Backing Up BIOS's CMOS Settings

A motherboard BIOS upgrade usually wipes out the BIOS Setup settings in the CMOS RAM. Therefore, you should record these settings, especially the important ones such as hard disk parameters.

Some software programs, such as the Norton Utilities, can save and restore CMOS settings, but unfortunately, these types of programs are often useless in a BIOS upgrade situation.

This is because sometimes the new BIOS offers new settings or changes the positions of the stored data in the CMOS RAM, which means you don't want to do an exact restore. Also, with the variety of BIOS available, I have yet to find a CMOS RAM backup and restore program that works on more than just a few specific systems.

You are better off manually recording your BIOS Setup parameters, or possibly connecting a printer to your system and using the Shift+Prtsc (Print Screen) function to print each of the setup screens. Turn on your printer, start your computer normally, and restart it without turning off the system to initialize the printer to try this option.

Some shareware programs could print or even save and restore the BIOS Setup settings stored in the CMOS RAM, but these were BIOS version specific and would not work on any other system. Most of these programs were useful during the 286/386 era, but most systems released since—especially those with Plug and Play capabilities—have rendered most of these older programs useless.

Using a Flash BIOS

Virtually all PCs built since 1996 include a flash ROM to store the BIOS. A flash ROM is a type of EEPROM chip you can erase and reprogram directly in the system without special equipment.

Older EPROMs required a special ultraviolet light source and an EPROM programmer device to erase and reprogram them, whereas flash ROMs can be erased and rewritten without even removing them from the system. On many recent systems, the flash ROM is not a separate chip but might be incorporated into the South Bridge chip.

Using flash ROM enables you to download ROM upgrades from a Web site or receive them on disk; you then can load the upgrade into the flash ROM chip on the motherboard without removing and replacing the chip.

Normally, these upgrades are downloaded from the manufacturer's Web site, and then an included utility is used to create a bootable floppy with the new BIOS image and update program. It is important to run this procedure from a boot floppy so that no other software or drivers are in the way that might interfere with the update.

This method saves time and money for both the system manufacturer and end user. Sometimes the flash ROM in a system is write-protected, and you must disable the protection before performing an update—usually by means of a jumper or switch that controls the lock on the ROM update.

Without the lock, any program that knows the correct instructions can rewrite the ROM in your system—not a comforting thought. Without the write-protection, virus programs could be written that copy themselves directly into the ROM BIOS code in your system.

Even without a physical write-protect lock, modern flash ROM BIOSs have a security algorithm that helps prevent unauthorized updates. This is the technique Intel uses on its motherboards.

Note that motherboard manufacturers will not notify you when they upgrade the BIOS for a particular board. You must periodically log on to their Web sites to check for updates. Usually, any flash updates are free.

Before proceeding with a BIOS upgrade, you first must locate and download the updated BIOS from your motherboard manufacturer. Consult the Vendor List on the DVD to find the Web site address or other contact information for your motherboard manufacturer.

Log on to its Web site, and follow the menus to the BIOS updates page; then select and download the new BIOS for your motherboard. The BIOS upgrade utility is contained in a self-extracting archive file that can initially be downloaded to your hard drive, but it must be extracted and copied to a floppy before the upgrade can proceed.

Different motherboard manufacturers have slightly different procedures and programs to accomplish a flash ROM upgrade, so you should read the directions included with the update. I include instructions here for Intel motherboards because they are by far the most common.

Intel and other typical flash BIOS upgrades fit on a bootable floppy disk; some recent BIOS upgrades from Intel and other vendors can also be run from within the Windows GUI.

Older Intel and some other flash BIOS upgrades also provide the capability to save and verify the current BIOS version before replacing it with the new version and also provide the capability to install alternative languages for BIOS messages and the BIOS setup utility.

If the BIOS setup is performed with a bootable floppy disk, the first step in the upgrade after downloading the new BIOS file is to enter the CMOS Setup and write down or record your existing CMOS settings because they will be erased during the upgrade.

Then, you create a DOS boot floppy and uncompress or extract the BIOS upgrade files to the floppy from the file you downloaded. Next, you reboot on the newly created upgrade disk and follow the menus for the actual reflash procedure.

