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Book Chapter 5 – Firmware

1. What is the BIOS?

This, my friends, is a typical motherboard. Now, as we look at a motherboard from another episode, things like, for example, this is where we snap in our RAM, and this is where we snap on our CPU, We also know from other episodes that this is the interface by which everybody talks to everybody else on your computer. Except I'm going to take it even further than that. I'm going to tell you that another board is an assumption. It's an assumption in that it assumes that you're going to be putting USB devices on here. In fact, you can even solder USB connectors on there. It assumes that you want to use wireless, so it has wireless ready to go. It assumes that you're going to want to plug in speakers or maybe headphones. It assumes network connections, but it assumes more than that. It is assumed that there are drive connections present. There are numerous connections available for adding a little something. All this has an outrageously large number of USB connections. The bottom line is that a motherboard is an assumption that you are going to use certain types of hardware. If you consider this fairly safe assumption, for example, chances are you'll use a keyboard; chances are you'll use a mouse. You're almost certainly going to use some sort of mass storage. Now that's great. And the motherboard serves as the device's interconnectivity. But there are situations where your computer needs to talk to these devices not within Windows but even before the operating system itself boots up. Now we know that operating systems one ofthe things they provide are device drivers. So if I'm using Linux, I have Linux drivers for the hard drive in here, and I have Linux drivers for the USB. However, there's lots of situations where before the systemeven boots into an op system that we needto be able to speak to these devices. In fact, in many cases, operating systems themselves will forego device drivers and simply use some built-in interface that allows them to talk to all this stuff. These are known as our basic input-output services, better known as "bias." And that's right, folks, built into this motherboard somewhere is programming. Now we use the term "firmware," because firmware means that it's burned onto a chip as opposed to "sorry," which means that it's copied onto some kind of magnetic media or electronic media. There is no exception to this in the world of motherboards. There is a little bit of programming built into the mode that's designed to let you talk to the assumed hardware of the computer, and it's called bias. If you see it, I'll show you one right here. This motherboard dates from the mid-1990s, and I like it because it's got really big parts and this entire chip right here is the bias chip. Bias chips grow on bias trees no, they don't. Bias trees are code, and they have to be written by programmers, and there are companies out there that make the right bias. They have names like AMI, American Megatrends, and Phoenix, and there are organisations out there that sell them to any motherboard manufacturer who's got the cash. So that's where these names come from. So this is a very old bias. Let me show you what bias looks like on a modern system. So if we take a look here, we've got these two little teeny tiny chips, and right now I don't think the camera can get this. It says M Bias and B Bias. What you're looking at is a feature that's common to many motherboards today, where they make two copies of this critical firmware. If by any chance we were to accidentally wipe it out or corrupt it, we've got a backup cop on a completely separate chip. In fact, this motherboard comes from a company called Gigabyte that is famous for doing exactly that. Now, the problem with bias is that there's really no way to show it to you. I can't open a heap on a computer and say, "Here's the actual code itself; it can't do that," but what I can do is talk about bias a little bit more to make sure we understand what all it can do. Now, for example, on this bot you have the ability to talk to the mass storage devices of your motherboard. So if you snap in an SSD or if yousnap in an old school hard drive you can talkto that drive without even booting into Windows. This is done more for this reason than for any other reason to test it.as the computer boots up. We go through a process of checking out the assumed hardware; it's not worth anybody's time for you to try to start Linux if the hard drive isn't talking right There's no point in trying to boot up a window screen if you don't have a monitor that can at least output something, so our bias is also known as the power on self or post. We've got a whole episode of Post coming up. The third thing that's built into that chip is something called the system set up.That same hard drive is going to change depending on what your capacity is and things like that, so some of that code has to be able to read a little data That's what we call the system set up, also known as the complementary metal oxide semiconductor, or CMOS, and I've got another episode on that as well. So when we talk about bias, we're referring to a tiny chip on the motherboard that communicates with the assumed harder aware of this. I'm going to save it for a few more episodes to show you some of the other denizens of that little chip.

