How to Install BIOS Upgrades – CompTIA A+ 220-801: 1.1

| August 10, 2012

The upgrade of your computer’s BIOS is a simple and safe process when handled correctly. In this video, you’ll learn the steps to take to ensure your BIOS upgrade goes without a hitch.

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The firmware is the software that’s inside of your computer that gets everything going. There has to be something sitting there inside of the hardware to tell all of the other devices what to do when you apply power to the system. How does the operating system know to get loaded from the hard drive unless there’s some type of software that’s already part of the computer that tells your computer to go to the hard drive, go to the boot sector, start up the operating system, and get things going.

This firmware is made of non-volatile memory. That means you can power off your computer. You can unplug it from the wall. You can get rid of all power sources. And yet, when you start your computer back up again, that memory will still be there and available to provide information and instructions to your computer hardware. This is usually something that is a read-only memory. It might also be something like flash memory. Flash memory is usually what we see on the most modern computers. That way we can update our firmware with new versions as they are released.

You’ll find firmware in your computer. There’s firmware on some of the adapter cards that’s inside of your device. Game consoles have firmware. You can almost always do upgrades to these firmware as well. These upgrade usually are designed to improve the performance of your system. Sometimes it identifies bugs with the firmware inter-operating with different pieces of hardware. So occasionally, you’ll have to do a firmware upgrade to be able to fix a problem that you happen have.

But we generally don’t want to upgrade unless it’s a really good reason to do it. There’s a small risk associated with firmware upgrades. You could perform the firmware upgrade, and once it’s upgraded, it doesn’t work properly, and therefore your computer will not start properly. Or what if you get interrupted in the middle of the firmware upgrade? It’s only halfway upgraded. And now you’ve destroyed whatever system you had in place that would have allowed you to boot your computer up. That’s not what we want to have happen either. So there’s a number of steps we should go through to make sure we perform this firmware upgrade successfully.

To be able to know if there’s a firmware or BIOS upgrade available, we want to know what version is currently running on our existing system. When you start up your computer, a lot of things flash on the screen. Sometimes they go by so quickly, you can’t really see them. But occasionally, you can see exactly what version of the firmware is located, because it does show up on the screen.

It might be easier to look at msinfo32. That’s your System Information utility that’s inside of every version of Microsoft Windows. That will show you a screen that tells you exactly the version of BIOS you happen to be running. It will have a message right on the screen that says the BIOS version and the date. It’s on the very first System Summary screen. And it will tell you– in my case, it was a Dell Incorporated BIOS, version A05. And the date on that BIOS was December 4, 2008. And now you can compare the version you’re running on your computer with other versions that might be available. And you could decide if you’d like to do a firmware upgrade.

It might also be useful to get a copy of the current version of the BIOS that you’re upgrading from. That way if you perform the upgrade to the new version and you just don’t like the performance, or you find a problem with that version, you can downgrade to the previous version. And you’ve already got a copy of that available. Always nice to have a backup plan.

The process for upgrading a BIOS is a little bit different on every single computer. So before you perform that upgrade, make sure you look at the documentation associated with that firmware upgrade. Sometimes it’s a pretty basic installation. You start the upgrade and you’re done. Occasionally, you will run into a BIOS upgrade that requires certain drivers or certain updates to the operating system before that BIOS will work properly. So make sure you check your documentation.

Another important piece, is to make sure you have a reliable power source. Because if you interrupt this upgrade somewhere in the middle, there’s the potential for completely destroying the capability of this computer to start up when you hit the power. So if you’re on a laptop, make sure you’re powered in. Don’t trust your battery. The BIOS programs that run the perform upgrades usually will check that for you. And they’ll tell you, you’re on a laptop. You’re running on a battery. I’m not even going to upgrade this unless you’re plugged into the wall and I have a power source available.

If you’re on a desktop, you obviously don’t have a battery available. It might be worthwhile to find a power source that is battery powered, like an uninterruptible power supply– a UPS– where you can plug-in. And even if there is a power flicker in the middle of the firmware upgrade, you’re still up and running.

If you’re running on a really old piece of hardware, it’s an old laptop or an old desktop, you may not be able to perform BIOS upgrades in the operating system. You may need to create a boot disk– a boot floppy disk, or a boot CD-ROM, or DVD-ROM– to run the upgrade process. Once you create the boot disk, you then restart the computer with that boot disk in the system. And that’s how the upgrade is performed.

Almost always, the upgrade is going to be done in the operating system itself. All the modern systems run an executable. And it is going to go through a process of upgrading your system. To make sure there are no conflicts with anything that’s running during that time frame, shut down any other program you happen to have running. Make sure that your BIOS upgrade is the only thing that’s taking place during that time frame.

You also want to check and make sure that you have covered all the prerequisites for operating system drivers or operating system patches. Generally the upgrade program will check itself. But it’s always nice to do a sanity check, to do a second check of it before you perform that upgrade. This upgrade is going to reboot your computer. It restarts everything and performs the upgrade process. So if you have any documents that are running or anything that needs to be saved, now would be the time to do that.

Here is the screen that appears when I start the upgrade program on my Dell. It tells me it’s a Dell computer Flash BIOS upgrade. It gives me information about the version that I am going to upgrade to. In this particular case, I was already upgraded. In fact, it says the current system BIOS information is exactly the same as the older BIOS. And that can also fill you in on details about what version of the BIOS you happen to be running.

And the process from here, pretty simple. At the bottom it says, would you like to replace this BIOS? You can click Continue. Or you can click Cancel, and you’re done. If you choose to click the Continue button, you get another screen that says, are you sure? Do you really want to replace this BIOS version? And you’ve got another chance. And it even tells you, when you click OK, it’s going to close everything out. It’s going to shut down the operating system. It will flash the BIOS, which means it writes the new version of the BIOS to flash memory. And it reboots your computer. This is your last chance. If you click OK here, there’s no turning back. If you click Cancel, everything goes back the way it was.

The BIOS upgrade is a relatively simple process. It’s one that you might perform very often on your computers. And as long as you follow these simple steps, you’re not going to have a problem getting your system updated to the latest version of your firmware.

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Category: CompTIA A+ 220-801

Comments (2)

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  1. how often if atall should we be checking for BIOS Upgrades ?

    • Jeff Fabish says:

      I would recommend that you update your BIOS only when a critical or security patch is released. Most manufacturers have a mailing list you can subscribe to in order to stay informed about the latest releases, I typically only subscribe to security and critical updates unless it offers any compatibility or performance updates that would directly effect my setup. Otherwise, I only upgrade my BIOS when I have a problem with it (if it’s not broke, don’t fix it).

      If you MUST have the “latest and greatest” (for whatever reason), give the devs a few weeks to work out the kinks. Most significant bugs are worked out within the first six months of the major release, the rest of the updates for that major are usually just slight modifications.

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