Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Check Your BIOS Version and Update it


You probably shouldn’t update your BIOS, but sometimes you need to. Here’s how to check what BIOS version your computer is using and flash that new BIOS version onto your motherboard as quickly and safely as possible.
Be very careful when updating your BIOS! If your computer freezes, crashes, or loses power during the process, the BIOS or UEFI firmware may be corrupted. This will render your computer unbootable — it’ll be “bricked.”

How to Check Your BIOS Version in Windows

Your computer’s BIOS version is displayed in the BIOS setup menu itself, but you don’t have to reboot to check this version number. There are several ways to see your BIOS version from within Windows, and they work the same on PCs with a traditional BIOS or a newer UEFI firmware.
To use a command, open a Command Prompt window — press Windows Key + R, type cmd into the Run dialog, and press Enter. Run the following command:
wmic bios get smbiosbiosversion
You’ll see the version number of the BIOS or UEFI firmware in your current PC.
You can also find your BIOS’s version number in the System Information window. On Windows 7, you can search the Start menu for System Information to find it. On Windows 8, it’s more hidden — but you can still launch the System Information panel on Windows 8.
The BIOS version number is displayed on the System Summary pane. Look at the BIOS Version/Date field.

How to Update Your BIOS

Different motherboards use different utilities and procedures, so there’s no one-size-fits-all set of instructions here. However, you’ll perform the same basic process on all motherboards.
First, head to the motherboard manufacturer’s website and find the Downloads or Support page for your specific model of motherboard. You should see a list of available BIOS versions, along with any changes/bug fixes in each and the dates they were released. Download the one you want to update to. You’ll probably want the newest BIOS version unless you want an older one for a specific reason.
If you purchased a pre-built computer, head to the computer manufacturer’s website, look up the computer model, and look at its downloads page. You’ll find any available BIOS updates there.
Your BIOS download probably came in an archive — usually a .zip file. Extract the contents of that file. You’ll find some sort of BIOS file — in the screenshot below, it’s the E7887IMS.140 file.
The archive should also contain a README file that will walk you through updating to the new BIOS. You should check out this file for instructions that apply specifically to your hardware, but we’ll try to cover the basics that work across all hardware here.

You’ll need to choose one of several different types of BIOS-flashing tools depending on your motherboard and what it supports. The BIOS update’s included README file should recommend the ideal option for your hardware.
Some manufacturers offer a BIOS-flashing option in their BIOS, or as a special key-press option when you boot the computer. You copy the BIOS file to a USB drive, reboot your computer, and enter the BIOS or UEFI screen. From there, you choose the BIOS-updating option, select the BIOS file you placed on the USB drive, and the BIOS updates to the new version.
You generally access the BIOS screen by pressing the appropriate key while your computer boots — it’s often displayed on the screen during the boot process and will be noted in your motherboard or PC’s manual. Common BIOS keys include Delete and F2. The process forentering a UEFI setup screen on a Windows 8 PC is a bit different.
There are also more traditional DOS-based BIOS-flashing tools. You’d create a DOS live USB drive and copy the BIOS-flashing utility and BIOS file to that USB drive. You’d then reboot your computer and boot from the USB drive. In the minimal DOS environment, you’d run the appropriate command — often something like flash.bat BIOS3245.bin — and the tool would flash the new version of the BIOS.
The DOS-based flashing tool is often provided in the BIOS archive you download from the manufacturer’s website, although you may have to download it separately. Look for a file with the .bat or .exe file extension.
In the past, this process was performed with bootable floppy disks and CDs. We recommend a USB drive because it would probably be the easiest method on modern hardware.
Some manufacturers provide Windows-based flashing tools, which you run on the Windows desktop to flash your BIOS and then reboot. We don’t recommend using these, and even many manufacturers who provide these tools usually caution against using them. For example, MSI “strongly recommends” using their BIOS-based menu option instead of their Windows-based utility in the README file of the sample BIOS update we downloaded.
Flashing your BIOS from within Windows can result in more problems. All that software running in the background — including security programs that may interfere with writing to the computer’s BIOS — could cause the process to fail and corrupt your BIOS. Any system crashes or freezes could also result in a corrupted BIOS. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so you should use a BIOS-based flashing tool or boot to a minimal DOS environment to flash your BIOS.

