How to flash your BIOS

Laptop Logic provides a step-by-step guide to flashing your BIOS for users of every skill

Introduction

Often times, you will hear people talking about the BIOS, and how they have updated it in their computer. Why does it matter? What is this magical 4 letter word, and why should you care, and more importantly how do you update it? Laptop Logic delves into the topic at hand’ How do I upgrade my laptop BIOS?’

BIOS: what does it mean?

BIOS is a simple acronym that stands for Basic Input/Output system and it’s the meat and potatoes of your computer. It is what tells your computer’s hardware to start up with what, and how to do it; everything from your hard drive access to CPU speed. This is not to be confused with your OS (Operating System) because the OS (Windows, Mac, Linux) are programs that run your computer with items the BIOS tells it to. Many items are not related directly to your BIOS – external mouse, jump drive, speakers, and other items that are mostly peripheral are NOT run by your BIOS, but rather controlled and accessed your OS. However, items that are absolutely necessary (hard drive, memory, CPU and video) are paired directly to your BIOS and often have different settings that aren’t meant’ to be changed.

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There are two other important features related to your BIOS: POST and setup. Great – two MORE things to worry aboutnot really. POST is another simple acronym that stands for Power On Self Test. It’s equivalent to stretching in the morning after you wake up – you check yourself to make sure everything is good before you start the day, much like a computer does. And if you don’t feel great, you need to change something. Just like a human, computers can be configured when they wake up called setup.

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(a sample screenshot of a POST startup screen)

You can enter the setup of your BIOS often times by pressing F2, or DEL, or even ESCAPE on some computers when it tells you to when you first turn on the computer. You can then change the settings in your BIOS. Some BIOS options are wide open and should not be tampered with unless you know exactly what you are doing. Others are very LIMITED and only offer you to change the boot-up sequence, date/time/ and maybe, MAYBE your RAM settings. Once you make the changes in the setup, you can save and exit and your re-configured BIOS will start up. Overclockers love an involved BIOS, it allows them to change a lot of settings within the startup of the computer that otherwise might need external software within the OS. Why should I update my BIOS?

Often times, when a manufacturer makes a motherboard, they include a BIOS that might not take advantage of everything that is built into it. This is prevalent just before a major shift in computer technology. An example is the new Core 2 Duo chips some motherboards were manufactured to support these chips, but the BIOS was not ready yet. So if you wanted to upgrade your CPU, you had to make sure your BIOS was upgraded as well, the CPU wouldnt be recognized. Besides all of that, its also important to note that sometimes manufacturers dont put the best possible BIOS on their computer not by purpose more than likely. Like any piece of technology it probably has a few faults that are unseen at the time of launch, found out later on, and then often fixed by a BIOS upgrade. If the manufacturer of your laptop has released a new BIOS, chances are its for the better making your system more reliable, and sometimes faster and having a better chance to upgrade other components that just came out.

Where is my BIOS located?

You could go searching inside your computer for it, but unless you are really familiar with your laptops motherboard, it will be like playing Marco Poloin the Grand Canyon. Well not really, it should be marked pretty easily but you dont REALLY need to see it to upgrade it (unless your system is rather old). The BIOS is actually embedded within a chip on the motherboard. Its not a part of your hard drive or some special disc, its an actual chip that is hard wired onto your motherboard. Your computer accesses this ROM (read only memory) chip when it boots up.

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Much like RAM, a ROM chip is particular to that kind of motherboard only often times it cannot be upgraded and is pretty small in comparison to RAM capacity. Were talking KB (yeah, that OLD OLD size format) 8,16, 32, 128 – 512kb worth of space. Some go up to megabytes but more so its less than that. It doesn’t need to have a lot of space after all its only storing a tiny program. Now, you might be asking yourself if its Read ONLY memory, how do we upgrade it?! Good call newer chips are still ROM chips; however, the chips are classified as EEPROMs, or Electronically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory. Woof, try saying that 5 times fast…this allows a user to electronically erase/write/program a Read Only Memory module. Like what we want to do. So, if you are still following along, there are basically 3 types of BIOS that can be on your motherboard. They are:

· ROM Read Only Memory can not be flashed or altered and much be physically removed

/ updated by replacing it.

