BIOS update without optical disk

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For recent models, such as Thinkpad X200, Lenovo provides both win32 "BIOS update utility" and iso-image of "BIOS Update (Bootable CD)". If you don't have Windows installed, the first option is obviously unavailable for you. If you have an optical drive of some kind (internal, or built into the docking station, or an external USB drive) you can burn the iso-image and proceed with the BIOS update. In case if you don't have any optical drive things get a little tricky.

A quick look at the BIOS Update (Bootable CD) iso-image shows that its iso9660 filesystem is empty and its bootimage is of BootMediaType=4, i.e. it is a harddisk emulation. Therefore non of the methods discussed in BIOS_Upgrade/X_Series would work. There are many Linux tools which extract bootimages from iso-images, but after a search over the net, I didn't find any which works correctly with BootMediaType=4 (e.g. geteltorito form genisoimage package messes things up). I found, however, a free open-source DOS utility isobar from shsucd package. So, I just ported it to Linux.

UPDATE: The latest version of geteltorito now includes my patch and works with BootMediaType=4 (Alternative download from: ?).

Note: On UEFI systems, the procedure below does not work, since memdisk is not UEFI compatible. In this case, just 'dd if=bios.img of=/dev/sdb' the extracted image (e.g., bios.img) to an usb drive (e.g., sdb) and try booting from it. There is no need to install a bootloader on the usb drive.

Note: I used the method, described below to update the BIOS on my X200. It may or may not work for you, even if the BIOS Update (Bootable CD) iso-image has the same structure. It is not clear what is the root of the problem, but in some cases PC-DOS, used by Lenovo, hangs when booted via memdisk. The location from which memdisk is loaded (harddrive, USB-stick, or cdrom) also matters (for X200, harddrive works but USB-stick hangs).

  • make sure that you have syslinux installed (we will need memdisk from this package)
apt-get install syslinux
gcc isobar.c -o isobar
  • extract the bootimage from the BIOS Update (Bootable CD) iso-image and copy it to the boot partition
./isobar 6duj08uc.iso -o bios.img
cp bios.img /boot/bios.img
  • copy memdisk loader to the boot partition
cp /usr/lib/syslinux/memdisk /boot/memdisk
  • If you are using grub1 / grub-legacy append the following lines to /boot/grub/menu.lst
title           BIOS update
root            (hd0,0)
kernel          /memdisk
initrd          /bios.img
  • If you are using grub2 (Debian squeeze/sid), append the following to /etc/grub.d/40_custom
 menuentry "BIOS Update" {
       linux16 /boot/memdisk
       initrd16 /boot/bios.img
  • Run update-grub to regenerate /boot/grub/grub.cfg
  • reboot, and in the grub menu choose the BIOS update option (exe: my system hangs on "starting PC Dos" if usb flash is inserted so I have to remove it during upgrade)

Update on Ubuntu 10.10

The latest "eltorito" works fine with the images.

  • Grab the latest bios update
  • Extract the image :
./geteltorito -o bios.img 6duj42uc.iso
  • Move it into your /boot directory :
mv bios.img /boot
  • Copy memdisk into your /boot directory :
apt-get install syslinux
cp /usr/lib/syslinux/memdisk /boot/
  • Add an entry for grub :
cat /etc/grub.d/20_bios_update 
exec tail -n +3 $0
# This file provides an easy way to add custom menu entries.  Simply type the
# menu entries you want to add after this comment.  Be careful not to change
# the 'exec tail' line above.
menuentry "BIOS Update" {
        insmod part_msdos
        insmod ext2
        set root='(hd0,msdos1)'
	linux16 /memdisk
	initrd16 /bios.img
  • Re-generate your menu entry :
  • Reboot and select the entry

Disclaimer : it is certainly possible to the grub "memdisk.mod" but documentation was scarce and this way is working fine. Please upgrade the doc if you can fix it ;-)

Hard drive firmware update utility

Besides BIOS updates, Lenovo also provides Hard drive firmware update utility in the form of a bootable iso-image. Quick check shows that in some cases it has the same structure as above, i.e. empty iso9660 filesystem and bootimage of BootMediaType=4. So, naturally, one would think that we can boot it in the same way as above, via grub & memdisk. However, common sense tells that it is not a good idea to read the firmware from the same very harddrive whose firmware we are updating. But looking further into the structure of the bootimage we see that first it creates a RAMDRIVE, copies the update utility there, and launches it from the RAMDRIVE. So, it is actually OK to use grub. Tested on my X200.

Related links

Here is a patch to geteltorito script to make it work correctly with BootMediaType=4.

Should work with

T400, R400, T500, R500, X200, X200s, X200 Tablet, X201s, X301, W500, W700, Hard drive firmware update