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HTG Explains: Do You Need to Update Your Computer’s BIOS?

are-you-sure-to-update-bios

Updating your operating system and software is important. On the other hand, we have previously covered why you shouldn’t generally update your hardware drivers, although gamers will definitely want to update their graphics drivers. But what about BIOS updates?

BIOS updates will not make your computer faster, they generally won’t add new features you need, and they may even cause additional problems. You should only update your BIOS if the new version contains an improvement you need.

Image Credit: Aaron Parecki on Flickr

What’s a BIOS?

BIOS stands for basic input/output system. When you power your computer on, your BIOS takes control, starting the power-on self test (POST) and passing control over to the boot loader, which boots your computer’s operating system. The BIOS is low-level system software that should “just work” without getting in your way. Computers are now coming with UEFI firmware instead of the traditional BIOS, but the same is true for UEFI – it’s low-level system software with a similar role.

Unlike your operating system (which is stored on your hard drive), your computer’s BIOS is stored on a chip on your motherboard.

bios-chip

Image Credit: Uwe Hermann on Flickr

Flashing a BIOS

Manufacturers often release updates to their computers’ BIOSes. If you built your own computer, a BIOS update would come from your motherboard vendor. These updates can be “flashed” onto the BIOS chip, replacing the BIOS software the computer came with with a new version of the BIOS.

BIOSes are computer-specific (or motherboard-specific), so you will need the BIOS for your exact model of computer (or motherboard) to update your computer’s BIOS.

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Update Your BIOS

BIOS updates aren’t big software upgrades that add new features, security patches, or performance improvements. BIOS updates typically have very short change logs – they may fix a bug with an obscure piece of hardware or add support for a new model of CPU.

If your computer is working properly, you probably shouldn’t update your BIOS. You likely won’t see the difference between the new BIOS version and the old one. In some cases, you may even experience new bugs with a new version of the BIOS, as the BIOS that came with your computer  may have gone through more testing.

Flashing a BIOS isn’t as easy as installing a normal software update. You will often want to flash your computer from DOS (yes, DOS – you may have to create a bootable USB drive with DOS on it and restart into that environment), as problems could occur when flashing from Windows. Each manufacturer has their own instructions for flashing a BIOS.

You will need the version of the BIOS for your exact hardware. If you get a BIOS for another piece of hardware – even a slightly different revision of the same motherboard – this could cause problems. BIOS flashing tools usually try to detect whether the BIOS fits your hardware, but if the tool attempts to flash the BIOS anyway, your computer could become unbootable.

If your computer loses power while flashing the BIOS, your computer could become “bricked” and unable to boot. Computers should ideally have a backup BIOS stored in read-only memory, but not all computers do.

ibm-updatexpress-bios

Image Credit: Jemimus on Flickr

When You Should Update Your BIOS

Given that you probably will not see any improvements from updating your BIOS, that new bugs could pop up, and the potential for errors while flashing, you shouldn’t update your BIOS unless you have a reason to. Here are a few cases where updating makes sense:

  • Bugs: If you are experiencing bugs that are fixed in a newer version of the BIOS for your computer (check the BIOS change log on the manufacturer’s website), you may be able to fix them by updating your BIOS. A manufacturer may even advise you to update your BIOS if you contact tech support and have a problem that has been fixed with an update.
  • Hardware Support: Some motherboard manufacturers add support for new CPUs, and potentially other hardware, in BIOS updates. If you want to upgrade your computer’s CPU to a new CPU – possibly one that wasn’t yet released when you purchased your motherboard – you may need to update the BIOS.

Be sure to check the change log for the BIOS updates and see if they actually have an update you require.

example-bios-changelog

If you are not experiencing any bugs that have been fixed and don’t need the hardware support, don’t bother updating. You won’t get anything out of it except possible new problems.

As the saying goes, don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 02/7/13

Comments (21)

  1. gifi4

    After I built my machine, I had to update the BIOS as wake on lan (Turn on using magic packets) didn’t seem to be functioning properly. Updated and it fixed it. This was awhile ago now.

  2. Surge

    I once had a problem with my conputer where putting it to sleep on S3 would give a bsod on wake up. Then after like 5 months of trial and error, i decided to take the ultimate risk; flash. All it took was 5 minutes and, fortunatly, the problem went away!
    Im still using the same computer after a couple of years and i put my computer to sleep almost every day! (S3 of course!)