The iFlash procedure covered in this section is similar to the BIOS update process used by most non-Intel motherboards and must be used for systems running Windows 95, MS-DOS, or non-Windows operating systems such as Linux.

Intel's Express BIOS update (for Windows 98, Windows NT 4, and current Windows versions) uses the InstallShield loader program familiar to Windows users to install BIOS upgrades within the Windows GUI. Here is a step-by-step procedure for the process using Intel's iFlash (DOS-based) BIOS update:

  1. Save your CMOS RAM setup configuration

    . You can do so by pressing the appropriate key during boot to start the BIOS setup program (usually F1 with an AMI BIOS and F2 with a Phoenix BIOS) and writing down all your current CMOS settings.

You also might be able to print the screens if you have a printer connected, using the PrtScr key on the keyboard. You must reset these settings after you have upgraded to the latest BIOS. Write down all the settings that are unique to the system.

These settings will be needed later to reconfigure the system. Pay special attention to any hard drive settings for geometry (Cylinder/Head/Sectors per track) and translation (LBA, Large, CHS); these are very important. If you fail to restore these properly, you might not be able to boot from the drive or access the data on it.

  1. Exit the BIOS Setup and restart the system

    . Allow the system to fully start Windows and bring up a DOS prompt window or boot directly to a DOS prompt via the Windows Start menu (for example, press F8 when you see Starting Windows, and select Command Prompt).
  1. Place a formatted blank floppy disk in the A: floppy drive

    . If the disk contains data, format the floppy using the normal format command:

    C:\>FORMAT A:

    You also can use Windows Explorer to format the floppy disk.

  1. The file you originally downloaded from the Intel Web site is a self-extracting compressed archive that includes other files that need to be extracted

    . Put the file in a temporary directory, and then from within this directory, double-click the BIOS file you downloaded or type the filename of the file and press Enter.

    This causes the file to self-extract. For example, if the file you downloaded is called CB-P06.EXE (for the Intel D810E2CB motherboard), you would enter the following command:


  2. The extracted files are stored in the same temporary folder as the downloaded BIOS

    . Recent Intel flash BIOS upgrades contain the following files: Desc.txt, License.txt, Readme.txt, Run.bat (which is run to create the bootable floppy), and SW.EXE (which contains the BIOS code).
  1. To create the bootable floppy disk, open

    Run.bat—which extracts files from SW.EXE—and transfer the necessary files to the blank disk in Drive A:.
  1. Now you can restart the system with the bootable floppy in drive A: containing the new BIOS files you just extracted. Upon booting from this disk, the iFlash program automatically starts and updates the BIOS boot block and the main BIOS area.

  1. When you're told that the BIOS has been successfully loaded, remove the bootable floppy from the drive and press Enter to reboot the system.

  1. Press F1 or F2 to enter Setup. On the first screen within Setup, check the BIOS version to ensure that it is the new version.

  1. In Setup, load the default values. If you have an AMI BIOS, press the F5 key. With a Phoenix BIOS, go to the Exit submenu and highlight Load Setup Defaults, and then press Enter.

  1. If the system had unique settings, reenter those settings now. Press F10 to save the values, exit Setup, and restart the system. Your system should now be fully functional with the new BIOS.

Using IML System Partition BIOS

IBM and Compaq used a scheme similar to a flash ROM, called Initial Microcode Load (IML), in some of their older Pentium and 486 systems. IML is a technique in which the BIOS code is installed on the hard disk in a special hidden-system partition and is loaded every time the system is powered up.

Of course, the system still has a core BIOS on the motherboard, but all that BIOS does is locate and load updated BIOS code from the system partition. This technique enabled Compaq and IBM to distribute ROM updates on disk for installation in the system partition. The IML BIOS is loaded every time the system is reset or powered on.

Along with the system BIOS code, the system partition contains a complete copy of the Setup and Diagnostics or Reference Disk, which provides the option of running the setup and system-configuration software at any time during a reboot operation.

This option eliminates the need to boot from this disk to reconfigure the system and gives the impression that the entire Setup and Diagnostics or Reference Disk is contained in ROM.

One drawback to this technique is that the BIOS code is installed on the hard disk; the system can't function properly without the correctly set-up hard disk connected. You can always boot from the Reference Disk floppy should the hard disk fail or become disconnected, but you can't boot from a standard floppy disk.