Win9x - Is it time for you to flash-upgrade your BIOS?

The Basic Input/Output System chip on your PC's motherboard has program code necessary to run your computer. The BIOS chip is almost always flash RAM, so it is simple to upgrade using a program that "flashes" it with new code. Things can go wrong during the upgrade process, however, and the new version may introduce incompatibilities.

Before you decide on an upgrade, weigh the benefits against the effort involved and the risk entailed. The first step is to determine the manufacturer, number, and date of your BIOS. In Windows 98 you can find this information by clicking Start-Programs-Accessories-System Tools-System Information. Then click the plus sign next to "Components" and select System. Select Advanced Information in the top-right window pane, scroll down to "System board", and look for BIOSDate and BIOSVersion.

Alternatively, you may obtain the BIOS information when you boot your computer. Press as soon as text appears on the screen; on most computers you'll see the BIOS manufacturer, number, and date. Write down the information, and then press any key to resume booting.

Your next step is to go to your system vendor's Web site and look for BIOS information for your PC model. (If you have a no-name clone, go to the motherboard manufacturer's Web site.) The information usually appears in a section of the site labelled "Technical Support", "Free Downloads", or something similar. If a BIOS upgrade is available for your system, read the description provided.

The upgrade file is usually a .zip or self-extracting .exe file. Instructions for the upgrade are probably stored in a "readme" file or somewhere on the Web site. Follow the instructions very carefully.

You'll probably have to put all the files required for the upgrade onto a bootable floppy disk. Then reboot, follow the vendor instructions for backing up your existing BIOS, and run the program that does the actual upgrade.

A power outage or other unexpected interruptions in the flash process can corrupt the BIOS code. If you end up with a half-written BIOS, you'll have to use the backup copy you just made to reinstall the original. If your system won't boot, you'll need a BIOS-flashing machine or a new BIOS.

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