How to flash BIOS
Today I want to talk to you about how to flash motherboard BIOS. Just to be fair, it should be noted that this is done not that often, but sometimes it is the only way to fully restore crashed computer.
Now, a brief reminder what is BIOS and how it looks like. Everything you need to know about it, for the moment, is contained in the following picture:
What do we see here? Microchip "AMI" (American Megatrends Incorporated) BIOS, extracted from its socket. The socket is used to provide extra protection and to accommodate easy removal from the board.
By the way, the extraction is best performed with the help of a special device, called the extractor:
Let's us consider instances when flashing the BIOS is necessary and what sort of positive things can happen if we do it?
Actually, in modern motherboards the process of flashing the BIOS gets down to the BIOS firmware image being stored onto the CMOS chip on the motherboard. "CMOS" is the name of the technology used in the production of this microchip: "Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor". CMOS is, in essence, a flash memory where the microcode and all the settings are stored.
There are also instances when flashing the BIOS is necessary not because of non-working computer, but for other different reasons. For example: the board is introduced to the market with a "raw" microcode (manufacturer is in a hurry to release a new line of products). As a result there are difficulties with various integrated devices, or it turns out that the motherboard doesn't work with certain types of RAM, or sometimes in order to install a new CPU (processor) it might be necessary to update (flash) BIOS.
There are a couple of ways to flash BIOS. Either you can do it in Windows, DOS, or by using direct approach you can go straight to BIOS.
Attention! When updating (flashing) BIOS, be VERY careful. If the data in CMOS chip in the process of updating will be damaged or incorrectly recorded (the power supply turns off for no reason) restoring BIOS back to its original condition will need a miracle or service center with a special device - "the programmer".
Although, if we consider all the possibilities, it's worth mentioning that some of the new motherboards have two BIOS chips. Such products are marked "Dual BIOS" and if, again for no apparent reason, BIOS becomes corrupted, its firmware will be automatically restored. The computer will notify you about an error and display restore request. After confirmation BIOS will be recovered using the firmware from the back-up chip.
We are done with the minimum basic theory behind BIOS. And now we are ready to proceed to the practical aspects of today's topic.
The talk on how to flash motherboard BIOS is based on the personal experience that recently took place in my IT department.
So, our department was given a system unit from a very remote location (a.k.a far away office). When asked, "what had happened?" the answer followed: "when turned on the screen displays gibberish". As you might have guessed we are already used to this brief and "thorough" mockery of an explanation :). This is what we actually saw:
You don't have to be a psychic to figure out that something is wrong with the BIOS motherboard. First, the computer determines what the problems are (they can vary), then tries to find floppy disk (drive A), "asks" (requests) to boot from the system floppy disk by pressing "Enter", this will "flash" BIOS with new working firmware.
Note: don't be confused by two look-alike situations:
- BIOS has crashed (the system doesn't boot).
- The battery on CMOS is dead.
In the case of the last instance you'll see a sign which says something like this: "CMOS battery low" and in the lower left corner of the screen - a request to press "F1" to proceed booting with current settings.
If the battery is low the changes made in BIOS will reset to default settings each time you restart the computer, and the computer will load and work properly (after pressing "F1"). The solution is simple - just change the three volt battery labeled "CR2032" next to the chip and forget about this problem for the next 5-6 years. This kind of battery can be purchased at any store that sells batteries or electronic alarm clocks :).
Now, in order to flash BIOS we need MS-DOS startup disk. It can be created in Windows 98, Windows XP, Windows 7 in the "Format Floppy Disk Drive" window by checking the corresponding checkbox "Create an MS-DOS startup disk".
I foresee a tricky question, "what if there is no floppy drive, what next?" :) Take advantage of its USB twin counterpart. It looks like this:
By the way, that's exactly what we did. To flash BIOS, we need only two additional files which we add to the files already present on the floppy. These are BIOS image update (usually it has the extension "bin") and a flasher (a small program with the extension "exe").
