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What Do We Need It For?

Like every busy morning starts with a beep of your alarm clock, every startup begins with the BIOS. Let us remind you that BIOS (Basic Input-Output System) is actually a program, which the computer can address without turning to the hard disk. It contains the codes that are necessary to manage key devices of the system (i.e. the keyboard, graphics card, HDD, floppy disk drives, ports and others). It comes logical that as long as BIOS needs no disk drives, there is an absolutely different storage device used for it. It is always available, no matter what happens with the disk subsystem, and thus enables your PC start up independently. For quite a while ROM microchip (read-only memory) was used for these purposes. Consequently, it was almost impossible to introduce any changes to the BIOS. Then, as a result of a rapid development of computer technologies and an acute need of BIOS reflashing, ROM microchip was replaced by EEPROM (Electrically Erasable and Programmable Read-Only Memory), aka Flash ROM. The chips of this type allow reflashing the original data, which was stored in them, with the help of special programs, so nowadays there is nothing easier than to update your BIOS anew. This microchip is most commonly hosted on a special platform on the mainboard. So, in case the BIOS gets spoilt, you can easily remove and reflash the invalid chip with the help of a special device.

It is noteworthy that Flash ROM doesn't always stand for Flash BIOS. In most cases, these terms denote the same thing, but there are some mainboards that don't allow reflashing the BIOS via software, regardless of the Flash ROM microchip they are equipped with. It's a matter of the mainboard design, whether you can update the BIOS without removing it from the board or not. As a rule, when you buy a mainboard, this point is highlighted in the manual.

Here is a list of occasions, when the BIOS needs to be reflashed:

  • There may appear some new devices and bundles, which have never been supported by any computer before, that is when the original version of your BIOS came out. Most often these are new CPUs. Surely, you would not be happy to see your computer indicating "Pentium II" during boot-up, while you pride yourself on the latest Pentium III "Coppermine" already. Besides the visual compatibility, new BIOS may also provide support of the new processor functions (a possibility to block the processor series number, for example) or the possibility to adjust some formerly unavailable properties (L2 cache latency by Pentium III "Katmai"). Alongside with processors, there is some other stuff, which is likely to require BIOS support in the long run. These include hard disk drives, which capacity may be violently restricted by BIOS, and CD-ROM or ZIP-Drives, which can serve as startup-devices, and some others.
  • New software may also require your BIOS reflashing. This problem was extremely acute several years ago, when MS Windows 95 supporting Plug'n'Play appeared. To implement this standard to the full extent, users needed an new BIOS version compatible with it. Nowadays this is no topical issue, since all modern mainboards are provided with PnP BIOS from the very beginning. However, this trend does not prevent you from having troubles with BIOS when new software is concerned. To be more precise, as MS Windows 98 and MS Windows 2000 became available, users faced a need to have BIOS support ACPI standard managing the system power consumption.
  • The computer performance may be favorably affected by an updated BIOS. As an example we can bring the above mentioned readjustment of L2 cache latency in the first versions of Pentium III. It took many mainboard manufacturers pretty long to equip their mainboards with the BIOS supporting this opportunity. Furthermore, the performance of the system can be notably affected by the changes concerning the initialization of the core logic registers.
  • If you wish to enlarge the options for configuration, BIOS reflashing may come in handy as well. Here belong startup from either of the system's HDDs, general automatic switch-on at a certain moment of time, intellectual system monitoring, which lets you control the rotation speed of the coolers depending on the temperature of the system components, and so on.
  • Some negligible mistakes in the BIOS seldom tell on the work of the computer, but if they do, you can cure your BIOS by reflashing it.
  • Finally, one of the latest problems that could arouse the necessity of BIOS update is the Y2K problem.

Of course, an updated BIOS is a real source of advantages, but reflashing it may also provoke a collapse of the whole system. Moreover, you can never be 100% sure that this endeavor will solve all the problems. Sometimes it may be necessary to reinstall the operating system in order to enable all the functions offered by the new BIOS. That is why if your PC works well and the new BIOS version doesn't differ dramatically from the previous one, BIOS reflashing is regarded as unreasonably risky.

What Do We Need for This?

As it follows from the title, this article will focus on the update of Award BIOS only. It drew our attention as the most popular brand among mainboard developers.

Before we pass over to the very process of BIOS reflashing, we will raise some vital details. First, a prospective updater must make sure that he knows the following things concerning his mainboard: the manufacturer, the model and if its BIOS can be updated via software. The easiest way to find it all out is to consult the manual accompanying the mainboard or the already assembled computer. If you have no opportunity to do it, you'll have to turn to a program called BIOS-Info, which will offer you ample information about the mainboard manufacturer and the current version of your BIOS. Unfortunately, sometimes this program fails to reveal anything. Then you can venture the following procedure to obtain the necessary information.

