BIOS Hot Swapping

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This is based on my own experience and just tried on two motherboards with Via Chipset and one with Intel. If you don`t know what BIOS hot swapping is, I’ll give you an idea:

Let`s say you are doing a BIOS flash and then for some reason your computer shuts down or locks up. It can be you accidentally pulling the cable, a general blackout, or anything, so… when you get power back, you turn on your PC and – Nothing! It`s just dead. It turns on fans and LEDs, but it won`t post.

You just got yourself a dead BIOS – why is that? Simply because your flashing didn`t finish and your BIOS data is incomplete, just like copying to a floppy a file and in the middle, you take out the floppy – how is the file? Unusable!

When this happens, there is really little you can do. If you have a Gigabyte mobo with dual BIOS, then you have nothing to worry about – just switch the BIOS to start with the good one and redo the flashing in the busted BIOS. Try not to flash the second BIOS until you get the first one flashed and working :).

Now, if you don`t have a mobo with dual BIOS or the BIOS savior device that I read about here {here you have to put the link to that article}, you can call your mobo manufacturer and ask them for a BIOS replacement. I think this should be enough, but if you as I do not live in US or Taiwan, you might have a little problem trying to contact your mobo manufacturer.

An alternative is to do what is called BIOS Hot Swapping. I`ll tell you how to do this in steps:

First, you have to get a mobo identical to yours (well actually no! This is what everyone that I read said, but I proved them wrong and will tell you in detail later in this article).

Next, you should take off the BIOS chip of the working Mobo a few times so it will be easier to get off when you really have to get off the BIOS Chip in the bad mobo. Have it close by – in my case, I take the mobo out of the case because it`s just easier to take off the chips and there is less risk of bending a pin in the chip. You have to do this with extreme caution and patience.

Then, turn on your PC with the flashing BIOS disk – remember to disable the autoexec.bat that some BIOS disks create because that way, you are going to flash the BIOS that is already working. With this disk, you just have to boot your PC in DOS mode, then you have to change the BIOS chips. Yes! With your PC on!

When you`re done, all you have to do is start the procedure of flashing the BIOS and when it`s finished, just swap the BIOS again and turn off your PC, put the new flashed BIOS in your bad mobo and it should be working like nothing has ever happened :).

I said that you don`t have to have the exact same mobo to do this and I’ll tell you how I do it: I read about hot swapping BIOS in a few sites on the internet, but they all say the same thing – “You need the same mobo.” But I didn`t have one and needed to do BIOS hot swapping in 2 different dead mobos. With one working mobo different to the other two, I just thought that the BIOS chip is programmable and the 3 chips looked the same.

This isn`t like trying to write a CD-R with a standard CD-Reader where we are hardware limited, if this didn`t work, it’s because they won`t let you with their software, not hardware, and that`s what makes me try this and being a little kamikaze perhaps. You all know that almost any software can be hacked, right? Well, I didn`t hack anything but I found out which one, with the right modifiers, let’s you do the job.

I have one working MSI 6199 with VIA chipset, one SOYO 6vba-133 with Via chipset, dead BIOS, and one AOPEN with Intel lx440 chipset, dead BIOS also. I downloaded the BIOS flashing programs for each of the three mobos from here, MSI.com, SoyoUSA.com and Aopen.com.

There were a few differences between the 3 (all are Award BIOS, but I`m very optimistic that this can be done with AMI BIOS too, because the programs are compatible with each other); the one from Aopen contains the 256Kb .bin file which contains BIOS data and a flashing program that can`t be modified at all – it`s just automatic, so that one was out. The one from MSI has the .bin too and the Awardflash v783m.

With this, just for fun I flashed the two bad BIOS with the MSI 6199 and tried them – they all worked perfectly, so now I was sure that they were the same chip but different brands and that no chip was actually damaged. But when I tried to flash with the .bin files that weren`t the one from MSI, the program said that “the part`s number didn`t match your system” at this time. I was a little disappointed and almost give up until I tried the Awardflash from SOYO. I tried the /? modifier and I found two modifiers that caught my attention:

/f that was present on Awardflash v783m too and the /c; the last one let me override the part number and then it asked me if I wanted to do the flashing. At this point, I thought that it was done, but… not so fast! The program just quit again, then I tried the /f modifier which uses a different algorithm for speeding up the process.

I don`t know if there was really a speed improvement, but I do know that now the program didn`t quit and it started flashing the BIOS with any of the .bin files :), so the command line will be something like

awdflash vba-2bab.bin /f /c

This example is for the Soyo 6vba BIOS. In your case, just replace the .bin file with your BIOS name. I really recommend that you use the Awardflash utility from Soyo because you will know for sure that it has the right modifiers.

I put each chip where they belonged and tried them. The Soyo mobo worked flawlessly – it was better than ever because the latest BIOS release was great and I haven`t tried before, so it was twice the happiness. The Aopen mobo did work as well, but I didn`t know how it was before, but I don`t care – it works now!!!

Well, I hope this helps some of you guys. If you tried this, tell me how it went and if you have anything to add.

Martin J. Guerrero aka “Darkseid”

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