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What is a BIOS update and how do I install one?

In the past, updating a BIOS was a scary proposition, but now it's easy and usually quite safe. Best of all it typically only takes a minute or two to complete.

BIOS stands for Basic Input Output System. It is low-level programming code in your computer that controls the basic functions of your machine, before the operating system starts. Essentially when your computer starts up, the BIOS allows the machine to determine out how much RAM it has, what drives are available, etc. It then determines the correct "boot" or start up device and loads the operating system. From then on it more or less sits in the background while the operating system is in control.

The BIOS programming code is stored in a special type of memory chip. This is a special type of memory that normally keeps its information even when the computer is turned off. Fortunately this memory can be erased and re-written. This process is called "flashing" or updating the BIOS. Also some device refer to the BIOS as the "firmware".

It is typically not necessary to update a BIOS, but when necessary it is fairly easy. Simply go to the website of your computer or motherboard manufacturer and download the most recent BIOS update. There will usually be several revisions and you want to download the most recent. When you click to download the software it usually will prompt you to insert a floppy disk. (The instructions on the manufacturers website will tell you exactly what's needed.)

Once you have made the floppy disk you will start your computer with it. The software on the floppy usually does a basic check to make sure it is compatible with your PC and current BIOS. Once the check is complete it starts the flashing or updating process. During this process it will erase the old BIOS information and then write the new BIOS information. The whole process usually only takes a minute or two.

When it is complete the computer will prompt you to remove the floppy and reboot. When it restarts it usually will take you into the BIOS setup software screen. Unless you are an expert user just choose exit and save and you will be all set.

There are only two areas for caution when doing an update. First and foremost, you need to make sure you're using the right BIOS update. Fortunately if you download the wrong one it typically will not even allow you to install it. (If you downloaded the BIOS update from your manufacturer by looking up your model you should be safe.

The second, although highly unlikely, concern is a loss of power during the flash or update process. If the power went out before the process was complete it could leave your computer half-programmed and not able to start. That said, it's very unlikely in the first place. (Unless you are doing it during a thunderstorm and lightning strikes.) You can even overcome this small risk by using an uninterruptible power supply.

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