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 Lenovo website.

Updating the BIOS in Linux (with few exceptions) is not officially supported by Lenovo. 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 unfix-able problems. Proceed at your own risk!

Downloading New Firmware

ATTENTION!
Flashing the wrong firmware for your hardware may cause permanent damage to your ThinkPad. It is up to you to confirm that the firmware you are using is correct.

A list of links to firmware downloads can be found at BIOS Upgrade Downloads for most Thinkpad models. You can also check the Lenovo Support website's driver matrix.

Lenovo/IBM provides firmware upgrades in a variety of packages:

  • Diskette
  • Non-diskette
  • Linux diskette
  • BIOS Utility
  • Bootable CD

Not every type of package is available for every model.

The BIOS Utility and Bootable CD packages combine the BIOS and ECP firmwares. For the other packages, there is one for each firmware.

Help needed
Can an image be extracted from a "Linux diskette" .exe file?

The Linux diskette is just the Diskette package that runs on Linux instead of Windows/DOS. It's unknown if a boot image can be extracted from it.

You may need to try different packages to find the one from which you can extract a boot image.

Two Firmwares: BIOS and ECP

ATTENTION!
Flashing incompatible firmwares, or flashing them in the wrong order, may cause permanent damage to your ThinkPad.

It is important to understand that Thinkpads from IBM have two separate firmwares: the BIOS, and the Embedded Controller Program (ECP).

A given BIOS version will require a certain version of the ECP. You must read the Lenovo website and/or .txt files to confirm which BIOS is compatible with which ECP, and the order in which to update them.

Update Order

The Lenovo/IBM documentation is sometimes unclear about the order in which these two firmwares should be updated. When in doubt (i.e. IBM didn't provide specific instructions for your model or a particular firmware update), update the ECP first, and then the BIOS. Also, make sure to do the two updates immediately one after the other.

The EC firmware is usually much better at backwards compatibility than the BIOS.

NOTE!
Updaters for newer models take care of both BIOS and EC, and use automatically whatever sequence is needed, so you don't have to worry about it.

Installed Firmware

You can check the current BIOS and ECP versions on your ThinkPad by using dmidecode. For example:

# dmidecode -s bios-version

1RETDRWW (3.23 )

# dmidecode -t 11

# dmidecode 2.9
SMBIOS 2.33 present.
Handle 0x0029, DMI type 11, 5 bytes
OEM Strings
        String 1: IBM ThinkPad Embedded Controller -[1RHT71WW-3.04    ]-

Showing BIOS version 3.23 (1RETDRWW) and ECP version 3.04 (1RHT71WW).

DMI IDs

Please consider updating the List of DMI IDs before (and after) updating your BIOS.

Updating Firmware

Firmware flasher program can run on DOS (Lenovo PC DOS) or Windows but, unfortunately, not Linux. So in theory there are two basic steps to update the firmware (either the BIOS or the ECP) on a ThinkPad not running Windows:

  1. Get or create a bootable image with supported OS
  2. Boot that image and, if not started automatically, ran flasher program

Recent Thinkpads have firmwares available as Bootable CD image, e.g., FILENAME.iso. If you have an optical drive there is no need to read this page any further: just download .iso image, burn it and boot to flash bios. If you are not that lucky, read on.

First you need to realize that there are different ways to boot DOS on PC (theoretically it is possible to boot Windows to ran flasher, but why?...): from internal hard drive, CD drive, USB Flash drive or, as the last resort, floppy drive. Easiest way is from internal hard drive, but you'd better avoid touching it until you don't want to loose files there. Booting from a Floppy is not recommended, so there are two best options to boot: CD drive or USB Flash drive.

Sparse instructions below provide you guidance how to do different parts of this pazzle but it's your duty to understand what to do and how to do that.

Create a bootable image

In case Lenovo does not provide your laptop with Bootable CD it is possible to create one from *discket packages.

Extracting an update image

ATTENTION!
Though this process has been successfully tested on many versions of .exe files found on IBMs website, that doesn't mean it will work for all of them. Proceed at your own risk. Consult the testing tables farther down of this page to see other users' experience with your model Thinkpad.
NOTE!
Lenovo has changed the packaging format. Old bios can be extracted with cabextract, new ones with innoextract.

