Archive for April, 2013

Fun with the BIOS

It’s 2013. Most, if not all new motherboards have transitioned over to using the UEFI standard for computer start up instead of the legacy BIOS. There are numerous benefits to this, though there will still be some quirks as manufacturers find their feet with the (relatively) new technology. Prior to the introduction of UEFI, many motherboard manufacturers allowed you to update your BIOS directly during the POST sequence. Press the marked key, insert your flash drive with the BIOS file on it and you were pretty much good to go. Much more convenient than booting of a floppy drive to run a DOS based flashing tool…

That being said, if you work in an environment where you are exposed to older computers from around 2005-2008, you may encounter motherboards that cannot be flashed at boot time. To make matters worse, most of these boards were not designed to be updated from flashing inside Windows. The only supported method is to flash from MS-DOS. All very well and good, but getting down to MS-DOS in 2013 is not that easy. Floppy drives all but vanished 4 (or more) years ago. Also, for something as vital as a BIOS flash, you would want to use a new fresh disk that stands less chance of being corrupted halfway through the flash. Problem is, it’s not easy to find new disks these days, nor should you have to struggle with such antiquated methods.

The most logical next step is to use a bootable flash drive. Most motherboards will allow you to boot off of a flash drive. You could try to use FreeDOS, though I have no idea how well that would work as many of the tools expect MS-DOS and are hardcoded as such.. There are ways of preparing a MS-DOS bootable flash disk, though it’s a little time consuming. See this post for more info on how to create a MS-DOS boot flash disk:

However, there is another way. There exists an open source tool called flashrom that will update your computer’s BIOS for you, if it supports the chipset on the board. For motherboards of the 2005-2008 era, it shouldn’t be a problem to update. Flashrom comes bundled with many Linux distro’s, including Parted Magic, which is the distro I used to perform some updates. Updating the BIOS on a computer with flashrom is as simple as flashrom –w <filename> I’ve used it with some Foxconn 965x7AA and MSI P965 Neo motherboards in the last week, and it worked without a problem.

I must admit, I vastly prefer having the ability to flash a BIOS at boot, but flashrom is the next best tool. Now you don’t need to keep multiple versions of DOS based flashing tools around for each type of motherboard you want to flash. One more useful tool for any techie to have around when the need arises to flash an older computer.