2. POST

Have you ever noticed that there's no Run button on a computer? I mean, sure, there's an on and off button, but the only thing the on and off button does is provide electricity to the computer. If you think about it, there must be something that says, "CPU, begin running programming." And that's done by the CPU itself, built into the back of every CPU as one little wire called the power gate wire. And as soon as that one gets enough voltage, the CPU starts running. And the first thing it's going to do is go talk to the bias, and it's going to run a little piece of bias known as the Power on Self test or post. Now, "The Power of Self-Test" is actually a pretty simple program. It kind of broadcasts out throughout the motherboard and says, "If you can hear me, check yourself out." So the memory controllers, RAMD USB controllers, and hard drive controllers on your motherboard all go through their own internal diagnostics. And assuming it does the dostick properly and it checks itself out and everything's okay, it responds back to the CPU and says, "I'm great." And then your computer boots up. You can actually tell when a computer is booting up properly by this little sound. So I'm going to make one little sound for you to hear. Listen. There you go. Did you hear that beep? Basically, what's happened right there is that our system has booted up. It's gone through the Power On self test.Everything has reported back well. And that little beep comes from a speaker. Let me look it over. The speaker is on this particular system. This speaker is right here. So no, this is not your beautiful five-dot, one surround system that you watch movies on. This is a simple little speaker, and that's about his only job: to report on it. Now that's great, but think about what a post is: a post before the operating system or anything kicks off a diagnostic. So what if something's wrong? Well, if something's wrong, your computer has to report to you, a human being, that there's a problem. Keep in mind that the post will not only check really important things like you, the RAM, and any chips on there, but it will also check video because you need at least rudimentary video to boot up. So what if the video isn't working? Well, that's where we have what we call beep codes. So beep codes are the most basic type of post error codes available. There are not a lot of them left, but they all sound a little bit different. There are a few of them that are kind of famous. For example, the famous I don't have a video card," which sounds something like this, And there's also the famous "I can't find any RAM on my computer," which sounds kind of like this. So when you hear errors like this, what's happening is we're so early into the post that we haven't even tested the video yet. So it has to go through these beeps. Okay, now let's assume that we've got at least to the point where the video is coming up. There's a lot of stuff that we wanted to get apoco on but just display on the screen once the videos kicked in. So in order to see some of these, let's take a look at my screen real quick. So here's my system as it's just booting up. So at the top, here's my brand name, Bias American Mega Trends." And if you look, there's a lot of information in here. For example, it's telling me what type of chips are on my motherboard. It tells me what kind of CPU is on this system. It tells me what speed it's running at. It tells me what memories I have. It's got all of the types of boot devices up on the screen. So that alone gives me a lot of interest if I have some problems. Like, for example, this is one of my favourite post error codes that show up. It'll say, "No keyboard found." Press any key to continue. So if you see an error on that screen, it will show up right there. Okay? So we have beep codes. We have display codes that show up in plain English on