Older .exe installers from Lenovo mostly appear to be just a wrapper license program around Windows .cab files (see BIOS-Bootsplash). If you install the Linux program cabextract you can expand these .cab files directly. For example, if you downloaded 1iuj13us.exe from Lenovo:

$ cabextract 1iuj13us.exe
Extracting cabinet: 1iuj13us.exe
 extracting 1IUJ13US.IMG
 extracting BIOSUPTP.EXE
 extracting DOBOOT.EXE
 extracting DOSBOOT.COM
 extracting DOSBOOT.SYS
 extracting DOSBOOT.VXD
 extracting DOSBOOT2.COM
 extracting ECTLUPTP.EXE
 extracting EFLASHAS.SYS
 extracting HDFWUPTP.EXE
 extracting IBMTPI.XML
All done, no errors.

The file we want is FILENAME.IMG, with "FILENAME" being the .exe. you downloaded. E.g., 1IUJ13US.IMG.

If this does not work for the Non-diskette .exe, try it on the Diskette .exe. It's reported, for example, that the Non-diskette .exe for BIOS version 3.23 for the T41p was not extractable, but the Diskette .exe worked perfectly, with $ cabextract delivering a .IMG file.

If cabeextract/innoextract fails

Diskette .exe for some older models can't be extracted using cabextract. For example for the latest BIOS of 390E one gets

spsdilc9.exe: no valid cabinets found

Since such .exe will only extract the files to a floppy, there seems to be no way to extract them using Linux. The situation is actually even more complicated, as neither Vista nor Windows 7 allow these .exe to access the floppy drive directly. Neither DosBox nor Wine were able to "fool" the programm using virtual floppies. A solution that works is to use Windows XP (works in VirtualBox too) together with Virtual Floppy Drive. Rund vfdwin.exe, go to the Driver tab and hit Install and Start. Then go to the Driver0 tab, click on Change and select A:. Finally, click on Open/Create, and click Create. This should give you a virtual floppy drive the .exe file will extract files to.

Testing the Image

You can test that FILENAME.IMG is really a floppy image by running:

# mkdir /tmp/mntfloppy

# mount -o loop FILENAME.IMG /tmp/mntfloppy

If a ls command on the image returns what looks like a DOS floppy, and no read errors were displayed, you have a pretty good chance that the image is usable. For example:

# ls /tmp/mntfloppy

$0195000.FL1  069580.PAT  06d2.HSH     IBMDOS.COM    TPCHKS.EXE
0691.HSH      06D0.PAT    06d6.HSH     LOGO.BAT      UPDTFLSH.EXE
0691.PAT      06D1.PAT    06d8.HSH     LOGO.SCR      UPDTMN.EXE
0694.HSH      06D2.PAT    CHKBMP.EXE   PHLASH16.EXE  USERINT.EXE
0694.PAT      06D6.PAT    COMMAND.COM  PREPARE.EXE   UTILINFO.EXE
0695.HSH      06D8.PAT    CONFIG.SYS   PROD.dat      lcreflsh.bat
0695.PAT      06d0.HSH    FLASH2.EXE   QKFLASH.EXE
069580.HSH    06d1.HSH    IBMBIO.COM   README.TXT

Unmount the image after you are done testing:

# umount /tmp/mntfloppy

Booting from update image

Now that you have a bootable image for the correct update for you hardware, you need to do is boot from that image to install the update.

There are different ways to do that:

Booting from a CD

Hint:
If there is a Bootable CD image available, e.g., FILENAME.iso, just download that, instead of mucking around with image files.

If you are going to update the firmware by booting from a CD, you need to turn FILENAME.IMG that you extracted above into an .iso file.

The El Torito Bootable CD Specification is a wonderful thing. Thanks to it, a bootable CD can be made with a bootable floppy image 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 tool1. Run a command as follows:

# genisoimage -b 1WUJ25US.IMG -c boot.catalog -o bootcd.iso 1WUJ25US.IMG #or older mkisofs

Where *.IMG is the name of the image file extracted above. This creates a CD with one file on it and marks that file as the boot image.

