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.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to Create and Run Virtual Machines With Hyper-V

run-linux-in-hyper-v-on-windows-8.1

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.
install-hyper-v-on-windows-8-or-8.1

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.
launch-hyper-v-manager

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.
virtual-switch-manager
Select External in the list to give virtual machines access to the external network, and click Create Virtual Switch.
virtual-switch-manager-create-external-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.
give-virtual-machine-networking-in-hyper-v

Create a Virtual Machine

Click New > Virtual Machine in the Actions pane to create a new virtual machine.
create-new-virtual-machine-in-hyper-v-manager
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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.
hyper-v-new-virtual-machine-wizard
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.
install-operating-system-from-iso-file

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.
hyper-v-manager-start-virtual-machine
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
hyper-v-connected-window

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.
turn-off-virtual-machine-in-hyper-v
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.
virtual-machine's-settings-in-hyper-v
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.
install-ubuntu-14.04-in-hyper-v-on-windows-8.1

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How to Set Up BitLocker Encryption on Windows

bitlocker-locked-drive-icon

Windows can encrypt entire operating system drives and removable devices with its built-in BitLocker encryption. When TrueCrypt controversially closed up shop, they recommended their users transition away from TrueCrypt to BitLocker.
BitLocker Drive Encryption and BitLocker To Go require a Professional or Enterprise edition of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1. However, the “core” version of Windows 8.1 includes a “Device Encryption” feature that works similarly.

Enable BitLocker For a Drive


To enable BitLocker, open the Control Panel and navigate to System and Security > BitLocker Drive Encryption. You can also open Windows Explorer or File Explorer, right-click a drive, and select Turn On BitLocker. If you don’t see this option, you don’t have the right edition of Windows.
Click the Turn on BitLocker option next to an operating system drive, internal drive (“fixed data drive”), or removable drive to enable BitLocker for the drive.
There are two types of BitLocker encryption you can enable here:
  • BitLocker Drive Encryption:  Sometimes referred to just as BitLocker, this is a “full-disk encryption” feature that will encrypt an entire drive. When the computer boots, the Windows boot loader loads from the System Reserved partition, and the boot loader will prompt you for your unlock method — for example, a password. BitLocker will then decrypt the drive and load Windows. The encryption is otherwise transparent — your files will appear like they normally would on an unencrypted system, but they’re stored on the disk in an encrypted form. You can also encrypt other drives in a computer, not just the operating system drive.
  • BitLocker To Go: External drives, such as USB flash drives and external hard drives, can be encrypted with BitLocker To Go. You’ll be prompted for your unlock method — for example, a password — when you connect the drive to your computer. If someone doesn’t have the unlock method, they can’t access the files on the drive.
bitlocker-drive-encryption[4]

Use BitLocker Without a TPM


BitLocker Drive Encryption normally requires requires a computer with a TPM to secure an operating system drive. This is a microchip built into the computer, installed on the motherboard. BitLocker can store the encryption keys here, which is more secure than simply storing them on the computer’s data drive. The TPM will only provide the encryption keys after verifying the state of the computer. An attacker can’t just rip out your computer’s hard disk or create an image of an encrypted disk and decrypt it on another computer.If the PC you’re enabling BitLocker on doesn’t have a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), you’ll see a message saying your administrator must set the “Allow BitLocker without a compatible TPM” option.
bitlocker-can't-use-a-trusted-platform-module
If you’re doing this on your own computer, you’re the computer’s administrator. You’ll just need to open the Local Group Policy Editor application and change this setting.
Press Windows Key + R to open the Run dialog, type gpedit.msc into it, and press Enter. Navigate to Computer Configuration \ Administrative Templates \ Windows Components \ BitLocker Drive Encryption \ Operating System Drives. Double-click the “Require additional authentication at startup” setting, select Enabled, and check the “Allow BitLocker without a compatible TPM” option. Click OK to save the new setting.
use-bitlocker-to-encrypt-system-drive-withotu-tpm

Choose an Unlock Method

Next, you’ll see the “Choose how to unlock your drive at startup” screen. You can select several different ways of unlocking the drive. If your computer doesn’t have a TPM, you can unlock the drive with a password or by inserting a special USB flash drive that functions as a key.
If your computer does have a TPM, you’ll have additional options. For example, you can configure automatic unlocking at startup — your computer will grab the encryption keys from the TPM and automatically decrypt the drive. You could also secure it in other ways — for example, you could provide a PIN at startup. That PIN would unlock the strong decryption key stored in the TPM and unlock the drive.
Choose your preferred unlock option and follow the instructions in the next screen to set it up.
bitlocker-drive-encryption-choose-how-to-unlock-your-drive-at-startup

Back Up Your Recovery Key

BitLocker will provide you with a recovery key. This key can be used to access your encrypted files if you ever lose your main key — for example, if you forget your password or if the computer with the TPM dies and you have to remove the drive.
You can save the key to a file, print it, store it on a USB flash drive, or save it to your Microsoft account on Windows 8 and 8.1. If you back up the recovery key to your Microsoft account, you can access the key later at https://onedrive.live.com/recoverykey . Be sure to keep this key safe — if someone gains access to your key, they could decrypt your drive and bypass the encryption. You may want to back it up in multiple locations — if you lose this recovery key and your main unlock method, your encrypted files will be lost forever.
bitlocker-drive-encryption-how-do-you-want-to-back-up-your-recovery-key

Encrypt and Unlock the Drive

BitLocker will automatically encrypt new files as you add them, but you’ll need to choose what happens with the files currently on your drive. You can encrypt the entire drive — including the free space — or just encrypt the used disk files to speed up the process.
If you’re setting up BitLocker on a new PC, encrypt the used disk space only — it’s faster. If you’re setting BitLocker up on a PC you’ve been using for a while, you should encrypt the entire drive to ensure no one can recover deleted files. Encrypting only the used disk space is faster, while encrypting the entire drive takes longer.
You’ll be prompted to run a BitLocker system check and reboot your computer. After the computer boots back up for the first time, the drive will be encrypted. Check the BitLocker Drive Encryption icon in the system tray to see its progress. You can continue using your computer while it’s being encrypted, but it perform more slowly.
bitlocker-choose-how-much-of-your-drive-to-encrypt
When your computer boots, you’ll see a BitLocker prompt if you need to enter a password, PIN, or plug in a USB flash drive.
Press Escape here if you lose your unlock method. You’ll be able to enter your recovery key.
bitlocker-unlock-prompt-at-boot
If you choose to encrypt a removable drive with BitLocker To Go, you’ll see a similar wizard but your drive will be encrypted without any rebooting required. Don’t remove the drive while it’s being encrypted.
bitlocker-to-go
When you connect the drive to a computer, you’ll be prompted to provide the password or smart card you chose to unlock the removable device. Drives protected with BitLocker are identified with a lock icon in Windows Explorer or File Explorer.
bitlocker-to-go-enter-password-to-unlock-drive
You can manage a locked drive — change the password, turn off BitLocker, back up your recovery key, or perform other actions — from the BitLocker control panel window. Right-click an encrypted drive and select Manage BitLocker to go directly to it.
manage-bitlocker-in-control-panel

Like all encryption, BitLocker does add some overhead. Microsoft’s official BitLocker FAQ says that “Generally it imposes a single-digit percentage performance overhead.” If encryption is important to you because you have sensitive data — for example, a laptop full of business documents — it’s worth the performance trade-off.