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BIOS Upgrades

During the lifetime of any computer, its BIOS might need to be upgraded. Upgrading the BIOS means to change its contents with software (if it is a flash BIOS) or to replace the physical chip (if it isn't a flash BIOS). Most systems sold since 1995 have flash BIOS chips that can be upgraded with software.

Because the BIOS chip bridges hardware to the operating system, you will need to upgrade the BIOS whenever your current BIOS version is unable to properly support

  • New hardware, such as large IDE hard drives and ZIP/LS-120 removable-storage drives

  • Faster CPUs

  • New operating systems and features, such as Windows 98 and 2000, which feature ACPI power management

  • New BIOS options, such as PnP support and Y2K compatibility

Although software drivers can be used as workarounds for hard drive and Y2K compliance, BIOS is best.

BIOS upgrades must be performed very carefully because an incomplete or incorrect BIOS upgrade will prevent your system from being accessed. Regardless of the method, for maximum safety I recommend the following initial steps:

  • Back up important data.

  • Record the current BIOS configuration, especially hard disk settings (see Chapter 7, "BIOS Configuration").

BIOS configuration information might need to be re-entered after a BIOS upgrade, especially if you must install a different chip.

Flash BIOS Upgrade

Before beginning a Flash BIOS upgrade, you must determine where to get your BIOS upgrade. The BIOS manufacturers (Phoenix, AMI, and Award/Phoenix) do not sell BIOS upgrades because their basic products are modified by motherboard and system vendors (see "Getting Support for Your BIOS" earlier in this chapter).

For major brands of computers, go to the vendor's Web site and look for "downloads" or "tech support" links. The BIOS upgrades are listed by system model.

If your system is a generic system (that is, it came with a "mainboard" or "motherboard" manual and other component manuals rather than a full system manual), you need to contact the motherboard maker. Some systems indicate the maker during bootup. Others display only a mysterious series of numbers. You can decode these numbers to get the motherboard's maker. See the following Web sites for details:

Download the correct BIOS upgrade for your system or motherboard. For generic motherboards, Wim's BIOS page (http://www.ping.be/bios/) also has links to the motherboard vendors' Web sites.

You might also need to download a separate loader program, or the download might contain both the loader and the BIOS image. If the Web site has instructions posted, print or save them to a floppy disk for reference.

Next, install the BIOS upgrade loader and BIOS image to a floppy disk. Follow the vendor's instructions.

After installation is complete, restart your system with the floppy disk containing the upgrade. Press a key if necessary to start the upgrade process.

Some upgrades run automatically; others require that you choose the image from a menu, and prompt you to save your current BIOS image to a floppy disk. Choose this option if possible so you have a copy of your current BIOS in case there's a problem.

After the update process starts, it takes about three minutes to rewrite the contents of the BIOS chip with the updated information. Don't turn off the power! Wait for a message indicating the BIOS upgrade has been completed.

Remove the floppy disk and restart the system to use your new BIOS features.

Physical BIOS Chip Replacement/Update

On motherboards whose BIOSes can't be upgraded with software, you might be able to purchase a replacement BIOS from vendors, such as Micro Firmware (for Phoenix BIOS upgrades at http://www.firmware.com) or Unicore (for Award, AMI, and Phoenix BIOS upgrades at http://www.unicore.com).

Before you order a BIOS chip replacement, consider the following issues:

  • BIOS chip upgrades cost about $60–$80 each.

  • Although the BIOS will be updated, the rest of the system might still be out of date.

  • For not much more than the cost of the BIOS chip itself, you might be able to purchase a new motherboard (without RAM or CPU) that will give you similar BIOS features as well as advanced features (PCI and AGP slots, built-in sound, and so on) that might be missing from your existing motherboard.

If you still need to update the BIOS chip itself, first verify that the vendor has the correct BIOS chip replacement. It might be a different brand of BIOS than your current BIOS. If so, make sure that you have recorded your hard drive information. You will need to re-enter this and other manually configured options into the new BIOS's setup program.

The vendor will identify the BIOS chip you need by the motherboard ID information displayed at bootup. Unicore Software offers a free download utility to display this information for you. To replace the chip, follow these steps:

  1. Locate the BIOS chip on your motherboard after you open the case to perform the upgrade. It usually has a sticker listing the BIOS maker and model number.

  2. The BIOS is a DIP-type chip. The vendor typically supplies a chip extraction tool to perform the removal.

To remove a DIP (used primarily for BIOS today), use the appropriately sized DIP puller tool if you have one. This tool resembles an inverted "U" with small flat hooks on each point. If a DIP puller is not available, you can use a pair of flat-bladed screwdrivers. Follow these steps:

  1. Place one end of the tool between the end of the chip and the end of the socket; repeat for the other side.

  2. If you are using the DIP puller, gently tighten the tool around the ends of the chip and pull upward to loosen; if you are using the screwdrivers, gently lift upward on both handles to loosen. Pushing down on the screwdriver handles could damage the motherboard.

  3. Gently rock the ends of the chip to free it, and straighten any bent pins when you finish removing it.

  4. Remove the existing BIOS chip carefully and put it on anti-static material in case you need to re-use it in that system.

  5. Align the new BIOS chip's dimple with the matching cutout on one end of the socket.

  6. Adjust the legs on the new BIOS chip so it fits into the sockets, and press it down until the legs on both sides are inserted fully.

  7. Double-check the alignment and leg positions on the BIOS chip before you start the system; if the chip is aligned with the wrong end of the socket, you'll destroy it when the power comes on.

  8. Turn on the system, and use the new BIOS's keystroke(s) to start the setup program to re-enter any information. You might get a "CMOS" error at startup, which is normal with a new BIOS chip. After you re-enter the BIOS data from your printout and save the changes, the system will run without error messages.

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