Taking advantage of the capabilities offered by EEPROM, motherboard manufacturers have begun releasing new versions of the BIOS with greater frequency these days. There are many reasons that an update to the BIOS may be required: the new version offers better stability, compatibility or performance; new technical breakthroughs require new features in the BIOS; a device attached to the computer may not function without the newer version; and increasingly, flashes fix some problems in the earlier version of the BIOS!
Just as the PC motherboard has a BIOS chip, so do other hardware components and peripherals. These include things such as the video card, the CD-ROM/RW, DVD-ROM/RW, etc. Generally, the BIOSes on these are known as firmware. And just as the PC BIOS can be updated, the BIOS of these devices can be updated, too. While we only cover flashing the PC BIOS, the procedure is pretty similar for other firmware. In all cases, make sure you have all the information and the procedure down before the procedure. Updating, or flashing as it’s popularly known, the BIOS should only be undertaken if everything else fails and you have sufficient reason to believe that flashing your BIOS will help. The golden rule to follow here is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”.
Identify if your BIOS is flashable
The first step is to identify if you have a flashable BIOS. Peel the sticker off the BIOS chip and note down the model number. Go to the motherboard manufacturer’s Web site and search for the model and whether it’s flashable. Once you’ve determined that you have a flashable BIOS, we are in business.
Note Down The Current Settings
The next step is to note down all the current BIOS settings. Switch on the PC and enter your BIOS setup. If you have a printer attached and the print screen button works, go to each and every menu page and print out the settings. Otherwise, note it down by hand. In case something goes wrong, you will need to refer to these settings to reset your BIOS.
Get the latest BIOS updates
Once you’ve copied down all your settings, the next step is to identify the latest updates for your BIOS. To do this, go to your motherboard manufacturer’s Web site and look up BIOS updates for your motherboard model, make and number. Download the correct update from the site. Download the flash program (usually a .exe file) that will ‘flash’ the update onto your BIOS chip. Usually, the update and the flash program will be zipped together.
Create two MS-DOS boot floppy disks
Ensure that you’re on a reliable power supply and that your floppy drive is not defective. Copy the flash program to a new floppy disk formatted as an MS-DOS startup disk. (Right click the floppy drive and select ‘Format…’; in Windows 98, select the ‘Copy System Files’ checkbox, in Windows XP, select ‘Create an MS-DOS Startup Disk’). Keep a second formatted disk also ready.
Back up your current BIOS
Ensure that the floppy drive is the first boot device in your BIOS settings. Insert the first floppy and reboot the system. You will taken to a DOS prompt (A:\) from where you should type in the name of the flash program. On the screen that appears, select the option to save your current BIOS to the first floppy disk where you only have the flash program. This will serve as a backup in case something goes wrong with your update and you need to revert to your old BIOS.
Flash the BIOS
Copy the flash program and the BIOS update file to the second floppy disk. Verify that the update file has been copied correctly. Reboot the system with the floppy inserted in the floppy drive. At the A:\ prompt, type out the name of the flash program followed by the BIOS update file name. A screen appears showing you the update file that will be flashed to the BIOS. Confirm it. WAIT will the BIOS is flashed. You will be informed when it is over and asked to exit. Once you are back at the DOS prompt, remove the floppy and reboot the system. If everything has gone off well, you should get the normal POST screen.
Configure the new BIOS
After flashing your BIOS with new version and rebooting, enter the BIOS setup. The first step is to load the factory defaults (or the BIOS setup defaults—the terminology may vary depending on your BIOS). This will ensure that all the new options will default to the factory setting, which under normal circumstances
should be safe. After loading the defaults, the next step is to configure the BIOS to your system-specific settings. Pull out the screenshots you printed out (or the settings you wrote down) earlier and key in all the settings there. You may, of course, change any of those settings if you are sure about what you are doing. As a first step, however, it is better to use the old settings and check if your system boots up to the OS and everything is working normally.
Never Flash The BIOS Unless Absolutely Essential! In the old days, when you wanted to upgrade/update your BIOS, you had one of two options: change the motherboard or replace the chip with a newer model. With the introduction of EEPROM (Electronically Erasable and Programmable Read Only Memory) it has now become possible to update the BIOS via software.
Disable all forms of shadowing.
Do not shadow the BIOS while trying to flash it. The BIOS will not be completely written. This applies to video BIOS or any other shadowed BIOS. Disable the byte merge setting— it can potentially kill your motherboard. Check the manufacturer's site for any other settings that need to be disabled.
Flashing From Within Windows
Some motherboard vendors have started offering the option of flashing software that works under Windows. This is usually a program that is specifically designed to work the motherboard and BIOS of that system and makes the process of updating your BIOS much easier. Typically, the software will search the Internet for BIOS updates and guide you through the update process through a Wizard-like interface. This option is safer than the manual process, but only a few motherboard vendors provide this facility. So if you are shopping around for a new motherboard, you might want to consider this feature as one of your requirements.