The trick is that you should press "Pause" in the very beginning of the startup (when there is memory test running on the display). This way, the startup will be paused for a while and in the upper left corner, right under the logo of Award Software, you will read the current BIOS version. And in the lower part of the screen you will see something like this:

02/15/2000 - i440BX - ITE867 - 2A69KS2IC - 00

All we care about is the combination of nine letters and digits (here we have 2A69KS2IC). The first five of them (2A69K) relate to the core logic (chipset), the next two ones represent the code of the mainboard manufacturer (S2) and the last two letters denote the model of the board (IC). For details see here, where you can find out exactly what these combinations stand for.

To clear out the type of the microchip, you should examine its marking (with the label of BIOS manufacturer), but don't forget to remove the label first. For a constantly refreshed list of microchips supporting software reflashing with the help of AwardFlash utility see here.

Most mainboards manufacturers persistently recommend not to neglect the following rules that may help you to successfully reflash your BIOS:

  1. Bring the system back to the nominal mode in case it is overclocked.
  2. Disable in BIOS Setup all the items featuring the word "Shadow" (use Bios Features Setup, choose "Disable" or "Off"). As long as RAM is much faster to access than ROM, many PC manufacturers provide BIOS Setup with an option copying the mainboard BIOS and the graphics card BIOS from ROM to RAM. Consequently, the capacity of the available RAM shrinks and this may somehow disturb BIOS update.
  3. In BIOS Setup disable all the power management functions (see Power Management Setup).
  4. Staying in BIOS Setup, enter Chipset Feature Setup and disable System BIOS Cacheable and Video BIOS Cacheable.
  5. If BIOS is in the reflashing protection mode, move the jumper to enable reflashing. See the mainboard manual to find out if your board has this jumper.

All these measures are urgent only when you update the BIOS. After you succeed, you had better restore the initial settings.

How Do We Do It?

As soon as you have all the necessary data at your disposal and there is no doubt that your mainboard allows software BIOS reflashing, you must follow the above given advice. After you are through with all the preparations, you may concentrate on the reflashing procedure. Now you need two files - AwardFlash utility and a file with the updated version of the BIOS, which usually has *.bin extension. The latest version of AwardFlash is always available at this web-site.

Besides, latest BIOS versions can be found on the site of your mainboard manufacturer. This is probably the only safe source for new BIOS versions. Please, never use update files of uncertain origin.

We would like to point out that AwardFlash supports both: dialog and command line modes. In this article we have omitted the consideration of the dialog mode, for it makes BIOS update even harder and offers fewer opportunities than the command line mode. Moreover, command line settings turn the BIOS reflashing process completely automatic, making the user free from entering any data. At this stage it is useful to get acquainted with the properties of AwardFlash utility.

Like most other Flash BIOS utilities, AwardFlash is to be launched in a real DOS mode only, i.e. before Windows and other multifunctional operating systems are launched.

Here we would like to veer slightly away, though this may be very important. The most recent product of Award Software is Award NT Flash Utility Version 1.00, a special BIOS reflashing utility, designed for MS Windows NT 4.0 and MS Windows 2000. Besides, such mainboard manufacturers as ASUS and Gigabyte also offer an opportunity to update BIOS directly from MS Windows, now including even MS Windows 95/98 (For ASUS utility see here, for Gigabyte utility see here). Presently, however, BIOS reflashing from Windows makes rather an exception than a rule. We could prove this by the fact that there are only 2 chipsets supported by the program of Award Software. They are Intel 810 and Intel 820. That is why in this article we will discuss only BIOS reflashing by means of the DOS version of AwardFlash utility, which is actually a universal tool for Award Flash BIOS update on any mainboard.

In case of MS Windows 9x the starting conditions for AwardFlash should be created like this: in the very beginning of the startup press F8 to choose Safe Mode Command Prompt Only in the startup properties or download the data from a previously created system floppy. The latter way is better, and it is the one we will discuss further on. First, it makes sense to format the floppy and then to save the system files on it. Then copy AwardFlash utility and a file with the BIOS update onto this floppy. Further they'll be referred to as awdflash.exe and newbios.bin. Remove write protection from the floppy.

