The ROM BIOS in your computer ultimately controls all of the hardware functions of the PC. To keep your system working properly and retain the ability to support newer devices, you should keep the BIOS up to date. In this Daily Feature, I’ll show you how.
In the early days of personal computers, updating the BIOS involved unplugging the BIOS chip from its socket and replacing it with a later version. In modern PCs (any Pentium-class motherboard), you can update the BIOS code by using software from the BIOS manufacturer. This procedure is known as flashing the BIOS.
The method of flashing a BIOS is fairly consistent among various system manufacturers, but how you get to the point of being ready to flash varies widely from one vendor to the next. In general terms, you download a BIOS update from the Internet, and you use that downloaded file to create a boot disk with the flash code on it.
Once you’ve created the boot disk, you need to power down the system, insert the boot disk in the floppy drive, and then power back on. The system will boot from the floppy drive, and the boot record on the floppy then causes the BIOS update to be applied.
Following installation of the BIOS update, you probably won’t notice any difference in the appearance of your system. Most PCs display BIOS version information at startup time, so you’ll want to observe the version of the BIOS to verify that the update has been applied properly.
Finding a new BIOS
Frequently, the greatest part of the work involved in flashing a BIOS is finding the update in the first place. If your system comes from a “name-brand” manufacturer, such as Compaq, Dell, Gateway, HP, or IBM, it should be a simple matter of going to that vendor’s Web site.
On the Web site, you’ll find a category named Drivers And Downloads (or something to that effect). That screen may ask you to choose the model number of your PC from a drop-down list; then, it will list the software updates available for that system. In that list, you should see one or more BIOS updates.
When you click on the appropriate filename, some vendors give you instructions and another hyperlink to click to download the necessary file. In case you don’t see any detailed instructions, I’ll provide a safe procedure to follow for any BIOS update.
BIOS update procedure
First, download the file, which will usually be an .exe or possibly a .zip file. The file size typically ranges from 400 KB to 700 KB, so it will easily fit on a standard floppy disk and won’t take long to download. Download it to your hard drive, though.
Second, copy the file to a formatted floppy disk. Then, open Windows Explorer and change to the directory for the A: drive. Double-click on the downloaded file and let it expand into its uncompressed files.
See how many files are on the floppy and check the filenames. If you didn’t see detailed instructions on the Web site, you’ll probably find a Readme.txt file on the floppy. Read this text file to determine how the update is to be applied. You can print out this file for future reference.
The third step is to reboot the system from the floppy and let the flashing begin automatically. When that process has completed, the final step is to remove the floppy disk and perform a normal boot and Windows startup.
If your system does not come from a “name-brand” manufacturer, you have some detective work to do before you can find the update. As the system is powered up, it should display on the screen the BIOS manufacturer’s name, as well as the BIOS date and version information. The most popular BIOS manufacturers are Award, American Megatrends, Inc. (AMI), and Phoenix.
Unfortunately, you can’t go to any of these vendors’ Web sites for BIOS updates. If you do, you’ll see that they instruct you to contact the motherboard manufacturer for the latest BIOS. But if your motherboard doesn’t have a manufacturer’s name on it, how do you know where to go?
Fortunately, the Web offers a number of sites that will help you make this determination. The one I use most frequently is WinDrivers.com. This site gives you several methods for identifying your motherboard manufacturer. The sections Award BIOS Links and AMI BIOS Links offer the option Identify Your BIOS By Number.
Both of these BIOS manufacturers include a BIOS Reference Number that displays onscreen at power-on time. This identifier includes specific letters and numbers that tell you who the motherboard manufacturer is.
Once you know the actual manufacturer of the board, you’ll need to go to its site for the BIOS update. While various motherboard manufacturers take a number of different approaches in the design of their Web sites, most will have a clearly defined section for downloads and updates, and the BIOS update should be fairly easy to find.
This procedure, with only minor variations, should allow you to update, or “flash,” the BIOS for any system you’re maintaining. Performing this function requires only a nominal investment of your time, and you’ll have a system with maximum reliability, capable of effectively using any devices you can install in it or attach to it.
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