BIOS Upgrade

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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.

NOTE!
In one case (APM setup on a type 2379 ThinkPad T40) it was not possible to upgrade the BIOS from Windows XP; a downgrade to Windows 98 was required to successfully run the BIOS upgrade app. The symptoms in this case were that, once the files had been extracted to the hard disk, and the machine was to reboot into the upgrade app, it would beep and hang just before reboot, requiring a power cycle. Once the power was cycled, it would simply reboot back into XP without performing any BIOS upgrade actions. So even if you have Windows, you may still need to use the info on this page.

Before You Begin

Updating the BIOS in Linux (with few exceptions) is not officially supported by IBM. However there are work arounds.

ATTENTION!
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. The IBM documentation is sometimes confusing about the order of update. Updating the Control Program first, then the BIOS seems to be the correct order. Make sure to do the updates immediately following each other, 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. A list of links to firmware downloads can be found at BIOS Upgrade Downloads for nearly all Thinkpad Models.

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

ATTENTION!
Though this process was successfully tested on one version of .exe files found on IBMs 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 mntfloppy look like a dos floppy, and no read errors were displayed, you have a pretty good chance that the floppy image is usable.


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 an X60

If there is no floppy, and no windows, but an external USB CD, then there is hope.

Build a bootable CD with USB support

Get the ISO Image style BIOS upgrade, and the freedos floppy (http://www.ankreuzen.de/freedos/files/fd9sr1/fdos1440.zip)

# su # get root
# mkdir /tmp/iso
# mkdir /tmp/cdimage
# mount -o loop <iso-bios-file> /tmp/iso
# cp /tmp/iso/* /tmp/cdimage
# cp <freedos-disk-image> /tmp/cdimage/floppy.img
# mkisofs -b floppy.img -o bootcd.iso /tmp/cdimage

finished.. now boot from cd and flash.


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.

ATTENTION!
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 can also create a floppy image by using Ken Kato's VMware's back. It is a free Windoze tool that creates a virtual floppy drive and allows you to produce an image file ready to be ISO'ed. Note: you might have to 'manually' (through application's interface) assign the virtual drive a volume letter in order to be seen by IBM's application (as, by default, it seems not to do it).

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 $ man mkisofs.

