BIOS-Update (Part 1): Mountain or Molehill? The 7 most common questions.

Anyone planning a hardware or software upgrade will be faced with the question: BIOS update, yes or no? Part 1 of our mini-series covers the most common questions regarding BIOS updates.

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Compuram BIOS-Update 1

Do I or don’t I? Anyone planning a hardware or software upgrade will be, sooner or later, faced with the problem of a BIOS update. If problems appear, following the installation of a new memory card, e.g. the card is not recognised or the system becomes unstable, it is unlikely that the card is defective – it is more likely that the problems can be solved by installing a BIOS update. According to our estimates, almost half of all such problems, reported to our support team, were able to be solved by a BIOS update.

Part 1 of our mini-series covers the most common questions regarding BIOS updates in general and hardware upgrades in particular. Part 2 will deal more specifically with the “how“.

If you have any further questions, please use the comment function at the end of this blog entry and we will answer you as soon as possible.

Overview:

What is BIOS and what role does it play in the installation of new memory components?

BIOS (Basic Input Output System) is the control centre of a computer system. This is where all the important information, settings and control functions are stored. When booting the PC, the BIOS is the first thing to be started, it initialises the hardware and provides all the data needed to start the operating system.

In order for the system to run at peak performance, it is necessary to have the current BIOS installed on the system. All system manufacturers offer the most current version of BIOS to download, on the support pages of their internet site.

As the control functions of BIOS also contain parameters for the timing and configuration of the main memory (RAM), it should be ensured that the most current BIOS is also installed, when installing new memory.

Does installation of new hardware or software always require a BIOS update?

No. No system manufacturer is going to invest resources to adapt his BIOS to support every third-party component. This is why standards for main memory, such as JEDEC, AMD and Intel, were created to allow world-wide and manufacturer independent compatibility for RAM. This ensures that, after installing new hardware, a system will continue to run in a stable fashion, without resorting to BIOS reconfiguration.

If problems do appear, it is probably an indication that, in contrast to the regularly maintained software components, the BIOS is out-of-date. The problems occur because the specifications of the extended or upgraded components are not available in the motherboard’s BIOS. If the specification of the new memory is not stored in the BIOS and it conflicts with stored specifications, the functioning of the BIOS will be affected. The result is that the hardware will be only partially recognised or even not at all. The system may not even boot or may run in an unstable fashion. An update to the latest BIOS will usually solve the problem.

I’ve heard that updating BIOS is to be avoided. Is that right?

The use of any technical device requires a certain level of competence – this applies as much to the daily usage of a PC system as it does to BIOS updates and modifications. If a PC is misused, the manufacturer will not honour any guarantee. The technically minded, who are prepared to take some time to do research and gain know-how, will have no trouble in doing their own BIOS updates. Those, who are unsure of their competence, should take the time to seek the help of a specialist – a BIOS update is a routine operation.

Having said that, all manufacturers include a clear and emphatic warning to check the BIOS status to ensure that it is up-to-date. Some manufacturers have even built a system of levels to indicate how urgent an update is. Every system administrator should run regular checks on the currency of the BIOS in all of the machines under their responsibility – the BIOS is just as important as the operating system or the software.

What does a BIOS update do and when does it make sense to do one?

A BIOS/Firmware update brings a computer, in terms of software, up-to-date. It is essential to regularly check whether a new version of BIOS is available and, wherever necessary, install any patches, which will ensure the system’s best possible stability and security.

What’s behind it:

  • The individual components of every system, from the software, drivers and operating system to the technologies behind the various hardware components, go through a continuous development. BIOS is the control centre of the system, which ensures the smooth initialisation and interaction between system modules. In order to able to carry out its duties efficiently, it has to adapt to the new technologies.
  • By providing BIOS updates, mainboard manufacturers make it possible to install, for example, cutting-edge processors, which were not even conceived of at the time of the release of the mainboard.
  • Each of the manufacturer’s BIOS updates includes functional improvements and changes, to ensure that the system software remains not only up-to-date, but also compatible to the other system components.
  • The release of a new version of BIOS allows manufacturers to remove (sometimes serious) errors, which found their way into earlier versions and affected the efficiency of the BIOS. Another plus for system stability.
  • Even an operating system update (e.g. to Windows 8) demands a BIOS update, prior to installation.

Incidentally, BIOS patches often allow the original manufacturer’s specifications regarding the maximum installable memory to be considerably exceeded, even after a relatively short space of time.

What are the indications of an out-of-date or wrongly configured BIOS?

  • The (new) memory will only be partially recognised by the BIOS.
  • The system won’t boot with the newly-installed component.
  • During normal operation, specific applications or actions lead to reproducible crashes.
  • The system is less stable, runs slower than before or simply hangs.
  • The system runs and the memory is recognised, but other components no longer function as expected.

N.B. If the BIOS has settings for the memory timing, these must be set to “automatic recognition“. Manually or incorrectly set values can make the system not only unstable but damage can be caused to the motherboard and memory modules.

Does it depend on the brand of memory, whether it will be recognised or not?

No. The timing values of all memory modules are standardised to JEDEC, AMD or Intel, i.e. hardware components are usable worldwide and independent of the manufacturer. Whether a memory module will be recognised by BIOS or not will depend on whether the specification of the module is already stored in the BIOS or not. Production of a new mainboard can only anticipate future developments to a limited degree. A BIOS update allows modifications to make the most current hardware components available even years after purchasing the system – assuming, of course, that the components are fundamentally compatible.

What are the risks and side-effects of installing a new BIOS?

A BIOS update completely deletes the data, stored in the permanent BIOS memory and then writes the new data. If the flash process is interrupted, e.g. by a power-cut, the BIOS chip will be left completely empty. Making the system usable again requires a new BIOS chip to be soldered onto the mainboard, which involves a certain amount of effort, but it is certainly not the end of your system.

Because of this, there are many who shy away from a BIOS update. That the power should fail or the computer hangs during the short execution of the flash process is, these days, very unlikely. Over the last 15 years, our customer support has recommended the execution of innumerable patch processes, to solve problems caused by hardware upgrades and we are not aware of a single case, where such problems occurred. On the contrary, we are regularly told of the positive effects of updating the BIOS. Please also read “What does a BIOS update do and when does it make sense to do one?”.

In addition, many manufacturers offer modern software applications to update the BIOS, which lead even the less technically minded, click for click through the process.

In the second part of our BIOS series you can read all about what you have to be aware of when updating the BIOS and what tools are available.



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