It’s an interesting question. Even more interesting is that the answer may be changing.
We stress how important it is to keep your system software up to date with the latest updates and patches and the like. Even applications frequently self-check and notify you automatically when updates are available.
But what about your BIOS?
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
BIOS & UEFI
The BIOS (or Basic Input/Output System), and in more recent computers, the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface), is software that’s “hardwired” into your computer. (I’ll refer to both as “BIOS” throughout this article.) It’s the software that runs when you first turn on your machine — the software that does the power-on self test (aka “POST”). And it’s the software that knows how to find and load other software, like the operating system.
The BIOS may also be used by the operating system as an interface to access the hardware on your machine.
You’ve captured my opinion with respect to BIOS updates: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But recent events have shown us that something may indeed be “broke”, and it’s a BIOS update that would fix it. More on that in a moment.
Updating your BIOS
Unlike your operating system or even your application software, the BIOS rarely represents a vulnerability to your system. In fact, BIOS bugs, while they do happen, are typically infrequent and of low impact.
But they can happen, and if a fix for a problem you’re experiencing is a BIOS update, I would take it.
Note, however, the wording I used: “if a fix for a problem you’re experiencing“. Unlike the rest of the software on your machine, I do not generally recommend updating the BIOS just because there’s a new one available. Only when you’re experiencing a problem fixed by a BIOS update (or perhaps rebuilding a machine from scratch) would I proactively look for and install the latest update.
The risk of updating your BIOS
BIOS updates are kind of funny, since they update the firmware on your motherboard. As such, there’s a slight risk: if the update fails for any reason, you may not be able to reboot your machine. The machine may simply appear dead.
Most modern motherboards now include a reset mechanism to restore a BIOS to some original default. Sometimes it’s a small switch on the motherboard itself; sometimes it’s a jumper that temporarily connects two exposed connections; sometimes it’s something else.
And sometimes it doesn’t exist. There are still motherboards that cannot be reset. Sometimes it’s due to age. Sometimes it’s a specific security choice to avoid someone being able to take over a machine by replacing its BIOS.
Unfortunately, your machine may, indeed, be experiencing a problem in the form of a security vulnerability, and you may not even be aware of it. A class of CPU architecture vulnerabilities, beginning with Spectre and Meltdown, represent a CPU-level issue that for some machines is fixed or mitigated by an update to the BIOS.
The only way you would know this would be to check with your computer’s manufacturer. Your computer will function normally even with this issue in place.
If you have the opportunity, I would sign up for a notification mailing list from your computer’s manufacturer. I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear about this type of vulnerability needing a BIOS update.
Where BIOS updates come from
Updates to the BIOS of your computer should come only directly from that computer’s manufacturer. News and information should be available from the manufacturer’s support website. If you’ve built your own computer, then go to the website of the manufacturer of that computer’s motherboard.
That’s the canonical source for information about your computer, and the proper source for any and all updates to that computer’s BIOS.
Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.
I'll see you there!
Download (right-click, Save-As) (Duration: 5:06 — 2.4MB)
Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | RSS
9 comments on “Do I Need to Update My BIOS Regularly?”
I used to be a BIOS junkie… I admit it. I’d flash whenever a new version was available. I’ve only flashed my current machine twice – once, when I first built in two years ago, and once about two months ago. The first flash was to overcome a bug in the v1.0 firmware that slowed everything down dramatically. The second flash was to support Athlon 64×2 (dual core) processors. I stopped flashing more often than necessary a couple of years ago after an update left my machine unusable. I was able to find a previous BIOS version and restored the machine to a working state. Now I only update when necessary… still, my precious calls to me…
I have to agree with Leo. Computer users seem caught in a neverending cycle of upgrading and patching when it comes to software. Buf if the patch/upgrade isn’t for security purposes or to fix a bug that could well affect you… consider letting it go. If everything is running well, why upgrade?
Again, I must stress, if the patch/upgrade is security-oriented or fixes bugs, install it. Otherwise… eh.
right i have this motherboard MSI 6787 VER2. now the problem is when i connect the dvd rom to the white IDE conntect,, in the bios it just shows funny lettering and will not boot from cd rom. so i connected my 40GB hard drive to the white IDE connecter again it just shows funny lettering and only picks it up as 6GB. now the other IDE connecter works fines pick eveything up as it should. my question is do i need a bios upgrade to fix this problem.
If you have a motherboard with something like Q-Flash then it’s easy, and if you have dual bios. I know you mentioned a bios reset, which is what a dual bios does, but a lot of times as a person that overclocks I need to keep the bios updated for stability.
I enjoy messing around with my various PCs, such as installing a new OS, upgrading the version of the OS (like going from Home to Pro), creating a dual-boot configuration and so on. But the one thing I was never inclined to do was change the BIOS. That just seemed like a fate that I didn’t want to tempt. Plus, I never once had an issue that could be corrected by doing so.
I would like to know how I can update my windows 7 pro OS & check my BIOS Thanx Gary
Update Windows 7: Just keep using Windows Update. I’m not sure what you’re looking to update to.
Check BIOS: contact your computer’s manufacturer. The instructions differ from one computer to another.
Computer manufacturers seem to stop updating the bios after about 5 years. Perhaps I should say they stop providing technical support for the product. When you have an older cpu that a PC manufacturer has abandoned support for and a security issue is present or if you change operating systems, you may be able to get a firmware update from the CPU manufacturer (such as Intel).
I’m in a quandary.
I want to upgrade my 9-year old video card to one which will support the resolution required for my new monitor.
Having tried two newer ones which weren’t recognised, I understand that the problem is that my motherboard BIOS is ‘legacy’ whereas the video cards require UEFI.
My PC maker’s forum has turned up a helpful contributor who has quickly customised the latest version of my BIOS (slightly newer than mine) to recognise a UEFI video card.
I have saved this, but I’m very nervous about installing it – wary of the kind of warnings in the article above.
It looks like this is the only way I can achieve what I want – but is there any way of de-risking the change?
What would others do?
Thanks for your input.