Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How to Check Your Motherboard Model Number on Your Windows PC

Whether you need to update drivers, want to check hardware compatibility, or you’re just curious, it’s way easier to check your motherboard model number with these simple tricks than it is to crack open your computer case to check the board itself. Read on as we show you how to check your motherboard model number from the comfort of your keyboard.

Why Do I Want To Do This?

There are a variety of situations where knowing your motherboard’s model number is important: upgrading your drivers, buying new hardware (you’ll need the proper expansion slots for card-based upgrades and the right memory DIMMS for memory upgrades, etc.), and checking the capabilities of your board if you’re considering upgrading the entire thing.
If you kept the paperwork that came with your computer (or the individual components if you built it yourself) you can often times reference that. Even then, it’s best to check to make sure the documentation is correct. Rather than open the case and search for the model number, it’s easy to use tools within Windows to check things out.

Checking Your Model Number via CMD.exe

If you’re comfortable using the command line, you can easily check a variety of motherboard and hardware stats using the handy Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line (WMIC) a command-line interface for Microsoft’s powerful WMI tool.
With the WMIC we can entry the query baseboard to check motherboard stats and then additional specific query modifiers like get Manufacturer, Model, Name, PartNumber, slotlayout, serialnumber, poweredon to get more detailed information about the motherboard. Let’s check our motherboard’s manufacturer, model number, and serial number using WMIC.
Open up the command prompt in Windows via either the run dialog (WIN+R) or via the search in the start menu; enter cmd.exe into either, no need to run it as an administrator. Enter the following text at the command line.
wmic baseboard get product,Manufacturer,version,serialnumber
This will return the following data.
The above information checks out for our system: the manufacturer is MSI, the board is the Z87-G45 (MS-7821), and while the WMIC tool attempted to check the serial number apparently, alas, MSI left that particular bit unfilled for whatever reason. None the less, the WMIC tool functioned just as it should, and without opening the case or using any third party tools we have the basic information we’re looking for.

Checking Your Model Number via Speccy

If you’d prefer a GUI-based way to check your motherboard’s model number (as well as a method that yields more information at a glance than the WMIC tool), the free tool Speccy by Piriform (the folks that brought us CCleaner) is a handy app to have around.
Grab a free download here and then fire it up.
Not only will it tell your model number, as seen above, but if you click on the Motherboard entry in the left hand navigation column, you can check even more information about the motherboard like the chipset and voltage settings.

Have a pressing tech question, hardware releated or otherwise? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to Create Encrypted Zip or 7z Archives on Any Operating System

Protected Folder.
Zip files can be password-protected, but the standard Zip encryption scheme is extremely weak. If your operating system has a built-in way to encrypt zip files, you probably shouldn’t use it.
To gain the actual benefits of encryption, you should use AES-256 encryption. 7z archives support this natively, but you can also encrypt Zip files with AES-256 encryption.

Zip 2.0 Legacy Encryption vs. AES Encryption

There are actually two types of Zip file encryption. The older Zip 2.0 encryption is extremely insecure, while the newer AES encryption is fairly secure.
Unfortunately, many pieces of software — particularly operating systems with built-in support for Zip files — don’t support the newer AES encryption standard. This means that using the Zip password-protection features found in Windows XP, current versions of Mac OS X, and even typical Linux desktops won’t give you securely encrypted Zip files. Even some third-party utilities are reluctant to switch to AES for their Zip encryption as it means those AES-encrypted zip files will then be incompatible with the built-in Zip features in Windows, Mac OS X, and other software.
It’s still possible to get AES encryption with Zip files — but such files will require third-party software to view, anyway. You may just want to use a different archive format, such as 7z. The 7z archive format requires strong AES-256 encryption. Whenever you create a password-protected 7z file, you know that it’s securely encrypted. Really, 7z is great — it came out on top in our file-compression benchmarks. It’s generally on the top of other file compression benchmarks we’ve seen, too.

Windows – 7-Zip

Windows offers a built-in way to create Zip files. Windows XP even offered a way to password-protect and encrypt these Zip files. However, Windows XP used the extremely insecure “standard” zip file encryption algorithm. Even if you’re still using Windows XP, you shouldn’t use this feature. Later versions of Windows dropped the password-protection option entirely.
Nearly every popular encryption utility offers this features. We like 7-Zip, which is completely free and open-source, so it won’t try to nag you for any money.
With 7-Zip installed, you can select some files in a File Explorer or Windows Explorer window, right-click them, and select 7-Zip > Add to archive. Be sure to select the “Add to archive” option, as it gives you the ability to set a password. If you don’t see the menu option here, you can also open the 7-Zip application directly and use it to create an archive.
7-Zip will create a 7z archive by default, but you can also choose Zip. If you do opt to go with Zip, be sure to select the AES-256 encryption method instead of the weaker ZipCrypto method. Enter your password into the provided boxes and click OK to create your encrypted archive file.

Mac – Keka

Mac OS X also provides an easy way to create Zip files from a Finder window, but there’s no way to encrypt a zip file with the graphical user interface. The zip command included with Mac OS X does offer a way to encrypt zip files without using any third-party software. However, like the password-protection feature built into Windows XP, it uses the old and insecure standard zip encryption scheme. If you really wanted, you could use the “zip -e” command in a Terminal on a Mac. However, we strongly recommend against this.
As on Windows, you’ll once again need a third-party file compression app for secure compression. Keka seems to be one of the most well-loved file compression and decompression apps for Mac, and we can recommend it. However, even Keka doesn’t use AES for encrypting Zip files by default. You can get the currently-in-beta version of Keka and enable a hidden option to do this, or just use the standard version of Keka and create encrypted 7z files instead.
Launch Keka, select 7z, and enter a password for your archive. (If you select Zip, be sure you have the correct version of Keka and that you’ve enabled the hidden option above to get the secure encryption.)
Drag and drop one or more files you want to compress onto the Keka window and they’ll be compressed into a 7z file encrypted with the password you provided. You’ll need the password to access the file’s contents in the future.

Linux – File Roller with p7zip-full

The standard Archive Manager (File Roller) application included with Ubuntu and other GNOME-based desktop environments does have an option to create password-protected zip files. However, the underlying zip command used still uses the old, weak encryption instead of strong AES encryption. Thankfully, File Roller can be used to create encrypted 7z archives.
To enable this option, you’ll first need to install the p7zip-full package. (On some Linux distributions, it may just be called p7zip instead.) For example, on Ubuntu, you can either open the Ubuntu Software Center, search for p7zip-full and install it, or open a Terminal window and run the sudo apt-get install p7zip-full command.
Once you have, you can create encrypted 7z files directly from the File Roller window. Select some files in a file manager window, right-click them, and select Compress — or open the Archive Manager application directly and use it to create a new archive.
In the Compress window, be sure to select the 7z archive format. Click the Other Options header and provide a password. The password will be used to unlock your archive later.

There are many different software programs for creating password-protected archives, but — whatever you use — be sure it’s using secure encryption. The problem with Zip encryption isn’t purely theoretical. The web is full of tools that can “recover” a password-protected zip file that was created using the old encryption scheme. “Recover” is a less-scary word for breaking and removing the encryption.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Check Your BIOS Version and Update it

bios-update

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.
find-bios-version-from-command-prompt
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.
find-bios-or-uefi-version-in-windows-system-information

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.
download-updated-bios
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.
bios-archive

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.
bios-menu
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.
run-dos-program-from-a-bootable-usb-drive
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.
windows-bios-flashing-utility

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.