simpler, especially if you don’t have a lot of technical expertise, as the Arduino software is easier to use, and there are a lot more tutorials available on installing a bootloader using an Arduino.
As a result, while an Arduino is not an exact necessity, we highly recommend using one unless you already have access to a Raspberry Pi or a USBASP and prefer not to purchase an Arduino.
How to Check If an Ender 3 (Pro/V2) Already Has a Bootloader Installed?
As it’s possible for an Ender 3 to come with a bootloader already installed, it’s a good idea to determine whether your Ender 3 falls into this category or not to decide on the method you will be using to update the firmware.
In a nutshell, the newer generation Ender 3’s that come with the 32-bit (v4.2.2 and v4.2.7) mainboards have a pre-installed bootloader, whereas the Ender 3’s with the older 8-bit (v1.1.x) mainboards ship without a bootloader.
The best way to find out whether your Ender 3’s mainboard is a 32-bit or an 8-bit one is to unscrew the lid of the mainboard box and directly look at the mainboard. In both cases, the version number is written clearly with a large-enough font, next to the Creality3D text in the case of a v1.1x board and below the Creality logo in the case of a v4.2.x.
If your Ender 3 is a V2, you won’t need to perform any additional checks as a 32-bit board is the only option, meaning that it should come with a pre-installed bootloader.
It’s undeniable that the process of updating the firmware of your Ender 3 can be needlessly confusing due to the many variables involved, especially compared to how easy it is to update the operating systems of modern electronics, such as mobile devices and computers.
To quickly recap, using an Arduino is one of the ways you can interface with the ISP pins on your Ender 3, which will be necessary to install a bootloader (a pre-requisite for updating the firmware) if your Ender 3 has an 8-bit (also known as v1.1.x or Melzi) mainboard.
On the other hand, as utilizing an Arduino isn’t the only way to install a bootloader on your Ender 3, and as it’s possible for your Ender 3 to come with the bootloader pre-installed by having a 32-bit board, it is indeed possible to update the firmware of your Ender 3 without an Arduino.
Mike started his 3D printing journey with the Anet A8 when it first came out back in 2017, and has been obsessed with 3D printers ever since. Nowadays, he primarily uses his Ender 3 to print functional parts that make his life more convenient whenever possible.