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How to update your BIOS in ten steps

Improve hardware compatibility and performance

The BIOS is a curious thing: One could easily consider it to be the most critical part of the PC and yet it might also be the least noticeable one – right up until it starts to cause system-wide problems. A BIOS-update often resolves many of these issues, but can also render your PC completely inoperable if done without care. Here’s how to do it properly.

In short, the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is the first code to run when you boot your PC and the most fundamental layer of software in your entire system. It sits on a chip on your motherboard and is responsible for doing a quick check-up of all your hardware components and loading an operating system from your hard drive, typically Windows. As this is normally the last your hear of it, one might think that this is also the where its duties end. In truth however, the BIOS continues coordinating the communication between software and hardware behind the scenes even while Windows is running. As a result, if your BIOS is out-of-date, several problems can start to occur: A quad-core CPU might only be recognized as a single-core CPU, serverely limiting the performance of your system, fan speeds might diverge wildly from their given presets and a new graphics card might fail to be addressed at all, resulting in a black monitor screen and lots of frustration. Luckily, all of this can typically be remedied with a BIOS-Update. Ideally, first take a look at: Should I update my BIOS?

Be advised, however: Updating your computer's BIOS is not without risk. If something goes wrong, the functionality of your PC can be seriously affected. After all, updating the BIOS requires overwriting the fundamental algorithms that tell your PC what to do with all that electricity when it boots up. So do take care when following our instructions and make sure the updating process itself is not disturbed or cancelled.  

Step 1: Identifying the version of your mainboard and BIOS

The easiest way to go about his is to have a look in the user manual of your mainboard and look for information regarding the manufacturer and model. Additionally, the full name of your mainboard model –such as P5E3 Deluxe – is usually also imprinted on the board itself or can be found in the form of a sticker on a card slot. It’s also important to note down the revision number – for example REV 1.03G.  

Identifying your BIOS version can most crudely be achieved by rebooting the PC and trying to note down the numbers displayed in the very first image displayed or entering your BIOS by pressing DEL, ESC or F2 in the right time. More elegantly, stay in Windows  and hold down the Windows-key+ R to bring up the Run command prompt and type in „msinfo32“. In the following windows, select „System summary“ on the left and look for the entry „BIOS Version/Date“ on the right.

Step 2: Finding the right updates

You can most directly inform yourself about possible updates on the website of your mainboard manufacturer. In case your PC has been assembled and built by a single manufacturer – such as Dell, HP or Lenovo -  it is usually better to pay them a visit first to check for useful information before resorting to the former. In either case, after entering you model number, a list of files be displayed in your browser.

See also: How to secure your BIOS

If a BIOS update is indeed among them, it‘s time to check the numbers: Did you type in the name of your mainboard correctly? Is the update newer than your current version? And if so, does it state that your specific problem will be addressed in the documentation? If everything applies, upgrading your BIOS is likely a worthwhile idea. As a rule of thumb, most update packages consist of a flash program which is responsible for the setup and the actual BIOS-Update, often accompanied by a text file of some sort detailing the release notes.

Step 3: Updating in Windows, DOS or the BIOS UI

Particularly older BIOS versions often need to be updated through the DOS interface. This can pose a problem for many modern PCs as they often lack a traditional floppy drive. To circumvent this, just take a USB-Stick instead and take a look at the corresponding tutorial in step 4. Alternatively, many manufacturers have also taken up the practice of providing easy-to-use setup assistants for Windows. Others may even have a built-in update routine in the BIOS itself. You can find instructions for each method in the following paragraphs.

BIOS-Update while in Windows

If you would like to perform the update within Windows, you will need to download a specialised Update utility suited for your operation system. If you are unsure whether or not your BIOS manufacturer even supports this method, you can either consult the user manual again or simply search the service area of the website for an entry called „Live update“ or „Install Program for Windows“. After downloading the necessary software, you can test start the program if you want (there is no need to worry about accidently running the update just by launching the tool) to see if it works. Additionally, most live-update tools are also able to provide a great deal of information about your mainboard, most importantly its specification and version number. If everything seems in order and ready to go, just skip step 4 and continue with step 5.

BIOS-Update with DOS

As mentioned previously, you will need to be use some sort of USB drive (preferably a stick, but a USB hard drive should also do the trick) to compensate for the lack of a floppy disk, as DOS tends to very picky in regards to its acceptable input media. However, before you copy any files on either a floppy disk or a USB stick, you will first need to reformat them into a bootable medium (see step 4). Make sure to evacuate any important data before though, as reformatting the medium will inevitably delete all of it.

After that is done, download the necessary BIOS files – often in the form of EXE or ZIP-type files - onto your hard drive. Aside from the main flash file, there should also be a file with a BIN-extension (for Award-BIOS), a ROM-extension (for AMI- or Phoenix-BIOS) or any random combination of numbers and letter – such as 3A0 - present. Copy all relevant files onto your boot medium. Also, look out for any files called „Autoexec.bat“ or „Update.bat“, as these ease up the updating process considerably. Just put them onto your boot medium along with the corresponding flash tool and the setup will start with all the correct parameters automatically, allowing you the skip step 8.

This might also interest you: How to run DOS programs in Windows 7

Update from inside the BIOS itself

Many modern BIOS versions come with a built-in flash tool which can usually be found under „Tools, EZ Flash 2“. If your BIOS supports this option, all you need is the BIN-file from the manufacturer’s website that you can copy onto an empty floppy disk, a USB-Stick or your hard drive. Because the update is started from the UI of the BIOS itself in this case, your medium of choice does not even need to be bootable, so just skip step 4. 

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