the screen. What if the system is in the middle of a post, and it's so much in trouble that it can't even do any of that? In fact, this is a big problem, particularly when you're installing it or building up a new system. You've installed a new CPU and RAM. You're buckling up. You put in the power supply, and you fire it up. And nothing happened. No sound is coming from your little speaker. Nothing is showing up on the screen. And you're like, do I have a CPU? Or whatever it might be? In those types of situations, we turn into something called a "postcard." So I've got a couple of examples right here. Let me show these to you. So these are postcards. All cards will use a hexadecimal two-digit readout, and you just plug them into them and watch what shows up. So what I want to do right now is use this motherboard, which is actually pretty cool because it has a built-in postcard. This is a big fan favorite. So what I'm going to do is have you watch this on the camera here. I'm going to fire this thing up, and we're literally going to watch Hilton Postcard work. So let's watch this. Okay, watch the screen there, folks. Here, I'm going to start her up. There you go. So what you're actually watching is these two hexadecimal characters. This thing just reboots a couple of times. Don't worry about that it'll come on. So as you're actually watching this two-digit hexadecimal, you're actually watching the post itself as the system boots up. The problem we have with two-digit hexadecimal values is we don't know what they mean, right? So all of a sudden, let's say you're booting this system up and it goes to two B, and it's just sitting there at two B, and you're like, "What does two B mean?" So no matter what we did, I still wanted to do two Bs or not show up. Okay? So what we'll do is, usually, on the motherboard book, they're going to show you all of these codes. So let me bring this over here so you guys can see this. On this particular motherboard from the Ace brand, they call these Q codes. I just call them post-error codes. So you'll see that there are all of these different kinds of errors. So let's say, for example, twoB, where f means memory initialization. "Two B" means memory. Initialization. What that's going to do, for me at least, is I'm going to go, "Okay, maybe there's a problem with Ram." Do you get the idea? A lot of post-error codes can be very confusing. The other thing you have to remember, especially with something built into a postcard like this, is that once the operating system kicks in, anything that you read on that postcode is gibberish. It doesn't mean anything. The postcodes are only valid as the computer is booting up. Once you see your Windows screen or your Linux screen, then you just ignore that stuff anyway. So with a two-B error, I know it says memory initialization. I'm going to check the RAM; perhaps just reset it; and see if I have a bad stick of RAM in there. But these postcodes can be absolutely magical. They're especially useful when you're just trying to boot up a system and there's no sound, no nothing. Be careful with postcards. You can buy postcards anywhere in the world today. They're very inexpensive. Now, of course, you can buy a motherboard with one built in, but that's me, Mr. Vegas. But you can go buy yourself a little postcard. They snap into an expansion slot. They are only around $30. The reason I'm bringing this up is that there are companies out there, and I'm not naming any names, that will sell a post-diagnostic card in a book this thick for $300. You know that stuff? You can go online and just type in "postcard." And you might go through a few postcards before you get to the "Power on" self-test cards. And for around $30, slap one. I use my postcards probably once a year, twice a year, and they're absolutely tasty. Make sure you get yourself one. You'll be glad you did.