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
600X (2645)
  • Jonathan Byrne <jonathan@RemoveThisToMailMe.yamame.org>. BIOS 1.11 from spsuit55.exe worked perfectly using cabextract/CD method.
A20p (2629-6VU)
A21e (2628-JXU)
  • Amit Gurdasani <gurdasani at yahoo dot com>. BIOS 1.13 flashed fine with cabextract/CD method. Alarmingly, after the BIOS update, the laptop beeped but did not shut down as was indicated onscreen -- that was frozen on the "do not shut down the laptop" screen. On power down and up again, the BIOS setup showed the newer BIOS image running, and Linux booted up fine. Linux ACPI didn't complain about the BIOS being too old either.
A31p (2653)
  • Matthias Meinke largeeddy@gmx.at, BIOS 1.09 1NET15WW flashed fine with cabextract/CD method.
A31 (2652)
  • Aaron Denney, BIOS 1.13 flashed fine with cabextract/CD method.
R31
R40
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 (1830-RM7)
  • Will Parker <stardotstar at sourcepoint dot com dot au> successfully flashed 3.20 using existing 3.04 ECP and retained custom boot splash.
R51 (2887)
  • Ingo van Lil <inguin at gmx dot de>
R52 (1858)
  • Stuart McCord <stuart dot mccord at gmail dot com> flashed both BIOS and ECP using cabextract, BIOS flashed first as on IBM website
T20
  • Franz Hassels <fhassel at suse dot com>
T22
  • Daniel Maier <nusse teamidiot de>
  • Mathias Behrle (with cabextract/CD method, Version 1.07 => 1.12) --Mathiasb 11:58, 14 December 2006 (CET)
  • Bob Skaroff (cabextract/CD), 1.06 => 1.12
T23
  • Bart Snapp <snapp at uiuc dot edu> Note: I followed IBM's instructions to flash the BIOS *first* and the Embedded Controller *second*.
  • Moy Easwaran: BIOS 1.18 / EC 1.06a via cabextract and CD-boot. The BIOS-update exe generated errors in Windows 2000.
  • Joe Renes: BIOS 1.18 / EC 1.06a on 2006-03-20 via cabextract and CD-boot. Piece of cake.
  • Raphael Errani: BIOS 1.20 / EC 1.06a on 2006-11-06 via cabextract and CD-boot (using mkisofs). Worked without errors. 1st Bios, 2nd EC
T30
  • Martin Gühring <guehring at gmail.com> BIOS 2.10 via cabextract the Non-Diskette BIOS -> mkisofs in the directory the exe was extracted to generate the iso -> burn the iso -> boot the CD
T40
T40p
  • Lukas Krähenbühl, ismo at pop dot agri dot ch
  • Thomas Achtemichuk, tom at tomchuk dot com. BIOS 3.15 flashed fine with cabextract/CD method
T41
  • Lev Givon (Bios 3.15 / EC 3.04) <lev at columbia dot edu>
  • Ernesto Hernández-Novich (Bios 3.19 / CP 3.04) < emhn at usb dot ve >
T41p
  • Nils Newman, work great. (Version: Bios 3.14 / Embedded Controller 3.04)
T42
  • Dan (BIOS 3.20 / EC 3.04, cabextract/CD method) <tronic171 at evilphb.org>
T42p
  • Robert Schiele <rschiele@uni-mannheim.de>, Joern Heissler <joern@heissler.de>
T43
  • Conrad Rentsch <Conrad dot Rentsch at t-online dot de> (Version: Bios 1.29 / Embedded Controller 1.06)
  • Tom Heady <tom-thinkwiki.org@punch.net>
  • Florian Boucault <florian at boucault dot ath dot cx> (Model : 1871-W34 & Version: Bios 1.23 / Embedded Controller 1.03)
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
X22
  • David Emery <dave at skiddlydee dot com>, (EC 1.30, BIOS 1.32 using non-disk/cabextract/CD method)
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)
X31
  • Grzegorz KuÅ›nierz <koniu at sheket dot org> (Embedded Controller 1.08, BIOS 3.01 with cabextract/CD method)
X40
  • Robbie Stone <robbie@serendipity.cx>
Z60m
  • Morle 13:09, 20 May 2006 (CEST), (Embedded Controller 1.14 with cabextract/CD method)

Does not work:

Model Tested by

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


Updating via Grub and a Floppy Image

ATTENTION!
Many have warned not to use the SYSLINUX image-loader MEMDISK to boot the images! Some flash tools may crash in that situation! Proceed at your own risk!

Floppy images may be booted from Grub via a utility called MEMDISK, which may be compiled from the SYSLINUX source. Copy the compiled memdisk image and the floppy image to your boot directory and configure grub as follows:

title     Bios Flash
kernel    /boot/memdisk
initrd    /boot/FILENAME.img

Again, proceed at your own risk. This was tested on an R51 type 2888.

This also worked for me on a T41p type 2373. -- James Lee 20:55, 8 May 2006 (CEST)

And it worked for me on a X31 type 2673-CBU. -- Jan Topinski, 18 September 2006

And it worked for me too on a X31 type 2672-CXU, very useful. -- TheAnarcat 16:21, 7 March 2007 (CET)

And it worked for me on two X40 type 2371 -- Jakob Truelsen, 19 Jan 2007 -- BIOS: 2.07 1uuj21us.exe -- ECP: 1.62 1uhj10us.exe

Not working for me on T43 type 2668-F7G -- Maus3273 20:48, 30 January 2007 (CET) -- BIOS: 1.29 1YUJ18US.IMG -- I got into the bios program, but the machine never restarts after initiating the upgrade.