That’s it — after you run the BIOS-flashing utility, you’ll reboot your computer and immediately begin using the new BIOS or UEFI firmware version. If there’s a problem with the new BIOS version, you may be able to downgrade it by downloading an older version from the manufacturer’s website and repeating the flashing process.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to Create and Run Virtual Machines With Hyper-V


Hyper-V is a virtual machine feature built into Windows. It was originally part of Windows Server 2008, but made the leap the to desktop with Windows 8. Hyper-V allows you to create virtual machines without any additional software.
This feature isn’t available on Windows 7, and it requires the Professional or Enterprise editions of Windows 8 or 8.1. It also requires a CPU with hardware virtualization support like Intel VT or AMD-V, features found in most modern CPUs.

Install Hyper-V

Hyper-V isn’t installed by default on Windows 8 Professional and Enterprise systems, so you’ll have to install it before you can use it. Thankfully, you don’t need a Windows disc to install it — you just need to click a few checkboxes.
Tap the Windows key, type “Windows features” to perform a search, and then click the “Turn Windows features on or off” shortcut. Check the Hyper-V checkbox in the list and click OK to install it. Restart your computer when prompted.

Open Hyper-V Manager

To actually use Hyper-V, you’ll need to launch the Hyper-V Manager application. You’ll find it in your list of installed programs, and you can also launch it by searching for Hyper-V.
The Hyper-V Manager application refers to a “virtualization server,” which gives away its heritage as a tool for servers. It can be used to run virtual machines on your own computer — in that case, your local computer functions as a local virtualization server.

Set Up Networking

Click the name of your local computer in Hyper-V Manager to find the options for your current computer.
You’ll probably want to give the virtual machine access to the Internet and local network, so you’ll need to create a virtual switch. Click the Virtual Switch Manager link first.
Select External in the list to give virtual machines access to the external network, and click Create Virtual Switch.
Give the virtual switch a name afterward and click OK. The default options should be fine here, although you should ensure the External network connection is correct. Be sure to select the network adapter that’s actually connected to the Internet, whether it’s Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet.

Create a Virtual Machine

Click New > Virtual Machine in the Actions pane to create a new virtual machine.
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The New Virtual Machine Wizard window will appear. Use the options to name your virtual machine and configure its basic hardware. This should all be fairly self-explanatory if you’ve ever used another virtual machine program before. When you reach the Configure Networking pane, you’ll need to select the virtual switch you configured earlier — if you didn’t configure one, the only option you’ll see here is “Not Connected,” which means your virtual machine won’t be connected to the network unless you add a network adapter to its virtual hardware later.
If you have an ISO file containing your guest operating system’s installation files, you can select it at the end of the process. Hyper-V will insert the ISO file into the virtual machine’s virtual disc drive so you can boot it afterwards and immediately start installing your guest operating system of choice.

Boot the Virtual Machine

Your new virtual machine will appear in the Hyper-V Manager list. Select it and “Start” it — click Start in the sidebar, click Action > Start, or right-click it and select Start. The virtual machine will boot up.
Next, right-click the virtual machine and click Connect to connect to it. Your virtual machine will then open in a window on your desktop — if you don’t connect to it, it just runs in the background with no visible interface. Again, it’s easy to see how this management interface was designed for servers.
After you connect, you’ll see a standard virtual machine window with options you can use to control the virtual machine. It should look familiar if you’ve ever used VirtualBox or VMware Player. Go through the normal installation process to install the guest operating system in the virtual machine.
When you’re done installing the operating system, click Action > Insert Integration Services Setup Disk. Open the Windows file manager and install the integration services from the virtual disc. This is Hyper-V’s counterpart to VirtualBox Guest Additions and VMware Tools

Using Hyper-V

When you’re done with the virtual machine, make sure you’ve shut it down or turned it off in the Hyper-V Manager window — just closing the window won’t actually close the virtual machine, so it will stay running in the background. The virtual machine’s state should be “Off” if you don’t want it running.
Each virtual machine has a settings window you can use to configure its virtual hardware and other settings. Right-click a virtual machine and select Settings to adjust these options. Many of these settings can only be modified while the virtual machine is turned off.
This tool was created by Microsoft, but that doesn’t mean it only works with Windows. Hyper-V can also be used to run Linux-based virtual machines. We were able to run Ubuntu 14.04 with Hyper-V on Windows 8.1 — no special configuration required.

Hyper-V has other useful features, too. For example, checkpoints work like snapshots in VirtualBoxor VMware. You can create a checkpoint and then revert your guest operating system’s state to that state later. It’s a useful feature for experimenting with software or tweaks that may cause problems in your guest operating system