As a certified CompTIA A+ professional, you may find it necessary to occasionally perform BIOS updates. In this video, you’ll learn about the process and best practices for upgrading the BIOS in your computer.
When we talk about upgrading the firmware of one of our devices, we’re talking about upgrading the non-volatile memory, or software, that starts up our device. Maybe we’re talking about replacing chips themselves, the read-only memory, and swapping one particular chip with another. These days, on our computers, though, we don’t have to swap out any chips. It’s all done with flash memory. So it’s very easy to run a program that then is going to upgrade the firmware of our computers.
On our computers, we call this firmware the BIOS. There might be a BIOS for the computer. There might be individual components, like video cards, that have their own BIOS that may need to be upgraded or maybe a big game console to needs to have a firmware upgrade. And we usually do this to not only ensure that the device is going to run well, but there might even be new capabilities or enhanced features by upgrading the firmware.
We don’t generally upgrade firmware at certain times of the year or during a normal maintenance cycle. That’s because if the firmware is working, we need to leave it exactly the way that it is. Usually a firmware upgrade is something that might have a bug fix associated with it. Very rarely will there be a feature that’s updated. And if we don’t need that bug fix, we’re not running into that problem and we don’t need the new features, there’s no reason to risk the firmware upgrade. If we mess anything up with that firmware upgrade or it doesn’t install properly, there is a chance that the entire system may be rendered unusable.
Before we start with the upgrade, it would be good to know what version of the BIOS are we currently running. And of course, when you start up your system, there’s that very fast splash screen for the BIOS that goes by. It might not even show you version information. And of course, it goes by so quickly, it’s very difficult to see exactly what version it happens to be.
If you already have your Windows operating system running, you could simply look in System Information. You can run this from the command line at msinfo32 or simply search for the System Information utility on your desktop, and it will show you detailed information about the BIOS that you’re running in your computer. That way you can compare what you’re running now to what is available to be downloaded from the manufacturer’s site and know if an upgrade would be something that you might want to do.
If possible, it would be great to have a version of the existing BIOS version. That way, you could upgrade to the new version. And if there are problems, you can simply downgrade to the exact same version that you’re running today.
Here’s a larger view of the Windows System Information utility. When you get to the very first screen of System Information, it’s called System Summary. It shows you on that System Summary screen what BIOS version and date you happen to be using. I have a Dell BIOS running version A05. That’s the version of BIOS that Dell has on this computer, and it’s from December the 4th of 2008.
I can now compare that to what’s available on the Dell website and know if an upgrade might be something I’d want to do on this particular system. Before I perform the upgrade, I want to know exactly what has changed between what I’m running now and what I’m about to install. It might be some very boring bug fixes. It might even be things we don’t even recognize with these bug fixes. Or there might be brand new features available, so it’s good to know this before the new version is even installed on the computer.
It’s also good to know if there’s any prerequisites. If there’s new files that need to be loaded in an operating system, for instance. That way, we can have our OS ready to go for the BIOS upgrade. We want to be sure that we are plugging into a very reliable power source. This is especially useful with laptops, but also with our desktop computers as well. That’s because we don’t want anything interrupting this upgrade process.
If there’s any problems and we have to stop right in the middle of the process, there’s a possibility that we’ve now corrupted the BIOS and will never be able to start the system again. So for laptops we want to connect to AC power and have as full a battery as possible. On some BIOS upgrade programs, it won’t let you run a BIOS upgrade on a laptop unless you’re absolutely plugged into a power source. It won’t let you perform the upgrade if you’re running on a battery.
On a desktop system, it would be great if we could plug into a UPS, an Uninterruptable Power Supply. That way, even if we lose power, our computer still continues to run even in the middle of this upgrade process while all the lights around us are turned off.
If you have to maintain some really old computers, then you’ve probably had to have a boot disk or some type of boot media to perform the BIOS upgrade. These days, almost all the BIOS upgrades run as an executable in the operating system, so you can simply download the executable and run it right from the Windows desktop. You want to be sure that you close out all the applications that are running on your computer because you will have to reboot this when it’s completed.
When you start up the upgrade program, it checks to be sure that all the prerequisites are in place, that you’re running from a good power source, that all of the operating system files are ready to go. And only then does it allow you to continue with the upgrade procedure. And after it’s done, it will require a reboot. So make sure that you’ve made arrangements for all of your applications to save their data and be ready for that system to restart.
I ran through an upgrade process on my machine, even though it didn’t need it. I just ran exactly the same upgrade twice. But you can see it shows you what the upgrade information is, and it shows you what you’re currently running. On this particular computer, the upgrade is running exactly the same, but it could certainly be an older one that would be running currently. And it says, Do I really want to upgrade this version with this other version? And you can continue this by clicking the Continue button.
This particular upgrade software even gives you a chance to opt out. It says, Are you really sure? One last confirmation that you would like to replace A05 BIOS with A05 BIOS. Pressing OK will close all applications, shut down Windows, flash the BIOS, and then reboot your system. And you can click OK. And from there, everything takes place. You sit back, don’t touch anything on that laptop or desktop computer, and don’t do anything until the system has rebooted and back into the operating system.
Our newer motherboards have a lot of great advantages for performing BIOS upgrades, especially if you’re using the newer UE5 BIOS. Sometimes the motherboard themselves will even have multiple BIOS chips on the motherboard itself. This is a picture of one where you’ve got a main BIOS and a backup BIOS, and you’re able to switch very easily between those. That way, if you were in the process of updating your main BIOS and you lost power for whatever reason, you could hit a button and Boucher system from the backup BIOS that you could then use to, perhaps, fix the problem that was on your primary BIOS.
Sometimes you can even upgrade from a flash drive. You don’t need to load up an operating system. You can simply plug in a flash drive, and these newer motherboards don’t even need to be powered on. They use the standby power to pull those BIOS files off of a flash drive, flash the BIOS inside of the machine, and when you finally are ready to start your computer, it’s ready to go.