  3. alphabetsoup

    I “bricked” my computer when updating the bios. It was the appropriate bios for my computer, which I dowloaded from the manufacturers website, running their update utility. Tech support said it must have been corrupted during the update process. Luckily the computer was still under warranty. They told me they would have to replace the entire motherboard. I had to ship it back to the manufacturer. (we tried flashing the bios and all that fun stuff but it didn’t work). I have an HP h8-1027c desktop. I guess they don’t have a backup bios on the motherboard. My techie friend now makes fun of me and asks me whether I’ve updated my bios recently. This is definitely something to be avoided. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to turn my computer into a brick after performing an update that the manufacturer had recommended (I had been having display driver errors, which is why the manufacturer recommended updating both the display driver and bios. Display driver problem turned out to be a software problem – the 32 bit version of Internet Explorer was causing the problem).

  4. Richard

    I bought a used Intel 3.40 CPU to replace my Intel 2.6. After installation, the computer will not boot. It will get to the Windows screen but then will reboot or hang, some of the times it won’t even get to the Windows screen before hanging up.
    I checked Asus for my Bios version and I have the right one, no need to flash
    CPU fan is working erfectly, no overheat. BIOS shows the right CPU (3.4).
    Friends told me that since the system will past Bios, the CPU is functionning and that I need to re-install my Windows as it doesn’t recognize the new CPU.
    I re-install my old 2,6 and it worked like a charm the first time and ever since.
    Any idea?

    Motherboard: Asus P5LD2 with latest Bios available from Asus
    O/S: Windows 7 Ultimate with Service Pack 1
    HD: 1) WD 2T, 2) WD 1T and 3) Seagate Free Agent 1.5T external

    Need help please

  5. Neal

    i am trying to update my bios in dell inspiron 1525 laptop.but its not working.its asking for plug in battery.my laptop battery is in dead state.so what should i do?

  6. DW (SA-IT)

    alphabetsoup, I seriously doubt IE32bit was causing your display issues, this may have been what the HP tech (non-tech) told you but really? I performed a search on this issue with your HP model and found nothing. Did he also say your the only one?
    I find the article a bit flawed, I have been building computers for over 20 years using the Mobo manufactures instructions and the past number of years we do it in Windows, no more creating a DOS floppy or making a USB boot devise. If you don’t have a UPS, then you shouldn’t be flashing your BIOS, or using a computer for that matter,
    DW.

  7. Bill D

    Back in June 2012, Dell put out a BIOS update for my work Latitude E6400. I was so excited to install it, since it fixed issues I was having with my CPU spiking to 100% for hours at a time. That was such a long time in the making for my work machine. Those CPU spikes made it so hard to get work done multiple days a week.

    I researched the issue many times before they put that updated BIOS version out, and all the answers I could ever find on support forums was that it had to be my Antivirus causing it. Unfortunately, I did not have the proper admin rights to my machine, so that I could test out the possible causes I was finding online.

    Dell made the process so easy. Just had to download the update and run the executable. The system did the rest from there. Glad they put the fix out there, and I was able to install it. Now… if they would just make a docking station with built in cooling fans. This machine gets way hotter than I would ever like it to be, sometimes unable to touch it. Hopefully the USB fan I use makes a difference.

  8. bill

    From personal SAD experience, NEVER update a BIOS unless you are certain you need some feature or bug fix to make your machine usable.

    I had an HP TouchSmart All-In-One PC that was working just fine. I updated the BIOS just because it was available. After that, the machine would only run for 5-10 minutes then would do a hard lock-up (even the power button wouldn’t turn the machine off!). I figured backing out the BIOS update would be a good idea, BUT THE OLD BIOS IS UNAVAILABLE. At least I couldn’t find it and HP Support has been completely useless.

    Pretty expensive door stop!

  9. Iszi

    Add to “when you should update your BIOS”: Security fixes. They’re rare, but they do happen. Just check the change log to see if there’s anything security related in it and, if you feel there’s an appropriate level of need for the fix on your system, update if there is one.

    I’m generally very apprehensive whenever I flash my BIOS, but I haven’t let that stop me yet – and so far haven’t bricked any motherboards. Just do your research, make sure it’s something you need/want, triple-check that you got the right version, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully.