The next step is to create autoexec.bat file on the floppy:

@echo off
if exist oldbios.bin goto old
awdflash.exe newbios.bin oldbios.bin /py /sy /cc /cp /cd /sb /r
goto end
:old
awdflash.exe oldbios.bin /py /sn /cc /cp /cd /sb /r
:end

As you can see, now the floppy contains all the necessary files - awdflash.exe, newbios.bin, autoexec.bat and system files (commonly these are msdos.sys, io.sys and command.com). There should be no other files on the floppy. At first sight, autoexec.bat described above may seem too complicated. However, a structure like this lets us get away with creating just one universal floppy disk, which can be used not only for BIOS reflashing, but may also help return to the original version in case the reflashing fails.

When you boot from the newly created floppy for the first time, the BIOS will be updated. As for the current version, it will be saved in oldbios.bin. If you do another boot-up, the original version of BIOS saved in oldbios.bin will be reinstalled. In other words, the new version will be rejected. To avoid it, please, don't fail to remove the floppy after a restart (it will be done automatically).

Of course, the above given exemplary properties of AwardFlash utility are nothing but a sheer recommendation aimed at securing BIOS reflashing. An experienced user may withdraw or add something. Anyway, if you are not entirely sure about something, we advise you not to risk doing it.

Needless to say that one should be fully aware of what properties to change and what may come out of it. To help in this complicated matter, we have elaborated a detailed description of all the properties, which may appear in the command line of AwardFlash v7.70. That's what you need to know about the syntax:

AWDFLASH [Filename 1] [Filename 2] [key [/key ]...]
Filename 1: for reflashing
Filename 2: for the previous version of the BIOS

The keys denote:

/? - Help. Before you start working with Award Flash Memory Writer, it is advisable to use this key and to study carefully all the opportunities of this software.

/Py or /Pn - stands for answering "yes" (Y) or "no" (N) to the request concerning the BIOS reflashing. By means of /Pn you can ban FlashROM reprogramming. This option enables you to save the current version of the BIOS or to get its checksum without updating your BIOS. A backup copy will help you to restore the previous version of the BIOS. By default /Py mode is set.

/Sy or /Sn - stands for answering "yes" (Y) or "no" (N) to the request about saving the previous version of the BIOS. By default /Py mode is set again. In this case before reprogramming the FlashROM microchip you'll need to confirm saving by this request:

Do You Want To Save Bios (Y/N)

/Sn is recommended to use for *.bat-files in case of automatic BIOS reflashing in systems without a display.

/CC - to clear CMOS after reflashing. This option comes in handy when there is a risk that the data arrays created by new BIOS version in CMOS may differ from those former ones. If so, then you are likely to have troubles with the mainboard startup. Clearing CMOS will let you avoid searching for Clear CMOS jumper on the board, which is really helpful if it isn't accompanied with a proper manual or is simply hard to access.

/CP - stands for clearing PnP (ESCD) Data matrix after BIOS reflashing. The information about PnP devices is stored in ESCD. The key /CP is an equivalent to Reset Configuration Data in PnP/PCI Configuration CMOS SetUp. It makes sense to use /CP if you skip several versions of BIOS or if you have installed new PnP cards. If you don not update the ESCD, your board may suffer some startup problems.

/CD - stands for clearing DMI Data pool after reprogramming. Literally, DMI is a data base, containing all the information on the system as a whole. Clearing it may be fruitful in the above mentioned situations with /CP and /CC keys, as well as if some of the system components have been changed.

/SB - stands for no BootBlock reflashing. The BootBlock is the first unit to be addressed by startup and it is hardly ever changed. If the board manufacturer gives no other recommendations, there is no need to reflash BootBlock. In particular, if the BIOS reflashing fails, it may become impossible to restore the BIOS via software. On some mainboards there is a BootBlock Protection jumper. If protection is set, either you won't be able to reflash the BIOS without /SB at all or the system will face verification errors.

/SD - stands for saving the data of DMI pool in a file. Part of DMI can be saved to be used by the software in future. Even though this key stands in the list, which is shown by /?, using it will bring no result. This key simply doesn't work.

/R - stands for the system reset after reflashing. It lets you have your computer restarted automatically as soon as you finish updating FlashROM. The option is useful for working through a *.bat-file.

/Tiny - stands for using less RAM. Without the /Tiny key, AwardFlash utility tries to put the entire BIOS file, which is intended for further reflashing, into RAM. Still, if have taken all the precautions but anyway you see a message saying "Insufficient Memory" during the BIOS reflashing procedure, then the key /Tiny should be used. It will make the data from the BIOS file loaded and reflashed in portions.

/E - stands for returning to DOS after BIOS reflashing. For instance, you may need it to make sure that the previous version of the BIOS is saved.

