The update command is more than just a command; it is also a daemon. When run as superuser (during system initialisation) it will periodically flush all of the older dirty buffers out to disk. It does this by calling a system service routine which does more or less the same thing as bdflush. Whenever a dirty buffer is finished with it is tagged with the system time that it should be written out to its owning disk. Every time that update runs it looks at all of the dirty buffers in the system looking for ones with an expired flush time. Every expired buffer is written out to disk.