Flesher is responsible for "flashing" the "bin" file into BIOS CMOS chip. Each version of the firmware has its own flasher (it is usually downloaded as one archive file, the flasher and firmware are already inside). The flasher can also be downloaded from the manufacturer's site.
So, first, copy these two files onto the system floppy disk, then insert it into the drive and reboot. If you want to have a planned flash of BIOS (the previous BIOS didn't crash) it's highly recommended to keep the old version of the firmware. It is useful if something goes wrong and we have to restore the system to its original condition.
Backup window may look like this:
But in our situation, as you may have guessed, we were forced to flash BIOS because it broke down (bummer). So the idea of a backup didn't cross my mind. The objective was simply to "revive" the computer. Mainboard "DFI NS35-TL" simply refused to start, displaying BIOS error message and prompted to insert system disk into "A" drive.
Our objective was to boot from system disk and from it also run our firmware flasher. After you launched it, in the window box that appeared (it looks similar to the picture above) specify full name of the firmware file and don't forget to indicate its extension. The end result might look something like this: ami8d10007.bin (depending on the downloaded image). Then press "Enter" confirming BIOS flash.
That's exactly what we did in this case. After successful flashing the BIOS restart your computer, then the system must pass the POST test, then the firmware initializes devices on IDE channels, and finally Windows XP should boot, hopefully :).
Just think about it, this motherboard was about to end-up somewhere on a junk yard or as a spare part. As for now, it works two months, flawlessly.
The question on "how to flash BIOS motherboard" re-appears with regular intervals. So let's look at an overview and other options of flashing the BIOS.
On relatively old motherboards this option was realized at the BIOS level. Here is how this option may have looked like:
Nowadays "Q-Flash" utility has become the new trend. It is integrated into the BIOS itself by the manufacturer and can be launched from "within".
In this case, you can specify firmware device location (CD-ROM or USB flash drive). The principle is the same: choose the option "flash BIOS" in graphical interface, make a backup copy of your BIOS to floppy (or disk drive), specify new (previously downloaded) firmware and press "Enter". The procedure itself takes just a few seconds (crucial info: while the process is ongoing - do not work with the computer, under no circumstances reboot!).
Flashing the BIOS from Windows is even simpler. In this case, BIOS and flasher are packed into a single file with the extension "exe" and all you have to do is to run it directly in Windows. Here's how it might look:
Confirm by clicking "OK". When you see a progress bar (flash indicator) this means that in few seconds you'll have new BIOS. Now it's time to reboot. Go to BIOS again and check whether the version has changed (it's usually indicated in the upper right corner).
Another thing that you should worry about when flashing the BIOS in Windows is the pitfalls waiting for you. For example: there was a case when after firmware update and a reboot all USB ports stopped working. Additional BIOS flash was needed (using the same firmware), but this time in DOS (humiliatingly using floppy disk). Only then, everything worked fine. Be sure to keep this option in mind when going through the same procedure in Windows.
Now a few words about where we take all the new cool firmware? My advice, if possible, always download it from the motherboard manufacturer site (this procedure must treated with diligence). Firmware can usually be found in same section as motherboard drivers and that's the place for you to go to.
A tip! Most manufacturers on their websites have the word "Firmware" instead of "BIOS". Don't be confused - it is the same thing. Just keep it in mind.
Do you remember, in the beginning of the article, we mentioned the fact that if flashing the BIOS fails, the only thing to help us is the "programmer"? Now the time has come to mention this "Programmer" in more detail.
The programmer is a device that connects to the computer via standard ports (COM, LPT, USB), or can have a form of a separate PCI or ISA expansion cards.
Here, for example, is how a device of "USB Willem EPROM Programmer BIOS" class looks like:
Into this "programmer" we place the BIOS chip extracted from our motherboard, the device connects to your computer and uses special firmware to flash BIOS (records updated firmware).
For decades, these "programmers" were autonomous - had their own keyboard to set new firmware. But with the PC development, they were pushed out by other devices that could be connected. The process goes as follows: a special program (also called "programmer") sends the firmware from a computer and the programmer records it onto the memory chip. Using this device makes flashing the BIOS a simple task.