· PROM Programmable Read Only Memory just like ROM only it can be programmed, but not by you (necessarily)!

· EEPROM Electronically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory this is what most laptops have now. It allows us to use a program, or command line followed by a file to

update or replace the BIOS on the chip.

The manufacturers place the BIOS (setup and POST) on this EEPROM chip – so that its not erased with the wrong kind of user activity (like virus or accidental format). But, for obvious reasons, this doesnt make the BIOS invulnerable to viruses or accidental deletion. In fact, there are viruses that specifically target your BIOS and delete it making your system a large paper weight. Knowing this, if you plan on following the guide later on you have full responsibility in understanding that if you mess up (somehow, someway) you could brick your system. But hopefully, if you follow this guide, you’ll gather a greater understanding and be willing to take that risk for the benefits. Also, the chances of bricking are slim if you understand what you are doing. So, if you want to upgrade your BIOS, see me on the next page; if you aren’t quit ready to take the step, no hurry. We all have comfort levels with our stuff, and if you aren’t comfortable, why don’t you just read on to see how its done and when you are ready, follow the steps or watch a technician to observe how its done hands on. Ok soldier, get out your sexy computer upgrade hats, and lets get going! You don’t have one? It should look like this:

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OK OK, Im only kidding. But we do need some stuff before we continue What do I need to update my BIOS?

Great, nice to see you on the start of our new found adventure. First off lets start off by saying that even though this is pretty routine there are chances something could go wrong. You should either backup your BIOS, to a safe location on an external jump drive, on a CD, or even a floppy, or have an extra EEPROM at hand should things drastically fail. The procedure you are about to perform is called flashing your BIOS and, is pretty simple, but there might be some problems that pop up that you don’t even have control over. What could go wrong? One of the BIGGEST problems while doing a BIOS flash is that the power (for some ungodly reason) will go out! But, just have your battery topped off and on your computer and you shouldn’t have a problem. Another benefit of having a laptop, you can still work when the power goes out for awhile (if your battery works that is!) Its also the possibility that the media you used to transfer your new BIOS is corrupt! An example is have you ever burned a CD and found out that it turned into a coaster because it didn’t burn right? The same thing could happen to your BIOS so, if you burn your new BIOS onto a CD, please PLEASE make sure you verify your files, otherwise NO BIOS FOR YOU!

You will need to know / have 5 things:

1. The laptop manufacturer

2. laptop / motherboard model #

3. A different (correct) version of your BIOS

4. A CD drive capable of Burning CD-Rs

5. A program that can write a bootable image (Nero)

A different and correct BIOS is found on vendors websites. More often than not, its not just down to Motherboard model and BIOS type because laptops use a lot of the same components. You will NEED to find out who makes your laptop to make sure the BIOS you are about to flash to is compatible. Once you have found this information, we can carry on with the actual procedure of flashing (updating) your BIOS.

You will need to choose which format you can update your BIOS with. There are 4 ways you can perform this, and it all depending on which way is suggested by your notebook manufacturer. They are:

1. Actually replacing your ROM chip this deals with extremely old or proprietary systems.

Even though EEPROM chips can be switched out and new BIOSs can be installed, the cost effective nature of this chip (able to flash it) is what it was made for and replacing an EEPROM is often the result of an unsuccessful flash.

2. Using Windows or GUI based OS to perform the upgrade. This is not a new idea, having

software perform a hardware encoding process, however, we all are familiar with the possibilities of Windows crashing (whether you want to admit it or not) there is another alternative

3. Using a command based DOS boot-up disc to perform the task. Even though this is extremely old school, I find it with the least amount of possible flaws even though it has the most amount of steps involved. I will cover the last two in the following page on how to flash your BIOS.

If you noticed, I only listed 3 settings there, another good catch. There is a fourth setting, although, so far I have never encountered it on a laptop. But I will explain it regardless. There are motherboards out there that have a BIOS program built into the motherboard memory, and can be booted directly from the motherboard, without going into a DOS or Windows/OS to execute it. If your laptop has this, consider yourself lucky as it is the least painful and most easy to flash. If your laptop does not have this, the next steps will guide you on your way.