/F - stands for reprogramming by means of the system BIOS. Most contemporary BIOSs feature the procedure of FlashROM reprogramming. The key /F enables AwardFlash to reprogram FlashROM with the algorithms of the current BIOS version. If a mainboard peculiarities do not allow applying AwardFlash Writer algorithms, you should use the key /F.

/LD - stands for clearing CMOS after reflashing and not showing the message "Press F1 to continue or DEL to setup". Unlike /CC, this key lets you avoid this message by the following startup after clearing CMOS, provided you have set the properties by default.

/CKS - stands for showing the checksum of XXXXh file. The checksum is shown in hexadecimal representation. This option is advised to be used with the verification key.

/CKSxxxx - stands for comparing the checksum of the file with XXXXh. If the checksums are different, you'll see the message "The program file's part number does not match with your system!". As a rule, XXXXh for each BIOS update file is usually available on the mainboard manufacturer's site.

All the properties may be entered in either upper or lowercase.

As soon as you have got acquainted with the basic keys and changed the utility parameters (or you might have left them as given in the example above), you can turn to BIOS reflashing. Then you should just boot from the newly created floppy. If you have successfully followed our advice, after the boot-up you'll be happy to see how reflashing process goes (please, don't interrupt it!) and eventually the system will be restarted. When it occurs, you must be quick to remove the floppy from the floppy drive, otherwise a second boot-up from this floppy will take place. The consequences of this event have already been mentioned.

Well, that's about all we wished to discuss. Now it's time to pass over to adjusting the freshly reflashed BIOS. However, that's the pleasure for those who have had no troubles with the reflashing itself. As for the other martyrs, they'll find it helpful to read on, since further parts are dedicated to troubleshooting at home. We will examine both trifles and grave problems.

How Do We Eliminate Problems?

While AwardFlash is running, you may encounter a number of problems. If so, then you may be upset to see one (or more) of the following messages:

"Insufficient memory" means that you have violated some of the above scrutinized rules. In this case you need to disable the caching of the system and video BIOS alongside with all types of Shadow Memory. Furthermore, no programs should be launched (including the disk compression drivers like drvspace.bin). AwardFlash is, naturally, the exception. If all this doesn't work anyway and you are still disturbed by this message, try the key /Tiny (but only in 7.xx versions).

"The program file's part number does not match with your system" shows up when the new BIOS does not fit the mainboard. However, if you enable /Py (like in the example), then the compatibility is not checked. For this reason we highly recommend you not to use the BIOS files of dubious origin and purpose.

"Unknown Type Flash" occurs when you install a FlashROM supporting the reprogramming voltage of 12V (5V) on a mainboard, which doesn't support this voltage, or if the FlashROM chip is wrecked, etc.

"Program Chip Failed" appears during reflashing of FlashROM 28F001 chips by Intel. The matter is that the 8KB BootBlock of these chips has hardware protection. To reflash the BootBlock and the block with BIOS different voltages are to be used. In order to prevent the FlashROM and the mainboard from getting damaged, the BootBlock of these chips can't be reflashed because it is hardware protected. This fact brings about the warning.

The detailed description of the last two listed problems (intended largely for tycoons) is available here.

However, the error reports like this is far not the most unpleasant thing about the BIOS reflashing. It may turn out that the new BIOS is not completely reflashed, while the previous version is entirely erased. The trouble may be caused by a common energy cut - even if it lasted an utterly short period of time - or the user's attempt to reflash the wrong file. Consequently, the computer will simply be unable to restart. Here belong two probable situations.

At best the BootBlock will still keep going. For example, this may happen if the recommended /SB key was used. The valid BootBlock enables you to carry out a startup, though in a very limited mode. Shortly after the reset the system will inspect the BIOS checksum and you'll probably see a warning:

Award BootBlock BIOS v1.0
Copyright © 1998, Award Software, Inc.
BIOS ROM checksum error
Detecting floppy drive A media…

Nevertheless, this message is shown most often only if ISA graphics card is used, since the data cannot always be output to PCI and AGP graphics adapters because the chipset is not entirely initialized. Therefore, we would advise you to carry out the emergency BIOS reflashing with an ISA graphics card installed. Especially, if you have ignored all the recommendations concerning the floppy disk. If you actually have this floppy right at hand, the only thing you need is just to boot from it. That's why a safe BootBlock is so valuable. Some mainboard manufacturers advise to disable all the secondary devices (except for the graphics card and the floppy disk drive) before you begin the restoration. Still, we should confess that not all ISA graphics cards are that smart. The best results were obtained with graphics cards based on Cirrus Logic CL-GD5422 chip.