3. System Setup

PCs have been improving and improving over the decades. We've gone from 16 world to 32bit world, to 64 bit world. Everything from our operating systems and our hard drives to our CPUs and our different types of connectivity is getting faster and more powerful, with one exception, and that is bias. The original bias was a 16-bit program, and for decades—I mean, this is not that long ago—everything but the bias was all up to speed and 64-bit and powerful. And the powers that be got together and said, This is silly. We've updated everything else. Why don't we come up with a new and improved, super powerful bias? They did, and they came up with what we call the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, or UEFI. So technically, UEFI has supplanted bias. However, we still call it bias, but it's a good, super-neat, powerful bias. So we call it UEFI bias. If you want to be technical, you could just call it UEFI and know what you were talking about. But UEFI bias is the common term. The only trick to bias is that bias is designed to talk to the assumed hardware of our computer, right? However, some of this hardware changes. For example, we might put in different hard drives or different USB devices. And there might be some security things that we might want to deal with. In that case, we have another part of bias called the system setup. The system setup is an interface that we get on our computers, and we're going to use our mouse and our keyboards and make changes to the changeable part of our bias. Now, getting to the system setup is always a challenge. Every time a computer boots up, there's this text and logo that most of us don't pay attention to. Well, as nerds, we do. So in order to get in there, we usually have to hold down a key before the operating system boots. So it's very common to hold the Delete key and the F2 key; those are the two most common. And you boot your computer up, and it'll say so on the screen, and you hold that button down, and you're going to enter a brand new, exciting world. So let's go ahead and retrieve the computer, and let me show you how we get into a system set up.So the first thing I want you to do is watch the bottom of the screen. See, it says to press Delete or F2 right there at the bottom. So I'm pressing Delete and F-2 on my keyboard as fast as I can. If I don't press them, it's going to boot into the operating system. So it's going to take a moment. And now we're going to go into system setup. So, welcome to a classic UEFI best system configuration! And if you read up at the top, this is an Asus motherboard UEFI utility. This is an advanced mode. We can go into an easy mode, which is boring because I want to show you guys all the cool, fun stuff. So you'll notice that we've got a number of options here across the top. and these are going to vary among manufacturers. But Asus is famous for having what they call my favorites. Let's ignore that moment and go right here to Maine. Maine is really more of a utility that tells us what's happening on this system. We can tell when this bias was written. We could change the language here. We could fix the date if we wanted to. The other thing we could do that's very important is right here. This is the ability to put passwords on the computer, not in Windows. This is before Windows. There are two kinds of passwords. There's an administrator password and the user password. If you set an administrator password, anytime anybody tries to get into the system set up by pressing F2 or Delete, they won't be able to pop up with a password that says type in the password and otherwise they won't get in here, which makes sense. I'm not wanting anybody in here. A user's password is different at all times on this computer. I'm not talking about going into system set up.You're just trying to boot before the operating system comes up; a screen comes up and says, "Please enter the user password." If they don't type it in, the computer will go ahead and finish the boot. It's a great way to keep people out of your system if you're gone for a week. Now, this next screen up here is going to show it to you. We're not going to touch anything in here. This particular motherboard is an overclocker's dream. It is designed from the ground up to push this system beyond its rated settings. and some of the places we go to do that. If you want to overclock, havefun, there's plenty of documentation there. Let's take a look in advance. Here we go. So default is for advanced. There's a lot of stuff in here. The only ones I really want to bring up that are particularly interesting for us are going to be on-board devices and configuration. So lots of interfaces on this motherboard USB. We've got sound cards. We've got all kinds of stuff. Here is where we can control most of this. For example, if I want to turn off the sound card, I can do it right here. If I want to mess with my mass storage devices, I can plot here. Down here, for example, this is a handy one. In this case, I want to turn off the front USB connections. I want to disable the ones at the very front of the computer. I don't want people plugging in thumb drives on my computer. Equally, I could turn them back on if I'd like. and some fun stuff with lighting. The other thing here is that I have teeth in network cards. I don't want people plugging into a network. I can go ahead and disable these. And then, interestingly enough, every time people tell me that serial doesn't exist, here's a brand new high-end gaming motherboard, and it has serial port settings. If for some reason you need a serial port, by golly, you've got one right there. The next one I want to show you is the boot. It's very common. For example, if I put a thumb drive in and I want to boot off that thumb drive, it's got antimalware tools on it. I can configure things in here to say you can do that. Equally, if I don't want anybody to ever boot on anything but my own built-in mass storage, I can configure this. Here, for example, this thing that says "Samsung SSD" is my mass storage device that I've got Windows installed on. If I do, I could pick another device. In this particular case, if I actually had a thumb drive plugged in right now, it would say "do you want me to boot to that?" In this particular case, the way I've got this set up, nobody can ever shut up a thumbdrive in this computer and boot to it. So it's a security thing that keeps people out of the way. The last one I want to show you, and it's going to take a second to actually get to that, is this right here. Now, what we're actually looking at here is software. We call it firmware because it's put onto a chip. If we want to update this stuff, we can do it right here. This is what we call flashing our bias. And in this particular case, if I've got a thumb drive with the updated bias on it, I could pull it from a storage device. Or if I wanted to, I'm not on the Internet right now, but if I wanted to, I could go via the Internet, and this thing would phone home to the Asus location and see if there were any updated biases for this computer. I'm going to get out of there because this is a dangerous place. So what do you think of your first tour of a system set up?Now, look, I need to warn you right now. All I'm trying to do in this particular episode is make sure that you're aware of it, that you've got some idea how to get into it on this particular system or any system, and to have an idea of some of the settings that you're going to run into. There are lots more settings in there, and obviously we skipped over a bunch, maybe because we haven't covered those particular topics topic.But as we go through this series, we're going to be coming back into the system setup time and time again as we understand the many, many jobs that bias does for us.