I have selected a few options that I find whenever I update my BIOS to be the most effective. I need to find my BIOS, and it will be posted by my notebook manufacturer. This BIOS, is often in the form of a .ZIP or .BIN file. If you download a ZIP file, remember to unzip that file to a location you can retrieve quickly and easily. Its probably safe to say if you haven’t done so already, back up your current BIOS! Programs such as WinPhlash have the ability to save your flash file to an external drive, or somewhere on your hard drive, you can read about this program.

I am going to cover the tried and True way, if your motherboard doesn’t have the Windows based flash utility. Plus, my affiliation and dedication of FULL FAITH in Windows isn’t the best so I always stick with DOS. And that’s what I’m going to cover. For references, I am providing the steps provided for a MSI 1029 notebook. It has an ATI RS 480M chipset, and its BIOS is supplied directly from the website. Im also going to use a program provided by Toshiba for the Qosmio F45 unit we are reviewing. It actually needs a BIOS upgrade, so this turned out great as well. That unit will be using software provided by the manufacturer with a specific version of WinPhlash (which only works on Phoenix BIOS systems). We first need to make a boot disc. If your laptop has Windows 2000 on it you cant make a floppy boot disc and if your laptop is newer, more than likely you don’t even HAVE a floppy. What is a guy or gal to do! Well there is the option of making a bootable CD, which were going to do. You can start by downloading the Nero trial version found here; if you already have Nero or a program that has the ability to make a bootable CD-ROM, great! There is a site where you can download a bootable disc image but, I find that users going that route probably  lready know how to flash their BIOS. You don’t have to take my suggestion, but I’m going to continue my guide with Nero. Using Nero 7

Nero has graciously allowed a full version to download on their website with the link provided on the previous page and works for 15 days, no strings attached. Even though this is NOT the only software program that can be used, it is easy to install, use, and then remove if you so choose to. Ill do a quick run through on the installation process.

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First, youll have to start up the installation, and its pretty painless.

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Once the installation process is complete and you have done a system restart, it will finish configuring the files needed for Nero. If it doesn’t start automatically, go ahead and run the SmartStart program for Nero 7.

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Once you have the program opened, we need to be in ADVANCED mode. The circle highlighted in yellow below is the button you need to press to enter ADVANCED user mode. Once you have done so, make sure you select CD from the upper most drop down menu, and are on the Data selection tab. Reference the picture above.

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The next step is to make a bootable CD how nice! Isn’t that awesome!? Now remember, this only works after you have downloaded your BIOS and decompressed it to a certain location. What, you forgot to do this? Well I suppose I can show you how to do that as well.

Getting your BIOS files ready to Burn onto CD:

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Once you have downloaded your new bios to your computer, you need to note the format that it is in. If its in the ROM based application version, you will need to make sure that the program you use accepts a ROM based image. If its a zip based file like mine is you will need to unzip the file to a location of your choosing to insert it into Nero from there. Shown above, is my file I downloaded, ready to be unzipped. You can windows version of .ZIP extension, or you can use WinZips freeware version to accomplish for you whichever one you feel is best. I have WinRar (winzip) and when I right click on my file, I can tell it to extract (unzip) the files to the same location. If you click on the file, it will enter the program and this is what pops up:

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You will notice that you will still need to move these files to wherever you want to put them, I suggest either selecting and dragging them to a specific folder, or using the handy Extract To icon on the top:

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Once you have extracted your files to your location, well need to add these to the Nero Bootable cd-rom and continue the flashing process. Using Nero Cont’d Placing files in Nero Once you have your files unzipped, go ahead and make sure you select the bootable cd from within Nero. A screen like this should pop up:

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Notice how it has already selected the appropriate image file to boot the disc into DOS mode (outlined in blue). Don’t mess with these settings unless you know you want a different image. After you have made sure your settings are how you need them to be, we need to continue by selecting NEW below.

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Once you have done so, a new screen will pop up that allows us to add the files we need to make the BIOS flash utility.

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On this screen, you will note that this is a file browser and you will need to locate the files that you unzipped. I told my WinRar to unzip it to Simon My documents Downlaod and that’s where my folder is (highlighted on the selection screen.) Select this folder to open it, and then drag the files to the left hand column as shown below.