You can now burn the bootcd.iso to a CD in your favorite CD-burning program.

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 unfix-able problems. Proceed at your own risk!

Boot from the CD to update your firmware. Remember to have both BIOS and ECP firmware boot-CDs ready, as needed, and use them in the proper order.

Help needed
Please, report your success/failure with flashing BIOS from the manually cooked CD (from .IMG file) here: BIOS_Upgrade_success_failure#Booting_from_CD

Booting using GRUB

ATTENTION!
Many have warned not to use the SYSLINUX image-loader memdisk to boot firmware update images.
Help needed
Who are these "many"? Link to a discussion?

Once the bootable image, FILENAME.IMG, is extracted from the .exe, it can be booted directly through GRUB without the need of burning a CD, using the SYSLINUX image-loader memdisk.

Locate the memdisk file from the syslinux package. You can search for it with find:

# find /usr -name memdisk #or just use "dlocate memdisk" or "locate memdisk" if these programs are installed

If /usr/.../memdisk is not present, syslinux is not installed. You will need to install it to boot a .IMG from GRUB.

Copy both the FILENAME.IMG and memdisk files into /boot directory. For example:

# cp ./FILENAME.IMG /usr/share/syslinux/memdisk /boot/

Open /boot/grub/menu.lst in your favourite editor. Copy the active section into a new section, and edit the new section:

Parameter Instructions Example
title Pick a name for the new section. This will show up in the GRUB boot menu. title IBM ECP Update
root Do not change. This is the partition containing the /boot directory root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/memdisk will allow you to boot an image file. kernel /boot/memdisk
initrd This is the name of the firmware-updater image file, e.g., 1IUJ13US.IMG initrd /boot/1IUJ13US.IMG

Do not modify the original section in /boot/grub/menu.lst, or you might not be able to boot back to the operating system.

If you have two firmware updates to do, you will need a section for each firmware's FILENAME.IMG in /boot/grub/menu.lst.

NOTE!
If both BIOS and ECP are to be updated, be sure to update them in the proper order.
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 unfix-able problems. Proceed at your own risk!

Reboot your computer, entering the GRUB menu and selecting IBM BIOS Update, or whatever you named the new section in /boot/grub/menu.lst.

Booting image with GRUB2

GRUB2: booting floppy Image

With grub2, one would append the following to /boot/grub/grub.cfg :

menuentry "My BIOS Upgrade" {
set root=(hd0,0) #should match the others in your grub.cfg
linux16 /boot/memdisk
initrd16 /boot/1WUJ25US.IMG #or whatever yours is
}
Help needed
Please, report your success/failure with flashing BIOS from the manually cooked CD (from .IMG file) here: BIOS_Upgrade_success_failure#GRUB2:_Booting_floppy_Image
GRUB2: booting CD Image

Download the bootable iso file from the Lenovo Website. Copy the file 'memdisk' from the syslinux package to /boot. Also create a symlink, so you do not have to change the grub configuration for each bios upgrade:

sudo su -
cd /boot
cp /home/youruser/Downloads/6uuj12uc.iso .
cp /usr/share/syslinux/memdisk .
ln -s 6uuj12uc.iso biosupgrade.iso

Now create the boot entry:

cat >> /etc/grub.d/40_custom <<EOF
menuentry "Lenovo BIOS Upgrade" {
    set root=(hd0,1)  # <-- check for correct numbering
    linux16 /boot/memdisk iso
    initrd16 /boot/biosupgrade.iso
}
EOF
update-grub

Reboot an Select "Lenovo BIOS Upgrade".

For the next Bios Upgrade you'll just need to copy the new iso file to /boot and adjust the symlink.

Help needed
Please, report your success/failure with flashing BIOS from the manually cooked CD (from .IMG file) here: BIOS_Upgrade_success_failure#GRUB2:_Booting_CD_Image

Booting from a USB Flash drive

Updating the BIOS in MS-DOS mode

(This process works for most Thinkpad models that has Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 OS)

1. Using HP USB Boot Utility, create a bootable USB flash drive [http://www.bay-wolf.com/utility/usbkey/win98boot.zip DOS using Windows 98 Boot Disk Floppy Image.

