I mentioned the other day that I had a couple lockups with my new system (an AMD 64 X2 4200+ with the Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard). Since I didn't see the setting I thought might fix a problem that X reports with the video aperture size, I decided to try updating my BIOS. As it turns out, the version that shipped on the motherboard was quite a few versions behind, it reported as 0109. When I first looked at the Asus site and saw all the Windows and DOS-based Flash BIOS update tools, I was a little disheartened. I had seen a reference to EZ-FLASH in the BIOS settings and the manual, so I decided to investigate that method.
I don't generally put up with long-term stability issues with my computers. I fix them - that's how Late Night PC Service got started after all. Thinking back, my old desktop did have an issue when DDR2 RAM first came out (under Windows 98 back then) so my solution was to just put in twice as much DDR :) . Either I'm good at building systems and choosing the right parts or I just usually buy hardware that's old enough for the kinks to be worked out. Which ever one it is, I'm not afraid to upgrade my BIOS, I just don't want to unless I think there might be a benefit.
Disclaimer: I label this as a "how-to" and it should work as a guide if you're comfortable with computers. But bear in mind that I don't warrant that any of this is accurate, current or even anything more than a malicious lie. If you need to upgrade the BIOS on your computer then I hope this helps but I won't be held responsible for any use or misuse of what I write here. Now that all that's clear, let's proceed...
Looking at the downloads available from Asus (click the "BIOS" tab), the latest version available at the time I'm writing is 0504. If you're going to try this yourself, you can tell which ones are a new BIOS by the Description field (something like M2NPV-VM Release BIOS 0504) and the OS field says "All". The list of changes included with this version of the BIOS and the changes included from previous versions are very terse and don't include the symptoms of problems they might fix. Information like that is way too hard for the firmware programmers to figure out - they don't know your system locks up when you run amaroK and Neverball at the same time.
I don't have good proof to think this will solve my problem but I do see they fixed a couple problems related to RAM. I used 2 sticks of OCZ DDR2-800 (PC2-6400) RAM in a dual channel configuration in my system. They weren't specifically mentioned in the approved suppliers list, so maybe there could be a timing thing or a configuration issue that Asus has fixed since the initial release of the motherboard. Besides, I've worked in software long enough to know that all the details of every fix don't make it in to the change log.
All right, let's get down to it. EZ-Flash was actually really easy to use. I also like it because it's pretty much independent of the operating system you use. Whether you use Linux, Windows, or OSX on your computer, you should still be able to use EZ-Flash without a problem. To start with, I downloaded the new BIOS and copied it somewhere convenient. I unzipped the file to get the actual BIOS image, called 0504.bin. I have an external USB memory card reader made by San Disk. I put my
I'd actually used a different computer to put the BIOS image file (0504.bin) on my CF card, so it was at this point that I plugged the USB flash card reader in to this computer. Next I found my way to the EZ-Flash menu item and picked it. EZ-Flash looks at all the drives it can find. It seems to read at least ATA IDE drives (including CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives), SATA drives and USB drives like my flash card reader or a flash drive (thumb drive, jump drive, whatever). It didn't see the ext3 formatted partitions on my hard drive, so it decided that my USB attached device should be called drive
C:. I only have ext3 formatted partitions in my system, but most USB flash drives and flash cards (like the Compact Flash cards or Memory Sticks that I use in my cameras) are formatted with some flavour of the FAT file system. Here's the file chooser screen that I saw.
I wanted to back up my current BIOS in case something went wrong. So I pressed 'S' to save the existing BIOS image. The term 'image' in this sense means a binary copy of all the bits that are saved on the flash memory the BIOS uses. Sometimes 'BIOS' and 'BIOS image' are interchangeable (like when you're talking about the file, that's really a BIOS image) and sometimes BIOS is used to mean other things, like the setup screens that are shown when you boot up your computer and go into the setup.
When I pressed S I got this prompt.
I assumed that by "sub file name" they meant either a directory name (a path) or the file extension (like .bin). So to be safe I just put in
0109orig since the version number of the existing BIOS was 0109.
You can always rename it later. When I pressed Enter, I got a scary warning.
This warning seems like overkill since there shouldn't be any way to damage things from here (other than possibly overwriting a file on the attached drive). I just picked Yes and pressed Enter to continue. In response I got a progress bar showing that EZ-Flash was "Backuping ROM".
So backuping means it's reading the BIOS image and copying it to a file on the attached drive (my flash card). When it was done backuping I picked 0504.bin from the list and pressed Enter again. EZ-Flash then erases the existing BIOS on the motherboard.
And writes the new one.
These steps take a little while because flash memory needs to be erased before it can be written and both erasing and writing flash take significantly longer than reading it. This is the same thing that happens on a flash thumb drive or the card in your camera but the details there are hidden from the user. After the BIOS update was finished I got a mesage telling me so.
After the update the menus moved way too fast in the BIOS to be useable. Well, I guess it was still usable but it takes me ten tries to get the right item. I reset everything to defaults (which is probably a good idea) then had to go back and make all the tweaks I'd made before, like device boot order and turning on AMD Cool & Quiet (which I highly recommend, btw). It was really hard to navigate since a single tap of an arrow key jumped two options. Holding the arrow keys down made it easier since the repeat rate was actually slower than just pressing them slowly.
The other problem I had was that after booting up again I had to set up my network card in SuSE again. I just went in to Yast2 and deleted the old one then configured the new one the same as the old one had been. I think the new BIOS may have changed the MAC address for the M2NPV-VM onboard ethernet adapter. I had set up DHCP-based host names in my router (a D-Link DI-524) and those are based on MAC address as well. It wasn't hard to fix but it took me a while to recognize what had happened.
All-in-all it was pretty straightforward to actually use EZ-Flash to update to the latest BIOS and it took me a whole lot less time to do than it does to explain. I'd recommend it over any other method.