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Notice how my files are now in the 2nd column from the left this is exactly what you need to do in order for the program to write the files to CD. You wont need to add any more files that what the manufacturer has provided to you, so you can now prepare to burn your CD.

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Go ahead and click the BURN button above, and the burn configuration screen will pop up. Might I suggest burning at a much lower speed than the maximum your CD-BURNER is capable of, we don’t want this to become a coaster and turn your laptop into a big paper weight now do we!

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After you have successfully burned your CD, eject it, and then re-insert it into your drive. The reason behind this is we want to make sure the burn was nice and clean, and the CD can be read with no errors. I chose to burn at 12x something safe and since the files are so small anyways, it doesn’t take long.

In older versions of Nero, you were able to verify files after burn, which was awesome, it made sure that what was burned onto your disc was on there with no errors. It seems as if Nero 7 has done away with this setting, so the step of sticking it back into your laptops CD drive and opening it within windows to view the files will have to suffice. Here is what you should look for on the CD you just burned. Also note please write down the DRIVE LETTER you are navigating to this will help you enter that when needed in DOS.

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My DVD / CD drive is letter D, as shown in the highlighted icon through My Computer.

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Great, now that the files are on there, we need to restart with the CD in the drive. Close all programs and restart your computer using the Start Menu function. The next, will have to be done with regular pictures to show you what is done next. DOS BIOS Flashing Reboot to start the flashing

Now is the best time to start out by stating that almost all manufacturers make your computer boot up from a CD-ROM drive before you hard drive, however, if this is not the case, you will need to enter your setup to make sure that it does if the CD does not load DR. DOS right away. Ok. So you’ve restarted your laptop with the CD in the drive, you will notice a new startup screen soon after your computer has started its booting from the program on the CD. And should look something very similar to this screen:

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WOW! Talk about old school!? No kidding, but anyone who grew up with DOS will feel right at home. First things first, we need to navigate to your CD drive to start the flash program. See that blinking cursor on your screen? That’s called a command prompt. Back in the old days, never mind. Ill just tell you what you need to type.

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If you notice, it sd say something like this right away. It will have A:> (This is called A Prompt). We need to navigate to your CD drive to initiate the program and flash sequence. Remember when I told you to remember or write down that drive letter? Now is the chance to enter that information. On my computer, my CD drive is letter D so I need to enter the following command (ALL CHARACTERS COUNT AS A KEY) I need to enter the letter D and then followed by the colon symbol ( : ) and then I need to press enter.

So the line should now read:

[DR-DOS] D:>

Watch the animation image here to know what Im talking about:

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After you do that, you need to enter DIR to see what is on your CD to run. What you need to look for is a .BAT file. Remember when we put those files onto CD, lets reference that picture and see if any of the file names we have on our screen after we type DIR and press enter here is what should show up.

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Aha! Notice how on the furthest right, we have the filename A1029AMS.BAT this is what we will need to enter on the prompt below, as noted in the following picture. Of course, your filename might be different, please consult your manufacturers advice.

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Once we have entered A1029AMS.BAT (YOUR FILE NAME MAY BE DIFFERENT)hit enter, and the process should take over from there, it will say reading file and then continue to flash your BIOS! Congratulations! You just flashed your BIOS using a DOS bootable disc! Once the laptop is done flashing, it will automatically restart. Don’t be alarmed if the system BEEPS at you when it restarts this is normal. It will ask you to confirm settings for your new CMOS you can either enter your setup and make sure the date, time, and any other setting you wish to be enabled is done so and afterwards you can choose SAVE and EXIT. Windows BIOS Flashing

Using a Windows based program

If your laptop manufacturer provides you with a Windows based flash utility, you can use that as well. The following steps guide you through a simple program. Step 1: Download the file

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Downloading the right file is as easy as selecting the model number. I found the file, and I need to download it.

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I choose to SAVE it on my computer

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After choosing save, I need to run the file I just saved.

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After selecting run, it will begin the installation – and you will need to tell it to unzip to a certain location as noted in the following 2 pictures.

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After that is done, you need to run the program and follow the onscreen steps provided for flashing your computer.

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After you select to run the program, you will be greeted by whatever options are provided. Select OK and the final steps should be self explanatory!

 

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