  10. dg27

    I have updated the BIOS and both of my desktops and both of my laptops (all Dell) and never had the slightest issue. It took less than 5 minutes each.

  11. john3347

    The author gives some EXCELLENT advice here. This advice also applies to many more areas of computer maintenance. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” This is the street guy’s version of the author’s word selection. That is good advice in many areas of life in general. Auto repair people often see this statement followed with some conversation about “opportunity for error”. If it can go wrong, somewhere, sometime along the way, it will go wrong. Flashing a functioning bios is opening the door to “opportunity for error”.

  12. Cambo

    If it ain’t broke…walk away from it… :)

  13. BigTech

    How true, how true.

  14. jimlad

    Asus motherboards come with a good BIOS update utility, echo above sentiments though n00bs stay way!

  15. Foo

    DOS sucks donkey balls. Get a linux boot disk with flashrom installed and use that to flash the BIOS. It has the advantage that it can read and dump your old BIOS to a file in case you want to go back to that. It can check to make sure the image was flashed correctly, and if it was screwed up, you can keep re-flashing the chip till it takes correctly. And if it still doesn’t work right, your machine isn’t bricked as long as you don’t turn it off, giving you time to find help to get it done right.

  16. Eric Schell

    In the future, use the option to save the existing (old) BIOS to a file: this was available every time I can remember flashing the BIOS from a boot floppy. Your post doesn’t say, but I guess you did the upgrade using Windows, which I have done the last few times. The Windows version should have the same option available, but I don’t remember…

  17. steve

    After having months of issues with USB 3 on my new machine that were not corrected with updated drivers, I did finally update the BIOS. ASUS said I should upgrade the BIOS and gives very detailed
    instructions on how to update the BIOS most safely. And of course I had a UPS. All went fine and now my USB 3 works as reliably as my USB 2. That means that they work 99.9% of the time. It is amazing just how much cursing that 0.1% of the time when it just won’t work causes!!!!

  18. tntring

    -Never had a problem flashing a BIOS. If you don’t need it don’t do it, and if you do, take all the necessary precautions. If you seriously don’t know what you’re doing, ask someone who does. There are no stupid questions. Only stupid people, and we’re only stupid until we get the answers we need… Education is the remedy.

    Could HTG do a really good -IN DEPTH ARTICLE concerning the ins and outs of Microsoft, Intel, and LiNuX, in regards to the UEFI BIOS?? Recently news hit the streets about how certain Samsung Laptops can be bricked simply by BOOTING (not installing -BUT FROM BOOTING!) LiNuX… I have heard horror stories about how people cannot boot LiNuX with the new UEFI BIOS, and am also wondering what the real bottom line is here.. Is this something that WINTEL developed to attack the open source movement? Give us a really good, halfway detailed article that puts it out there like it is!

    -I’d also like to see a few articles on browsers. Lately -within the last year, I have to run 3 different browsers to do / be able to use every website I need to visit. Seems like there is a lot of instability in this area lately. Is MS’s big push for IE a factor in this instability (are they refusing to work -or play nicely with the Open Source developers), etc?

    -Terry Ringelberg

  19. alphabetsoup

    DW (SA-IT),
    Re: IE32Bit causing display drive issues. More of my story: After HP replaced the motherboard of my computer as well as the graphics card, I was still having the same issues with the display driver, which had led me to update the bios in the first place. The problem was intermittent but seemed to always happen when I was using the internet. When I researched display driver problems, I found that there was a huge list of possible causes, one of which was software. So then I experimented with different browsers and since I have stopped using the IE32Bit, I have never had the problem recur. It could be my copy of the IE32Bit was corrupt, but I don’t have any problems with the 64 bit version. The HP support never told me the problem was IE, that was my own conclusion. The HP support told me it was the graphics card. My specific error message had been “Display driver AMD driver stopped responding and has successfully recovered.”

  20. GeBeaux

    I like Gigabyte motherboards that have dual bios chips and a reset bios button on them. If you screw up something you can revert back with a push of a button. I have had no issues updating bios on that brand of motherboard.

  21. A Middle Man

    Terry Ringelberg:

    You’re confusing Linux with LaTeX. LaTeX should be written like that, not Linux.

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