Upgrading the BIOS Part 1

Operating systems and software are not the only thing that needs to be upgraded these days. It is really important that the BIOS firmware gets updated as well. Lately, I have been talking to a lot of IT Pros at conferences and user group meetings and I have discovered that not too many people upgrade or ‘flash’ the BIOS on systems after they have already been deployed (or even ever – sometimes they are sent out with the version they came with from the vendor). It is really important to change this going forward. I recommend developing standard versions that you support so that all systems are running your minimum standard version or newer. Periodically, a review of BIOS releases should be done to see if a later version should become the new minimum standard.

So why even upgrade the BIOS in the first place? There are a few reasons that I can think of that answer this question. The first reason is Windows 10 support. Believe it or not, the hardware vendors test the latest operating systems on the models that they currently support. Take the Lenovo ThinkPad T450, looking in the BIOS release history, you can see that Windows 10 support was added for version 1.17:

<1.17> 2015/09/07
– (New) Added win10 support.
– (New) Enabled N25Q128 SPI ROM support.
– (New) Added security fix addresses LEN-2015-002 SMM “Incursion” Attack.
– (New) Included security fixies.
– (New) Added new incompatibility bit for Back Flash Prevention.

Now this does not mean that Windows 10 will not work on versions lower than version 1.17. It means that this is probably the version that they validated and tested Windows 10 against. If you happen to run into an issue running Windows 10 on a version lower than 1.17 and you call in for support, chances are they will have you upgrade the BIOS to the latest version to see if that addresses your issue.

The second reason to upgrade the BIOS is to get fixes. It makes sense to start off on one of the latest releases than it does to start off with a version that is a year or more behind in fixes. By not upgrading to a recent version as part of the deployment process, you are potentially wasting everyone’s time – the end user, help desk, desk side (and your time if the problem comes back to you). Save the hassle and be proactive. Looking at a newer BIOS release version for the same Lenovo ThinkPad T450, we see that there is even a ‘SCCM’ fix listed in version 1.19:

– (New) Updated verbtable for noise.
– (New) Changed Haswell + N16s Tolud.
– (New) Updated Winuptp & Winuptp64.
– (Fix) Fixed an issue that srsetupwin fails to install pop/hdp with clearing SVP.
– (Fix) Fixed an issue related to SCCM 80070490 error when HDP is set.
– (Fix) Fixed an issue related to silent install auto restart issue.

The third reason to upgrade the BIOS is to get security related fixes. Yes, they find and fix security fixes in the BIOS firmware just like they do in operating systems and software. Do your security team (and yourself) a favor and deploy versions that contain these security fixes. Looking at the BIOS release history for the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m, we can see some of these security fixes listed in this version:

Version:F.60 A (20 Jan 2015)
– Fixes an intermittent issue where enabling the LAN/WLAN switching feature in the F10 BIOS settings causes the system to stop functioning properly (hang) at POST after a warm boot.

– Provides improved security of UEFI code and variables. HP strongly recommends transitioning promptly to this updated BIOS version which supersedes all previous releases.

NOTE: Due to security changes, after this BIOS update is installed, previous versions cannot be reinstalled.

Pay close attention to the note at the end of the release text – it states that previous versions cannot be reinstalled. What this means is that you can no longer ‘flash’ back to an earlier BIOS version. This is important when it comes to deploying BIOS and how we detect what systems need to be updated, but more on that later.

The fourth reason that comes to mind is has to do with manipulating the BIOS settings programmatically. I have written blogs and talked on the topic of using the vendor utilities to programmatically change the BIOS settings (like BIOS to UEFI) using a Configuration Manager task sequence. Just as it is important to standardize on the BIOS versions, you should also develop standards on how each BIOS setting should be configured in order to maintain consistency and ensure devices are configured accordingly. By running on the latest BIOS version, you will ensure that these utilities will work correctly and configure the settings correctly.

I am sure I can think of many more reasons why you should start baselining and upgrading the BIOS versions for the supported systems in your environment, but hopefully I have identified the top four reasons and have convinced you that this needs to be done on a regular basis. In the next blog, Upgrading the BIOS Part 2, I will discuss the approach to flashing the BIOS along with some lessor understood caveats as it relates to BitLocker, BIOS passwords and UEFI 64-bit systems.

Originally posted on https://miketerrill.net/

3 thoughts on “Upgrading the BIOS Part 1

  1. Looking forward to part 2. I’ve been testing this on our Dells but the biggest issue I’ve yet to work out is different passwords. Different area techs use their own password which makes it difficult for me to do the upgrade.

    • If Dell would allow the BIOS update to silently fail if the password is incorrect, you could basically try all the known passwords.

      But in my experience, the update prompts for password if the password given in the command line is wrong. And this gunks up the works.

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