BIOS Upgrade

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Before You Begin

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). Updating the BIOS in Linux (with few exceptions) is not officially supported by IBM. However there are work arounds. By following any of the instructions here you are accepting the very real risk of turning your thinkpad into a big expensive paper weight, as a firmware update gone wrong can create unfixable problems.

Proceed at your own risk!

It is also important to understand that all newer thinkpads have 2 seperate firmwares, the BIOS and the Control Program. A specific version of the Control Program will only work with specific versions of the BIOS. If you go through the readme's on the IBM site they'll cleary state that you must update the Control Program first, then imediately update the BIOS. Otherwise you risk turning your thinkpad into a very nice paper weight.

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:

cabextract FILENAME.exe

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.

Updating from within Windows

If you have windows on your machine... you probably never found this page anyway as you wouldn't need it. ;) However updating the BIOS from Windows is very easy, and the supported way to do it by IBM. Simply follow the IBM instructions, as described on the respective BIOS upgrade page on the IBM site.

Downloads

Models Non-Diskette Diskette
BIOS Embedded Controller Program BIOS Embedded Controller Program
Windows Linux
A22e Celeron 1.07 1.07
A22e Pentium 1.05 1.05
A22m 1.09 1.09
A22m (2628-Sxx) 1.05 1.05
A22p 1.11 1.11
A30, A30p 1.18 1.07 1.18 1.07
A31, A31p (Bios 1G*) 1.10 1.04 1.10 1.05 1.04
A31, A31p (Bios 1N*) 1.08 1.04 1.08 1.02 1.04
G40 1.17 1.17
G41 1.06 1.06
R30 1.38 1.38
R31 3.11 3.11
R32 2.15 2.15
R40 (2681, 2682, 2683, 2896, 2898, 2899) 1.20 1.13 1.20 1.13
R40 (2722, 2723, 2724, 2897) 1.26 1.13 1.26 1.13
R40e 1.33 1.04 1.33 1.04
R50, R50p 3.14 3.04 3.14 3.04
R50e 2.02 1.04 2.02 1.04
R51 (1829, 1830, 1831, 1836) 3.14 3.04 3.14 3.04
R51 (2883, 2887, 2888, 2889, 2894, 2895) 1.21 1.04 1.21 1.04
T20 1.22 1.22
T21 1.16 1.16
T22 1.12 1.12
T23 1.18 1.06a 1.18 1.06a
T30 2.08 1.06 2.08 2.02 1.06
T40, T40p, T41, T41p, T42, T42p 3.14 3.04 3.14 3.04
X20, X21 2.25 1.36 2.25 1.36
X22, X23, X24 1.32 1.30 1.32 1.30
X30 1.07 1.04 1.07 1.04
X31 2.15 1.06 2.15 1.06
X40 1.55 1.56 1.55 1.56

Updating via Floppy

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.

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.

WARNING! Do not use the SYSLINUX image-loader MEMDISK to boot the images! Some flash tools crash in that situation!

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 Wine trick 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:

Does work:

Model Tested by
R31 Mathias Dalheimer
T40 Sean Dague (http://dague.net)
T40p Lukas Krähenbühl, ismo at pop dot agri dot ch
T42p Robert Schiele <rschiele@uni-mannheim.de>, Joern Heissler <joern@heissler.de>
X40 Robbie Stone <robbie@serendipity.cx>

Does not work:

Model Tested by

Please note that testing this is at your own risk!!!

Updating with Network Boot Image

BIOS, Embedded Controller (EC), CD/DVD and Harddisk firmware disks can be booted over the network with PXELINUX as part of the SYSLINUX package.

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.

This worked on the R31, X22, T21, T30 and T41p with various firmware updates.

Rentry Check List

(With appologies to Ed Nisley)

The following is important to remember:

  1. You must update both the Control Program and the BIOS at the same time
  2. 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.
  3. You must update the Control Program before you update the BIOS
  4. All of these instructions are provided with no warranty. A bios update gone wrong for any reason can completely destroy your Thinkpad.