As someone who tinkers with PC hardware for a living, I’m usually the first port of call for friends and family members who are having problems with their PCs. There are plenty of simple solutions – for example, it’s still easy to swap out your WASD and arrow keys – but there are also a number of problems that go deeper.
I have a checklist of troubleshooting steps that I share over call or text. Did you run Windows Update? Have you checked your drivers? Are you using the latest BIOS? And it’s this last question where I often face problems.
Drivers and updates are part of regular maintenance, but strangely BIOS updates are not. You don’t need to update your BIOS with every new version, but it’s an important troubleshooting step that can solve a surprising number of problems when your PC malfunctions. And because of this, it’s worth exploring why BIOS updates are so important and how they are often skipped when trying to figure out what’s wrong with your PC.
Why is your BIOS so important?
Let’s start with a basic definition. BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System, and it’s the first thing your PC loads when it starts. The BIOS checks all your components to make sure they are working, and it works when you load your operating system. It also has closer access to the hardware, giving you control over things like voltage for CPU overclocking, while your operating system is more abstract in how it communicates with the hardware.
However, the important thing to know is that your BIOS is not as smart as your operating system. It is preprogrammed to go through a list of processes that ends with finding the bootloader for your OS. You can interrupt that process to change some settings, but your BIOS will go through its checklist as quickly as possible to get you into the OS. However, like any software, your BIOS is not perfect.
We recently saw MSI motherboards having random crashes with Windows Update, which was fixed via BIOS update. In June, it was revealed that more than 270 Gigabyte motherboards had security vulnerabilities found through the BIOS. And off-the-shelf PCs get BIOS updates all the time to address security issues, like when Lenovo discovered six major vulnerabilities in its BIOS last year.
Also, BIOS update should not do Have an impact on your PC’s performance, but they can. The lack of dedicated hardware support or niche bugs that only affect a certain combination of motherboard, Windows version, and app surface at all times is a big reason why we see BIOS updates so frequently. It could be a particular kit of memory that is causing problems in a particular game or app, which can be fixed by a BIOS update. Additionally, BIOS updates can add new features, and they can certainly improve performance.
Your BIOS is the conductor that keeps your PC up and running, so it’s important to look to the BIOS whenever your PC is working. This is especially true if you’re getting random errors or crashes that you can’t pinpoint. The BIOS may not be your problem, but it’s an important step before moving on to more complex (and expensive) troubleshooting steps with your hardware.
A BIOS update warning
However, the wisdom that a BIOS update should be one of your first troubleshooting steps comes with a small caveat. If you are using new hardware, there is a high chance that your problem can be solved by a BIOS update, and there are a few major reasons for this.
The first and most obvious thing is that new platforms are not perfect from the start. You’ll see a series of BIOS updates shortly after a new motherboard is released, usually to improve memory compatibility. An often forgotten aspect of building a PC is that motherboards only validated a certain set of memory sticks to work with the board, and these early BIOS updates usually centered around broader support.
It doesn’t matter when you built your PC. There’s a good chance that the motherboard you purchased is using the earlier BIOS revision it shipped with, which may not include support for your memory kit right out of the gate. If you never bothered to update the BIOS and your PC starts working, this would be a good place to start troubleshooting.
The second reason is that we are seeing better platform longevity with modern CPUs and motherboards. Years ago, you’d only see one or maybe two generations of CPUs supported by a motherboard, but that changed with AMD’s Ryzen processors.
You can take an old motherboard and upgrade it with a new CPU with Socket AM4, and AMD is continuing this with its new AM5 socket. Intel has dabbled in that support as well, with its motherboards released around 12th generation Alder Lake CPUs still supporting 14th generation desktop processors. And this level of support is only possible through BIOS updates.
If you have an older PC that has already gone through quite a few BIOS updates, the chances of this solving your problem are quite slim. However, for newer platforms, this should be at the top of your list of troubleshooting steps, especially if you’re pairing an older motherboard with a newer CPU.
But BIOS updates are scary
I hear you – if BIOS updates are so important, why aren’t they more common? This is because BIOS updates carry some amount of risk, and although this risk has decreased significantly over the years, there is still a chance that you could ruin your PC. You need to flash a BIOS into a chip on your motherboard, and if it’s interrupted – say, by an unexpected power outage – you could be left with a corrupted BIOS that effectively shuts down your PC. Does.
It feels scary, even if it doesn’t need to be. As someone who reviews PC hardware, I’ve had to flash a new BIOS literally hundreds (maybe thousands?) of times, and never once have I bricked a motherboard. This is coming from a guy who has accidentally bent CPU pins a half dozen times, as well as ruined ports on a motherboard due to carelessness. I’ve made a lot of expensive mistakes in PC building, and yet, I’ve never bricked a motherboard.
Today the risk is also much less than before. In years past, if you corrupted your BIOS, you were out of luck. However, many brands now include some type of recovery option. This usually has a dedicated USB port on the board that can reflash the BIOS without anything other than powering on the motherboard. For Asus, it’s USB BIOS flashback, while Gigabyte has its Q-Flash Plus port. There is also a dedicated BIOS port on many of MSI’s motherboards. You must have a motherboard with one of these features, but they are becoming increasingly common.
Power outages are really your only concern with a BIOS update, and there are several ways to keep that from happening. An inexpensive uninterruptible power supply (UPS) will usually give you enough time to complete a BIOS update in the event of a power loss, and you can pick up a
You shouldn’t update your BIOS the way you check your Windows updates or upgrade your GPU drivers. You don’t need every version, and if your PC is working without any problems, there’s no reason to update your BIOS. On top of this, not every BIOS release is perfect, and newer versions can actually cause problems if your PC is running properly.
This changes when you wear your troubleshooting hat, however, so a BIOS update should be one of the first troubleshooting steps you take. You might be surprised to learn how many problems you can solve with a BIOS update, especially if you’re using a new platform or haven’t touched the BIOS since your PC was built. At least, you can remove it from the troubleshooting list before moving on to the hardware, where troubleshooting can be much more complicated and much more expensive.
If this is your first time updating your BIOS, be sure to read our guide on how to update your BIOS. You’ll also want to keep materials from your motherboard vendor handy, as they usually have specific instructions for how you should perform a BIOS update depending on your motherboard.