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CompTIA A+ Exam Cram: Flashing the BIOS

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The BIOS is perhaps one of the most important, and most misunderstood, code for booting a computer. In this article, David Prowse explains the BIOS process, the importance of updating, or “flashing,” and offers steps for completing this update process.
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The Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) of a computer is the first code that runs when you boot your computer. The program is stored on a firmware ROM chip (actually, an electrically erasable programmable ROM chip or EEPROM). The chip is either soldered onto or snapped into the motherboard. The BIOS is in charge of initializing devices such as the video card, keyboard, mouse, and hard disk. It then locates the operating system stored on the hard disk (or other media), and executes the booting of that OS. This process of booting is also known as bootstrapping.

Given the importance of the BIOS, and the tasks it is in charge of, the BIOS can and should be updated, similar to how operating systems and applications are updated. The process of updating the BIOS is known as flashing. “Flashing” refers to the process of electrically erasing the ROM chip (thus the EE in EEPROM), and re-writing a newer, updated BIOS.

One of the most common questions I receive about the BIOS is how to flash it. But before we can discuss the process of flashing the BIOS, we need to define how to access the BIOS menu system, and how to find out the current version of BIOS.

"Enter" the BIOS

Sounds like some kind of karate movie or something. But it’s really quite easy; no years of physical training are required. Accessing the BIOS is done by pressing a particular key at computer bootup. This key will vary depending on who manufactured the computer or motherboard. Common keys include DEL, F1, F2, and F10. This key will often be displayed somewhere on the screen when the computer first boots. If, however, you do not see it, and instead there is a splash screen with the manufacturer’s logo, simply press the Esc key to remove the logo. This will then display the access key (as well as other bootup information). Using the Esc key is less common as of 2010 because many motherboard manufacturers will display the BIOS access key on the main bootup screen.

For example, in Figure 1, we see a screen capture of a system booting up. It tells us to press DEL to enter Setup (which is another name for the BIOS menu system).

Figure 1 Computer at bootup displaying the DEL BIOS key

Figure 1 shows an example of a typical white-box motherboard’s BIOS. Another example is shown in Figure 2. This shows a computer with an Intel motherboard booting up; the screen tells us to press F2 to enter the BIOS.

Figure 2 Computer at bootup displaying the F2 BIOS key

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