2. Extract the (*.ima) from the ISO BIOS image (e.g. WinRAR will do this).

3. Using a tool that can open .IMA files (such as WinImage), extract all files to a temporary folder.

4. Run the HP tool, select the USB device, I used FAT32, create a DOS bootable disk and point at the win98boot folder - then "Start". Warning: this formats the USB flash drive and all data will be erased!

5. Once complete (you could test if it boots at this point), copy the extracted BIOS files from the temporary folder you created to the USB flash drive.

6. Boot from USB flash drive by pressing F11 within the BIOS boot logo. At the DOS command prompt, type "updflsh" and then follow the prompts by pressing "Y" or Enter. Make sure that you have a fully charged battery pack and the AC Adapter is firmly plugged before proceeding with the BIOS update. DO NOT Power off the laptop or unplug the USB flash drive while the update is in progress or else update will fail and your computer will be unable to boot and system board may need to be serviced.

This process takes around 1-2 minutes. A long beep followed by a short beep will notify you that the update is complete and the system will automatically power off.

7. Power on the laptop then enter the BIOS setup by pressing F1 and Load BIOS defaults.

Using grub4dos (also for Linux)

grub4dos is a GNU GRUB fork with interesting features. One of them is the ability to boot ISO images directly off USB flash drives. Contrary to the name, GRUB for DOS works fine on Linux. Follow these steps:

  • Download the latest grub4dos package at http://download.gna.org/grub4dos/ (I needed 0.4.4 for my USB2 drive - 0.4.3 did not work.)
  • Unpack
  • Insert your FAT-32 formatted pendrive
  • Run sudo ./bootlace.com /dev/sdX, where /dev/sdX is the device name assigned to your pendrive (use sudo fdisk -l to figure this out). Be very careful to get the device correct or else you could overwrite your hard drive! This creates grub4dos boot sector in MBR of the flash drive.
  • Copy the files grldr and menu.lst to the root directory of your pendrive.
  • Convert the ThinkPad .IMG file to a .ISO file using genisoimage -b 1yuj18us.img -c boot.catalog -o 1yuj18us.iso 1yuj18us.img
  • Copy the ISO image to the root directory of your pendrive (e.g. 1yuj18us.iso).
  • Edit menu.lst on the pendrive and include the following section (of course putting the appropriate ISO image name):
title thinkpad-bios
map (hd0,0)/1yuj18us.iso (hd32)
map --hook
chainloader (hd32)
boot
  • Reboot and press F12 to select booting from USB.
  • If all went well, you should be able to boot the Thinkpad's ISO image and flash the BIOS. I tested it successfully on T400.


Booting from a Floppy

ATTENTION!
Using a floppy disk is NOT recommended.

This is how IBM/Lenovo intended it. Use their .exe files to create a bootable floppy with the flash update on it. Boot from the floppy and there you go.

So, why is it not recommended?

  1. If something goes wrong, your ThinkPad may be permanently damaged
  2. Floppy disk drives are not reliable
  3. Floppy disks are not reliable
  4. It only works with /dev/fd0, meaning it won't work with a USB floppy

So, even though Lenovo is now offering "Linux diskette" updaters, that will create a bootable floppy under Linux, using a floppy is still not recommended. Besides, many people don't even have a floppy drive on their ThinkPad.

If you really want to do it with a floppy, some tips:

  • Use a clean (in the physical sense) floppy drive
  • Use new floppies
  • Test floppies for errors before starting update process
  • Have multiple copies of the update disks ready--if one should fail, replace it with a copy
  • Should DOS complain of a read error, only respond wth "Retry"
NOTE!
Should the system encounter a disk read error during the flash process, and you select "Abort", your system could be permanently damaged.

Using UNetbootin

Unetbootin 422 worked with the image files unpacked with cabextract on my x31.

Help needed
How exactly did you do this? It failed for me. Does it work only with .IMG files that are converted to .ISO files, or can .ISO files provided by Lenovo also work (how?)

