When and Why to Update the BIOS
Updating or flashing the BIOS carries a certain amount of risk, but the potential rewards make it worth the effort. Motherboard makers are contstantly enhanching the BIOS firmware and the end result can be significantly improved performance, less buggy behavior, additional functionality, improved overclocking performance, and much more.
BIOS updates can also be minor and only address a specific function, such as adding native support for higher frequency RAM or a new CPU stepping. If the added functionality isn't something that affects your setup, you needn't worry about updating your BIOS. The general rule of thumb is if it isn't broken, well, you know the rest.
We recommend checking your vendor's website every few months to see if any new BIOS versions have been released, and if so, what changes they bring. Then make a determination on whether or not you should flash your BIOS.
You've heard of Murphy's Law, and it definitely applies here. While BIOS flashes have become orders of magnitude easier and less risky in recent years, the one time you attempt to update your BIOS unprepared will inevitably be the time something goes wrong.
Standard housekeeping applies - backup any important data. A BIOS flash won't nuke your hard drive, but if done incorrectly, it could kill your motherboard. Plus, you should have a routine backup plan in place anyway.
Next, tune your system for stability. If you're overclocking, revert back to default clockspeeds and voltage levels. The reason for this is because if there's an underlying instability issue -- even one you're not aware of -- your system could suddenly reboot during the middle of a BIOS flash, rendering your BIOS chip corrupt and your motherboard a rather bulky keychain.
Finally, make a note of any pertinent BIOS settings that you've changed from their default values. Sometimes when updating the BIOS, all settings are reverted back to default. Did you disable onboard sound? You may need to do so again.
Windows BIOS Update Utilities
Most motherboard manufacturers offer some kind of handy Windows utility with a snazzy GUI for updating your BIOS. If at all possible, avoid using these, particularly if you're updating your BIOS because of instability. Should your Windows installation suddenly freeze or restart, you could be in a world of trouble.
How to Update
There are several alternative methods to updating your BIOS, the simpliest being from a USB key. Some motherboard manufacturers implement a built-in utility for updating the BIOS during POST. Gigabyte boards, for example, come with a Q-Flash utility. To use it, you would first go to your motherboard's product page and download the latest BIOS file (when updating a BIOS, you don't need to go in order - you can skip straight to the latest BIOS version) and copy it to your USB key. Next, reboot your PC and hit the End key during post or F8 from within the BIOS. This brings up the Q-Flash utility. Follow the GUI prompts to locate and load the BIOS on your USB key and sit back while the new firmware is written. Be sure not to power down or reset your system.
EZ-Flash 2 (Asus) (opens in new tab)
If you own an older or proprietary system, you may need to kick it old school and update your BIOS with a floppy disk using one of several utilities. Reference your motherboard maker's website to see which utilities your motherboard supports (see here (opens in new tab) , for example).