This page is meant to describe ways to update the BIOS on a ThinkPad that only runs Linux for users that don't have ready access to Windows. If you have Windows on your ThinkPad you can just boot into it and follow instructions on the IBM website.
Before You Begin
Updating the BIOS in Linux (with few exceptions) is not officially supported by IBM. However there are work arounds.
BIOS Upgrade Paths
For every firmware (either BIOS or Control Program) update on the IBM site there are two different firmware update programs provided.
The Diskette Updater
This installer appears to be a 16bit dos program which asks you to accept a license agreement. It will run in Windows, DOS, OS/2, or Dosemu perfectly, but requires a real floppy disk attached via a real floppy control. The USB Floppy Drive to the new Thinkpads doesn't count.
The Non Diskette Updater
Warning: Though I've used this process on 1 version of .exe files found on ibm.com website this doesn't mean it will work for all of them. Use at your own risk
This installer appears to be a 32bit windows exe which is designed for updating the BIOS directly from a running Windows OS. It turns out that the .exe is really a wrapper license program arround windows .cab files (this information is in BIOS-Bootsplash). If you install the Linux program cabextract you can expand these files directly. Run the following:
You will get 8 files in the current directory. One of them will be FILENAME.img. You can test that this is really a floppy image by running:
mkdir mntfloppy mount -o loop FILENAME.img mntfloppy ls -la mntfloppy
If the results of ls -la look like a dos floppy, and no read errors were displayed, you have a pretty good chance that the floppy image is usable. Again, proceed at your own risk.
If you were able to create the boot floppy per the Diskette update method, and you have a Floppy with your Thinkpad, the update should be simple.
Updating via CD/DVD Drive
The whole thing gets more complicated if you neither have Windows nor a floppy drive installed. This is what this page is intended to describe.
Another possibility which works even without a CD-drive or network is to boot the disk image via the grub initrd mechanism.
Be aware that IBM officially does not support this! The official statement to my support request was:
I'm afraid we only support the options listed on our web page and no you can't burn a CD/DVD, however you can try to use an external USB FDD (floppy) drive. The experts recommend a IBM USB FDD, however they have also tested it with a Sony USB FDD drive. In order to make sure the drive is recognised you can boot up the FDD with a bootable dos diskette for w98
But it seems to be possible as Mathias Dalheimer describes this here.
Another indication that it should work is that IBM uses PHLASH16.EXE (at least on T4x/p systems) to flash the BIOS into the chip. The same tool is used by other vendors to flash the BIOS from bootable CD-ROMs.
Some interesting but very technical information about the used flash tool can be found here.
Creating a Floppy Image
If you have created a boot floppy on another machine, you need to create an image file of that floppy. This can be easily done in linux by running a command line:
dd bs=2x80x18b if=/dev/fd0 of=/tmp/floppy.img
You should verify this floppy.img as explained above.
Creating a Bootable CD from a Floppy Image
Once you have your floppy image, either from imaging a real floppy, or from extracting them via the cabextract method above, you need to make a boot CD out of it.
The eltorito bootable CD standard is a wonderful thing. What this means is that a bootable cd can be made with a bootable floppy in such as way that the CD believes that it is a 2.88 MB floppy drive. This allows you to replace a boot floppy by a boot CD in nearly all situations.
It is very easy to create such a bootable CD ISO image in Linux using the mkisofs tool. To do this run a command as follows:
mkisofs -b bootfloppy.img -o bootcd.iso bootfloppy.img
Note: You don't strictly need the last bootfloppy.img, however some versions of mkisofs get confused about why you would want to create an iso with no contents, and thus won't let you. You don't actually care about the contents of the CD, you only care that the -b boot image is applied to the CD. For more info on this read the mkisofs man page.
You can now burn the bootcd.iso in your favorite cd burning program.
To get an overview which models have been tested with this version, here is a list:
|R40||Matthew Lambie, http://lambie.org|
|R50 (1836-3SU)||jlbartos <jlbartos at hotmail dot com>|
|R51 (1829)||Robert Uhl <rob dot uhl at gmx dot de>, Jellby <jellby at yahoo dot com>|
|R51 (2887)||Ingo van Lil <inguin at gmx dot de>|
|T40||Sean Dague, http://dague.net|
|T40||Justin Mason, http://jmason.org|
|T41||Lev Givon (Bios 3.15 / EC 3.04) <lev at columbia dot edu>|
|T40p||Lukas KrÃ¤henbÃ¼hl, ismo at pop dot agri dot ch|
|T40p||Thomas Achtemichuk, tom at tomchuk dot com. BIOS 3.15 flashed fine with cabextract/CD method|
|T41p||Nils Newman, work great. (Version: Bios 3.14 / Embedded Controller 3.04)|
|T42p||Robert Schiele <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Joern Heissler <email@example.com>|
|T43||Tom Heady <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
|X20||Neil Caunt <retardis at gmail dot com>|
|X21||Patrick Leickner <ranma at web dot de>, (BIOS 2.21->2.25 / EC 1.31->1.36) via non-disk/cabextract/mkisofs/cdrecord|
|X23||Nils Faerber <nils dot faerber at kernelconcepts dot de> (Embedded Controller 1.30, BIOS 1.32 with cabextract/CD method)|
|X30||Hella Breitkopf, www (Embedded Controller 1.04, BIOS 1.07 with cabextract/CD method)|
|X40||Robbie Stone <email@example.com>|
|T20||Franz Hassels <fhassel at suse dot com>|
|T22||Daniel Maier <nusse teamidiot de>|
|T43 (2668)||Carsten SÃ¶hrens <firstname.lastname@example.org> (Version: Bios 1.05 / Embedded Controller 1.03)|
Does not work:
Please note that testing this is at your own risk!!! FACK YOU MAN!!!
Updating with Network Boot Image
This requires that you have a DHCP and tftp server configured and setup properly on your network, and is probably not for the faint of heart.
Make sure the firmware bootdisk is in linux 'dd' format, as the self-extracting .exe disks from the IBM website cannot be booted directly as such.
Rentry Check List
(With appologies to Ed Nisley)
The following is important to remember:
- You must update both the Control Program and the BIOS at the same time if your current Control Program is not compatible with the new BIOS (see below)
- You must find versions of the Control Program and BIOS that are compatible. Not all of them are, so follow the readmes on the IBM website carefully to determine which are.
- You must update the Control Program before you update the BIOS
- All of these instructions are provided with no warranty. A bios update gone wrong for any reason can completely destroy your Thinkpad.
When the Control Program and the BIOS need updating, have both update disks or CDs ready. Update the Control Program first and the system should switch itself off when finished. Insert the BIOS update disk and proceed to update the BIOS. When it's all finished, enter setup, reset the settings to their defaults and reboot. Enter setup again and tweak the settings as necessary. Enjoy.
Note: as always, follow these instructions at your own risk. They worked with my X20, but there's no guarantee things will be the same on other models.