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.

Updating via "IBM Predesktop area", suitable for model X (not have CDROM and floppy)

It's so difficult to update BIOS and ECP without cdrom, floppy disk. Don't know the reason why I couldn't update BIOS and ECP(1QHJ08US and 1QUJ19US) for my IBM Thinkpad X31.Hmm, may be cause of the dividing partition on my hard disk, that is:

Primary: ext3, ext3, ntfs
Extended: Ntsf, fat32
Bootloader: GRUB

No problem, you can use this way to do it:

  • First, config in BIOS

In Security part:

  1. Remove all password of Subpervisor and Power on password
  2. Set Access IBM Predesktop Area to Normal
  3. Choose Enable "Flash BIOS updating by End User" in BIOS update Option.

In Config part:

  1. Choose Enable for Network flash over Lan
  • Second, download the newest version of BIOS update and ECP update

Running: The program extract all files to the folder. There is a .img file (1QUJ19US.IMG, 1QUJ08US.IMG) in each folder. Copy the imformation content in that img file and paste it to one FAT partition(using winimage or TotalCmd to extract)


as seen All files in 1QUJ19US.IMG is extracted to D:\BIOS

695,764  $018E000.FL1
163      0691.HSH
2,049    0691.PAT
163      0694.HSH
2,049    0694.PAT
163      0695.HSH
2,049    0695.PAT
2,049    06D0.PAT
163      06D1.HSH
2,049    06D1.PAT
163      06D2.HSH
2,049    06D2.PAT
163      06D6.HSH
2,049    06D6.PAT
2,049    06D8.PAT
697      CHKBMP.EXE
8,128    COMMAND.COM
26       CONFIG.SYS
24,860   FLASH2.EXE
26       LCREFLSH.BAT
170      LOGO.BAT
330      LOGO.SCR
111,925  PHLASH16.EXE
91,648   PREPARE.EXE
45       PROD.DAT
22,252   QKFLASH.EXE
9,923    README.TXT
4,260    TPCHKS.EXE
39,666   UPDTFLSH.EXE
6,958    UPDTMN.EXE
12,501   USERINT.EXE
15,254   UTILINFO.EXE

And all files in 1QUJ08US.IMG are: D:\ECP

315,404 $018E000.FL2
8,000   COMMAND.COM
36      CONFIG.SYS
16,910  ECFLASH2.EXE
45      PROD.DAT
17,812  QKFLASH.EXE
990     README.TXT
4,260   TPCHKS.EXE
89,738  UPDTEC.EXE
31,134  UPDTFLSH.EXE
12,501  USERINT.EXE
15,226  UTILINFO.EXE
  • Okie, now plug AC Adapter, charge full battery to your laptop and continue third step:
    • Flash BIOS first,

1. Power On, press blue button on keyboard: Access IBM

2. On "Utilities", double click " Diagnostic disk"

3. Your laptop will start PC-DOS, wait when this message appear:

Please insert the first floppy diskette and
Press any key to continue

4. Press Ctrl + Break, you will see :

Terminate batch job (Y/N) ?

5. Okie, press Y, you will get DOS prompt like D:\

NOTE!
D:\ is my RAMDISK, C:\ is my disk format as FAT.!

6. Enter to c:\BIOS

c:
cd c:\BIOS

7. Run FLASH2.EXE /u $018E000.FL1

8. Wait flash progress compelete and reboot.

    • Flash ECP

Follow above instruction from step 1 to 5

6. Enter to c:\ECP

c:
cd c:\ECP

7. run UPDTFLSH.EXE $018E000.FL2

8. Follow UPDTFLSH's instructions

9. Wait flash complete and auto turn off computer.

I done it on my IBM Thinkpad X31.

Enjoy,

Tested by nm.

Check List

The following is important to remember:

  1. 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)
  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

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.