When you have the old BIOS back after it is restored from the foreseeingly created oldbios.bin, your further actions will depend on the cause of the breakdown. If these are the lyrics of your favorite song that you have happened to reflash instead of the new BIOS, you'll need simply to restore the working BIOS. If it weren't you that caused the failure and you are still determined to finish the reflashing procedure, then you should just remove the file oldbios.bin (and nothing more!) from the floppy and boot once again.

We have just considered the better possible outcome. Before we pass over to the worst one, let us mention the intermediary situation. Sometimes, if you can't boot from the floppy, you may try connecting the floppy drive to an individual ISA MIO controller. At last the floppy drive should be initialized and you'll happily restore the old BIOS. That's the last resort for software troubleshooting.

Another thing worth discussing is some exotic technologies, which can contribute to a relatively painless way-out. Firstly, some Intel mainboards feature a special jumper named Flash Recovery. If set into recovery mode, it enables you to boot up from BootBlock, even if the computer seemed dead after an unsuccessful BIOS reflashing. When everything is settled, don't forget to reset the jumper in its status quo ante. Secondly, Gigabyte has lately introduced DualBIOS technology. As it comes from the name, the mainboard is supposed to be equipped with two Flash ROM chips, so if one of them is wrecked, the BIOS is booted from the other one. Among those who have followed Gigabyte's example there are Chaintech Computer with its "TwinBIOS" and some other mainboards manufacturers.

For some reasons, constructive solutions like that are quite rare. The main argument against using them is that all the users have to pay extra, even if they are no prospective BIOS destructors. So, the last part of our article is devoted to those users, who were neglected by mainboard manufacturers. Specially for them we have unveiled one more method aimed at restoring a heavily damaged BIOS. Now, if you have lost hope to cope with the disaster via software, there is still... a hardware sidetrack.

If Nothing Helped...

The very first thing we would like to point out is that this method has nothing to do with the notorious and highly risky "Hot-swapping" (you can easily find all details about it in the Internet).

Well, to restore the BIOS via hardware, apart from the damaged Flash ROM chip you'll need:

  • any mainboard with a properly working BIOS;
  • floppy with Award Flash and two BIOS files - one for the wrecked mainboard and the other for the working board;
  • two panels (e.g. SLC-32 - a 32-pin wide DIP panel);
  • one Flash ROM microchip (e.g. ATMEL 29C020 DIP 32);
  • two resistors (10KOhm, 0.125W);
  • two-position switch;
  • soldering iron.

To prevent you from confusing the terms and to make the explanations easier, we will call the damaged BIOS "old" and the working one "new".

First, you should make a simple contraption, which will help you to restore the BIOS. It is known as IC-Flasher and is made of two panels, one Flash ROM microchip and two resistors. A detailed scheme is offered by the device developers here, and we will restrict ourselves to rendering just the general idea (see chart 1):


Chart 1. IC-Flasher scheme

Now we will give you a step-by-step instruction for assembling IC-Flasher:

  1. All the pins of the U1 chip (except "Chip Enable") are to be soldered to the lower X2 panel.
  2. All the pins of the upper X1 panel (except "Chip Enable") are to be soldered to the U1 chip.
  3. "Chip Enable" pins of the U1 chip and X1 and X2 panels are to be connected to the SW1 switch and the resistors R1 and R2.

As soon as the contraption is ready, you are free to pass over to the BIOS restoring. The first step is to remove the "new" BIOS from the mainboard and to put IC-Flasher instead. The SW1 switch should be in "upper panel position (2-3). It goes without saying, that this operation should be carried out with the power switched off and you must be extremely cautious not to damage the surface of the mainboard.

Secondly, install the "new" BIOS microchip in the upper panel and boot the PC from the previously prepared floppy. We have to stress that you shouldn't run AwardFlash from autoexec.bat! That's why in order not to enter all the data manually, you'd better create a new file like autoexec.bat described above but with a different name.

After loading the operating system and before reflashing the BIOS set the SW1 switch in "lower panel" position (1-2). It is only now that you can start reflashing the BIOS. The U1 chip is to be reflashed with the "new" BIOS file, so that you could boot the "new" mainboard with the help of the U1 chip.

As soon as this operation is successfully completed, switch off the power again and replace the "new" microchip in the upper panel X1 with an "old" one. The SW1 switcher should correspondingly be left in "lower panel" position (1-2).

One of the last things to do is to restart the computer from the same floppy, then to move the SW1 switch into "upper panel" position (2-3) and to reflash the "old" BIOS file. Afterwards shut down the PC, remove IC-Flasher from the "new" mainboard and put back the "new" chip. At last take the "old" microchip with the restored BIOS out of IC-Flasher and happily use it to rearm the "old" mainboard.

That's all, folks! 

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