Booting from a Network Boot Image

BIOS, ECP, CD/DVD and Harddisk firmware disks can be booted over the network with PXELINX 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. On the X22, it worked with ECP 1.30 but not with BIOS 1.32

After updating

Lenovo recommends reseting your BIOS settings to their factory defaults after a firmware update.

Also, please consider updating the List of DMI IDs after updating your BIOS.

Special Cases

  • In one case, see (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.

Updating Thinkpad X Series

The special update instructions for X1, X1 Carbon, X1 Hybrid, X20, X21, X22, X23, X24, X30, X31, X32, X40, X41, X41 Tablet, X60, X60s, X60 Tablet, X61, X61s, X61 Tablet, X100e, X120e, X121e, X130e, X131e, X140e, X200, X200 Tablet, X200s, X201, X201i, X201s, X201 Tablet, X220, X230, X230i, X230s, X230 Tablet, X230i Tablet, X240, X240s, X300, X301 Thinkpads are quite long. You can find them at the page BIOS_Upgrade/X_Series.

Alternative BIOS: Middleton BIOS

Some Thinkpad models only support SATA1 in their BIOS even though the hardware is SATA2. This is a huge drawback for anyone wanting to use SSDs, because it is so much slower.

Also, it is not possible to install some wireless cards, because only certain models are whitelisted by IBM/Lenovo. The Middleton Bios removes this limitation as well.

Someone made these alternative BIOSes to enable SATA2 on the Thinkpad models that support this. See the 'notebook review' forum post for download links and explanations (Alternative link).

Note: If your BIOS-Update tool says that no update is needed, then simply downgrade the Bios first: On Lenovo's/IBM's download page, the old Bios files are listed at the very bottom of the page.

Updating without battery or with dead battery

This is a last-resort approach. Use this only if everything else fails.

The BIOS updater may refuse to update a BIOS without a battery, or if the battery charge is too low. In that case, extract the disk image with cabextract as per instructions above and dd it to an usb stick. (This will destroy the data on it, of course.) Acquire a pure DOS boot cd such as Windows 98 recovery CD and boot that.

Use F8 to abort the boot sequence of a windows 98 boot CD. If you need CD-ROM support, load CD-related things but say no to everything else. In particular, avoid loading himem.sys and doskey, as the presence of either program causes Phoenix bios flash tool phlash16.exe to abort.

Change to the volume where flash2.exe and other tools are installed, and execute "flash2.exe /u". This should bypass the battery check and perform the flashing. If that doesn't work, check if the update disk contains a tool called "phlash16.exe". This can be used directly to flash the image, and the invocation is typically "phlash16 /exit $01c80000.fl1".

This method won't work for the Thinkpad 560X (and likely other older models). Since the 560X is a bit older, it won't be a big surprise if the battery is as dead as a dodo. Here's how to update the bios in this case: download the spsdi833 bios update and create the update floppy. If you have trouble creating this disk, download an archive with the files and put them on a floppy. Don't worry about making it bootable. Also, you will need a DOS bootdisk. A Windows 98 bootdisk will be fine. Boot the system with the W98 bootdisk, do not load CD-rom support. Remove the W98 bootdisk and put the disk with the BIOS update in the drive. If you would now run UPDTFLSH you would get the battery message, so don't do that. If you open UPDTFLSH.exe with a text editor, you would find some lines about UPDTROM. UPDTROM is the actual flash tool, but you can't simply run it just like that. Run the following:

  • updtrom /np /prep1
  • updtrom /np /prep2
  • updtrom /np /prep3
  • updtrom /np /romcmp /romflsh /prep4
  • updtrom /np /h8flsh /h8img /model

Yes, you need to run updtrom five times. Hold your breath and reboot the machine. It's done.

Perhaps not all these lines are necessary, but to be sure I ran them all, and this worked for me. So I suggest you do the same. This could probably be done from the harddisk as well, but I did not test that.

For the i Series 1400 follow instructions on this website. It works not only for 2611 but for 2621 types too.



FOOTNOTES [Δ]
  1. For lots of detail on making and burning .iso files, see The Linux Documentation Project (tldp.org): 3.1 Writing CD-ROMs (pure data).
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