4. Troubleshooting Firmware

If you're looking for trouble on your computer, one of the last places we're going to be looking is on your on Bermware.This stuff is like a tank, and as long as you don't abuse it I've had thousands offood I've serviced that over their entire life. I'd never, never, ever had to deal with problems. Bias. I've gone into bias and system setup a lot. But in and of itself, it's pretty safe stuff. Now, before we dive too deeply into some of the problems we do run into with firmware, the thing I want to do is talk about a little bit of terminology because people use words like UEFI, SEMI, firmware, bias, and all these other different words. And I just want to make sure we're good and tight on this because the problem we run into is that this stuff has been around so long that we're still kind of suffering from 30 years ago, even today. Let me give you an example. First of all, here's a picture of one of the first firmwares on any motherboard ever made. You'll notice that two chips, one of which is the shiny one, are actually AEE Prom. It's a programmable read-only memory. So once at the factory, they snap it into the motherboard, and that never changes. So if you had a system set up, you had to use that other chip. This other chip is known as a "real time clock" with a built-in, and you're ready? Complementary metal oxide semiconductor, or CMOS So back in the old days, when we made changes to the bias through our system, we updated that particular little chip there. And by the way, that chip could only store about 60 bytes. Not 64K, only about 64 bytes. It's gotten a lot bigger over the years. However, these double E-prom separate CMOS chips are no longer available. Today we have single-flash ROM chips. Flash is a type of ROM. That it is, Rom. So it's read-only memory, but it has one big benefit, and that is we can flash it or reprogram it if we want to update that built-in bias. So that's actually kind of a cool feature. But I do want to talk about one vestige that's still around, and that is the real time clock. still need clocks and computers. Clocks are absolutely critical. In a Windows network, for example, all of the computers in the network need to be very closely timed—I mean within milliseconds of each other—or they won't even boot up. There are all kinds of situations on the Internet where really precise timing is absolutely critical. And the thing that's keeping the time on the millions of computers is—well, there's no longer a big physical separate chip, but the internal time clock still very much exists. Great. Except for one problem. Chips need electricity. So if chips need electricity, what do we do when the computer's turned off? Well, for one thing, on a lot of computers, the power supply will still supply a bit of electricity to the motherboard. But what if we unplug the thing? In that case, we fall back on something that's as simple as a battery. Every motherboard on Earth has a battery built into it. And I want to show you the battery on this system right here. So as we take a look in here, hold on a minute. I'm going to dig it up where the battery is. The battery is buried deep underneath my big video card. Luckily for me, I've got a backup system we can take a quick peek at here. And what I want you to do is take a look at this system, and let me show you the battery. That is pretty much the type of battery you see on all but the smallest motherboards. This is what we call a CR 2032. These batteries have been around forever. You've got to have a good battery in your system or a couple of very negative things are going to happen. Positive thing number one: You're going to lose your time or the time is going to slow down, and all of a sudden you come up and it's about an hour later than the current. Well, not exactly an hour. That might be a daylight savings time issue, but just say it's 20 minutes behind. That is one symptom of a battery that's slowly running down. The other thing that you can run into on a lot of systems is that if the battery dies, all of your system information that you've updated through your system setup just disappears. All of a sudden, your computer says, "I have no hard drives, and all of my settings are set to default, and any passwords or anything like that I might have put in earlier have disappeared." So if these types of events take place, you'll need to snap in a new battery. This can be a nefarious problem because so many new systems today will keep everything powered for as longas you're plugged into a wall and suddenly somebodytakes their desktop because they do office and theymove to a new office, they unplug their systemand they put it on a hand truck. They go up there, and all of a sudden everything's good. A lot of times it's nothing more than a two-dollar battery that you just need to snap in there. I keep a few of these batteries around just because, on systems, they do show up as a problem from time to time. So be aware that a bad battery can wreak havoc on today's systems. Now the next thing I want to take a look at is over here. So I've got this cute little device here. Doctor's orders. Ignore this, okay? Don't ignore it. What we're doing here is actually capturing what you guys are seeing right here. This is a cat. I'm just using this so I can see where I'm going. It's kind of a cool little device too. So anyway, let's cheer on my system. Now there are a couple of things I want to talk about here. The biggest problem I run into with bias is people coming in here and messing with settings that they shouldn't be messing with. I'm also going to tell you not to mess with settings; it's important. The cool thing is that on all of these screens somewhere, usually you hit