Get the inside scoop before deciding to fix or replace your BIOS








Whether a PC will boot up correctly next year depends on its basic I/O system, or
BIOS.


Each time a PC starts after a cold or warm boot, it checks the BIOS software stored in
nonvolatile read-only memory. For faster booting, it might copy the BIOS information to
RAM and work from the copy, but in any case the PC cannot communicate with its keyboard or
drives until it has relearned from the BIOS what I/O devices are attached and how they
work.


An old computer with an unready BIOS might fail even to boot next year unless you
replace the BIOS chip, which often causes other problems. A new PC with flash BIOS is
designed for electronic upgrades. Don’t neglect to check this out even if the PC runs
supposedly 2000-ready Microsoft Windows 9x or Windows NT software.


If you happen to have a BIOS from Award Software International Inc., a company recently
acquired by Phoenix Technologies Inc. of San Jose, Calif., check whether it is Version
4.05. Award’s Web site at www.award.com doesn’t specify the version number but
advises replacing all Award BIOS chips released between April 26, 1994, and May 31, 1995.


Some old Award BIOSes need only a one-time fix as described on the company’s Web
site. If the BIOS dates from before April 26, 1994, reset the system clock by turning the
PC off before midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, turning it back on again after midnight and
correcting the system date in Microsoft Windows Setup.


Note that this is specific timing and cannot be done just any old time.


Phoenix Technologies’ Web site at
www.phoenix.com/support/y2k.html#ComplianceStatement claims that the company’s
PhoenixBIOS 4.0 releases dated after 1992 are ready—if you manually roll over the
date. The same holds for NoteBIOS, Phoenix PicoBIOS and ServerBIOS. Then the picture gets
complicated.


Visit the Web site for readiness details on all PhoenixBIOS CBG 1.x versions released
between 1989 and 1994 and on ROM BIOS Plus, released from 1986 through 1992.
Phoenix’s QuadtelBIOS 3.0x is year 2000-ready.


Note that even BIOSes with built-in automatic rollover may not have had that feature
activated by the PC maker, so be prepared to manually advance the date to 2000 next year.


That covers most BIOSes that users are likely to encounter. Phoenix and Award between
them have supplied most motherboard manufacturers.


Now for the bad news. Individual PC makers might have modified some of the BIOS code
they purchased, or not have activated all the features. Whether and how your particular
system changes the year automatically depends on whether it is running at midnight,
according to its system clock, as well as exactly which BIOS version it has. Identical
computers in the same office could react differently depending on whether they are on at
midnight and whether they have precisely the same BIOS version implemented in precisely
the same way.


Determine which BIOS version a PC has by watching the first or second screen at bootup.
You can download BIOS test software from www.pc.ibm.com/year2000/evaluation.html;
www.unicore.com/milproch.html; www.firmware.com/;
and www.nstl.com/.


Don’t forget to check old tape backup applications. They could wreak havoc in an
office even if nothing else fouls up the PC dates. Check your vendor’s Web site for
patches.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.





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