Updating PC BIOS

The BIOS is responsible for the proper operation of the entire computer system. The overall stability and reliability of the computer system as well as its performance in various modes depends on BIOS's functionality, the quality of its code, and its efficiency.

The motherboard manufacturers are constantly improving the BIOS code in cooperation with BIOS developers. As a result, new, improved BIOS versions are constantly being released, not only for newly created motherboards, but also for the older ones.

Improved BIOS versions are mainly intended for use with newly released components, taking into account particular features of their architecture. Updating the BIOS version often allows you to compensate for the drawbacks of legacy devices used in the computer system.

The architecture of modern motherboards uses electrically programmed flash memory chips for storing BIOS. These new generation ROM chips, so-called Flash ROMs, can be reprogrammed an infinite number of times by using a flash utility (software).

In this case you will have to find the system/motherboard make, model and revision number, and then simply download the proper flash update and utility from the manufacturer's webor FTP-site.

Writing a new version of the BIOS code into the flash memory can be done on a computer that is using a motherboard with the BIOS that has to be updated. Notice that certain computers based on legacy motherboards may not be supported by modern operating systems, such as Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 2000.

In such a case it makes sense to update the BIOS version. This is an official recommendation of well-known motherboard manufacturers, such as Abit, ASUSTeK, and Chaintech, to those users that have legacy motherboards from one of the above-mentioned firms. Most other motherboard manufacturers also give similar advice.

You should definitely consider updating your BIOS when you decide to purchase a newly released processor. For instance, it is recommended to update your BIOS if you are using Pentium III processors, because most motherboards are intended for use with a Pentium II processor.

Consequently, these motherboards are usually good candidates for having their BIOS updated. In many cases, updating the BIOS is also a good idea for Pentium III processors with the Coppermine core.

For certain motherboards that have hidden potential, replacing the BIOS version allows you to discover their hidden capabilities and make them available for use. For a series of motherboards, for example, you will be able to widen the range of processor bus frequencies and supported processor core voltages.

In many cases, it also allows you to use the newest processors with legacy motherboards. As an example, consider the well-known Asus P3B-F motherboard. Created before the release of the Pentium III (Coppermine) processor, the Asus P3B-F will be able to work with these processors after updating the BIOS.

Most motherboard manufacturers provide their distributors with BIOS update files. They also publish this information on their Web sites. Usually, the sites of these companies contain various BIOS versions. As a rule, you'll also find their BIOS updating utilities along with documentation describing the new capabilities available after updating the BIOS code.

BIOS Flashing Utilities

In order to update your BIOS you will need special flashing utilities. Notice that upgrading your BIOS through flashing is quite easy to do, but you'll have to consider the potential danger of this operation.

Therefore, you have to proceed with this operation very carefully, strictly following the instructions provided by the motherboard manufacturer. As a general rule, you can download documents with instructions and analysis of possible errors from the same sites that contain BIOS updates and flashing utilities.

Updating BIOS means replacing all its data. When flashing your BIOS, there is always the possibility of error or power-down. If flashing has not been completed successfully, you will not be able to restart the computer. In such a case, you'll need to contact a specialist to repair the damage done to your system.

Usually, to perform the repair procedures you'll need special equipment, or at least another working computer with the same type of the motherboard. Keep in mind that the recommendations given below should only be taken as a general scenario of updating your BIOS.

Before you actually start the procedure of flashing the BIOS, make sure that you have read and understood the available technical literature on the subject. Otherwise, contact a specialist, since in each particular case BIOS flashing has its own distinctive nuances that influence the final result.

Usually, you need to perform the following steps when updating your BIOS:

  1. Determine exactly the model of your motherboard. For different motherboards you will need different BIOS-flashing utilities and different versions of BIOS updates. Usually, data such as manufacturer, product name, and version are labeled on the motherboard itself.
  1. Download the most recent BIOS version from Web or FTP site of manufacturer.
  1. Unpack the downloaded file with the updated version of BIOS. Often the downloaded file will be a self-extracting archive with the .exe filename extension. To extract BIOS update, you'll simply need to run that executable file.
  1. Disable the BIOS protection option in BIOS Setup. Certain motherboards have a Flash BIOS Protection option in the SeePU & CHIPSET SETUP menu in BIOS Setup. You must set this option to Disabled before you start updating BIOS.
  1. Perform a “clean” boot, without loading any resident programs, such as memory managers and other similar programs. Some BIOS flashing utilities refuse to run in the presence of resident programs. Therefore, it is recommended to boot from the DOS-bootable diskette.

Notice that besides DOS, this diskette should contain the flashing utility and the ROM image file(s). As an alternative, you may boot DOS or Windows 9x from the hard drive, but skip processing the autoexec.bat and config.sys files.

  1. Run the flash utility.
  1. Often the flashing utility is supplied with the motherboard. The image file for updating BIOS should reside in the same directory as the flashing utility. Make sure that you remember the exact name of the file that contains the new BIOS version.

Most often, flashing utilities are interactive programs that generally prompt the user to answer the following questions:

  • The full name of the file containing updated BIOS version (including the filename extension).
  • The full name of the file, to which the current version will be saved (for example, oldbios.bin).
  • Confirmation of updating (y/n).

After flashing has finished, reboot the computer.