F10 and it will sit there and ask, "Do I want to save anything?" and if I don't want to save anything, I could just hit Cancel. What I'm telling you is you can come in here and play with this stuff and have fun, but just don't save anything. So many times while working on a system, I've come across a system setting that I'm unfamiliar with. I'll just goof with it a little bit and see what the different options are. And if I don't like what I'm seeing, I can always just set it or not even save it, and then I'm in good shape. Another thing you'll see on most of these systems is some form of setting. And in here, it's right here, and what this says is, look, I don't know what I'm doing in here. Please give it your best shot at what you think is okay, and it will go ahead and just set it up for you. On this one, I've gone more extreme, which isn't a good idea at all. So what I can do is pick one of these, especially if you've been tweaking stuff and suddenly your computer isn't booting up and you know it's because you are the one who's been messing with stuff in your system set up messing with stuff.Here's where you can go in; just set it to say normal. On a lot of these system setup screens, you'll see something that says something like "based defaults" bare minimums" or something like that, and you do that and you're okay here. Look right down here at the bottom. You see where it says "defaults." So if I've made any changes, it'll just go back to system defaults and the computer will at least be able to boot up. Okay. Now for the other thing I want to talk about here, let me go back into advanced mode. Now keep in mind folks, biases systemset up screens are very different. On this particular one I'm using an Asus brand bias,but the system set up screens can look very different. In fact, I've got some pictures. So let me put up a couple of pictures of different system setups that might give you an idea of how very different these types of screens can look. So look at these as you see them. Notice that just because they look very different, they're still going to have basically the same settings. So don't get hooked on looking at the screen and thinking that this is the only way that system setups look. Okay? So the last thing I want to talk about, and this is probably one of the scariest things that you're ever going to be doing with these guys, is going through a process called flashing. Flashing simply means updating all the firmware on that flash chip that's on your motherboard. If there's one way that you can turn a $300 motherboard into an ashtray, it's by biting it improperly. So a couple of really important rules Make sure that you're not going without electricity while this process takes place. For me, I use an uninterruptible power supply. We've got an entire episode on power supplies. We'll talk about that type of stuff in another episode. But first, make sure you have good power. Okay? Number two, make sure that you havea complete copy of a flashupdate. These are files that you download from the motherboard manufacturer, bring down, and then make sure you understand why you're doing it. A big reason that we will flash the BIOS on a motherboard is, let's say, a new CPU. This is an I-90 chip in here, and so a new type of I-90 comes out. Once it has a little bit faster speed, this motherboard should probably be able to handle it. But because I know about that new kind of I-Nine, we usually have to flash it so it'll accept faster processors. That's one example of thousands of reasons why we will go ahead and flash our biases. So you don't to bias just because there's an update. You read what it's all about, and then you make a decision as to whether you want it or not. This is serious stuff. In fact, it's so serious that a lot of motherboard manufacturers will put two bias chips on the motherboard; just in case you screw them up, at least you'll be able to recover from another bias chip. So this one doesn't have that. So I better get it right the first time. So what I'm going to do is I'm either going to have a bias update, which manifests as a file, and I'm going to either plug it into a thumb drive or, on this one, this one actually has a feature where I can go ahead and just say via the Internet, and you'll notice what it says. Warning, warning, warning. It's got all kinds of warnings in here. So I'm just going to go ahead and click Yes, and then we're going to let that guy go. So flashing is an important function that we will do on our systems. It's invariably going to be done. There could be bugs that show up, and the manufacturer needs to flash your bias to fix a bug. It's often seen as a way to update biases to accept new technology. Faster RAM and a faster CPU are big ones. But even other technologies, for example, get faster and faster. USBs have required firmware updates as well. You go to the manufacturer, you go to their website, you look up your motherboard, and you look at what Flash updates it has. You read the updates, and you decide for yourself whether you want to use them or not. You make your call. Because there is nothing worse in the world than doing some Flash. Your power goes out halfway through the Flash update process, and there is absolutely no way to recover that motherboard.

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  • SkriptKiddie
  • India
  • Jan 18, 2021

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  • Jan 18, 2021
  • Aubrey
  • Canada
  • Jan 13, 2021

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  • Jan 13, 2021
  • Lillian
  • United States
  • Jan 10, 2021

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  • Jan 10, 2021

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