What is the BIOS?
The BIOS is a piece of software that is permanently stored in a chip on the motherboard. When you first turn on a computer, the BIOS program is initiated. It performs a hardware check and makes sure that certain crucial pieces of hardware are present and functioning properly. For example, it makes sure there is a video card, a CPU, memory, and a power supply providing proper voltages. If there is a problem, it will inform you via beep codes. If everything is fine, it will display a startup screen, the first thing you see on your monitor. It then proceeds to do a memory check, discover other hardware, configure devices as needed, identify the boot drive, and then hand over control to the boot sector on the boot drive, which launches the operating system.
What does “flashing the BIOS” mean?
This BIOS software is in some regards like other software. There are newer versions available that contain updates, enhanced, features, new features, and bug fixes. It is possible to install newer BIOS versions and upgrade, but the process is different from upgrading regular software that’s installed on your computer. The BIOS software is not stored on the hard drive, but in a chip on the motherboard. To erase the software on the chip and program it with a newer software version you need to use a special program called a flash utility, and the process of performing the upgrade is called flashing the BIOS.
Why would you need to flash the BIOS?
The most popular reasons that cause people to flash the BIOS are…
- Support for newer processors – The BIOS allows the motherboard to accept processors up to a certain speed. Since you got the computer, the top speed of the processor type your computer accepts has increased. You decide to replace your processor with a faster one, but the BIOS does not recognize it or does not have the right settings. Upgrading the BIOS can resolve this problem.
- Support for bigger hard drives – The BIOS allows the motherboard to accept hard drives up to a certain size. Since you got the computer, the maximum size for hard drives has increased. You decide to install a newer and bigger hard drive, but the BIOS does not recognize it or only recognizes part of the drive. Upgrading the BIOS can resolve this problem.
- Bug fixes – The BIOS contains certain features and options, but one of them does not function properly or not at all. Since you got the computer, the manufacturer has recognized and corrected the problem with a new BIOS version. Upgrading the BIOS can resolve this problem.
The hazards of BIOS flashing
As described earlier, the BIOS is a crucial component of your computer since it is always the first program that runs when you turn the machine on. If the BIOS does not run, the machine cannot boot. Therefore it is very important that a BIOS upgrade is performed properly. If it fails, it can permanently ruin the BIOS, resulting in your computer becoming a door stop. Common reasons for BIOS flashes gone bad are power failure during the flashing process, and flashing the BIOS with an incorrect BIOS version. Because of these dangers you do not flash a BIOS just for shits and giggles, but only if there is a very good reason.
How to fix a ruined BIOS chip
If a flash has gone horribly wrong and the computer fails to boot altogether, the only solution is to replace the BIOS chip on the motherboard with a new one that contains a healthy and correct BIOS. To obtain a new BIOS chip, contact your motherboard manufacturer and give them the model of your motherboard. For a relatively small price ($10-15 plus shipping) they may mail you a new BIOS chip. To install the new chip, you open up the computer after taking appropriate anti-static precautions, identify the BIOS chip on the motherboard with help of the manual, carefully pull the old chip out of its socket, and insert the new chip in its place. Be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
However, be aware of the fact that some manufacturers will not sell individual BIOS chips, and some older motherboards have non-replacable BIOS chips. In those two cases you will be forced to replace your motherboard, which is expensive and somewhat of a hassle.
While BIOS flashing requires some care and preparation, it is a relatively simple process if done right. Let’s go over the steps of properly flashing a BIOS using a real-world example, the motherboard BIOS in my test machine.
Note: Please keep in mind that the following steps are an example to help you understand how the process works. However, your motherboard and BIOS version are most likely different from mine and you will have to adjust your steps, download files, and command line switches accordingly. Please exercise caution when flashing your BIOS and stop and ask for help if you are not certain.
This page: Basics of CMOS/BIOS flashing