Over the past years, a lot has happened to ensure that the BIOS firmware of notebooks, workstations and servers can be updated without great fuzz. An automatic downloader and installer is now part of the update procedure of ‘that default operating system’ used by most people. On the Linux side, many companies these days upload their BIOS update files to fwupd.org, which is used as a repository by the firmware update client of major Linux distributions.
So far, so good… However, even though the number of manufacturers supplying images to fwupd.org is rising, there is still room for improvement, and it seems that manufacturers have different amounts of ‘Linux love’ depending on the device series. Let’s take the Lenovo Thinkpad line as an example and the devices I have at home. Sadly, depending on whether a notebook is from the X-,T-,L- or E-series, Linux firmware update support ranges from excellent to, well, let’s say rudimentary, even for the latest and greatest devices.
T- and X-Series
Let’s start at the excellent end of the support chain. On the quite high end T- and X-series notebooks like my Lenovo Thinkpad X13 (Gen 1, AMD, 2021 model), firmware updates are regularly published on Lenovo’s web page and also provided via fwupd.org for automatic installation. For some reason, the fwupd client on my Ubuntu 20.04 doesn’t detect an available update automatically and also not during a manual search. However, when downloading the ‘.cab’ file from fwupd.org manually, it can be installed via a shell command without problems. See here for details.
Thinkpad BIOS updates seem to consist of the BIOS update itself + an update for the Embedded Controller Program (ECP). The cab files from fwupd.org I have installed so far contain both. An interesting detail: Lenovo also offers ‘.cab’ BIOS updates on their web page, but they are not compatible with fwupd.org updater. So that must be something different. Perhaps those can be flashed with the ‘fwupdate‘ shell command, which is different from fwupd.org’s ‘fwupdmgr‘ shell command but from the same author!?
So long story short for those high end devices: The update is pretty painless.
Next in line from a pricing and feature point of view is the Thinkpad ‘L’ series. Lenovo also supplies the BIOS updates on their web page and on fwupd.org. Like on my X-series notebook, fwupdmgr doesn’t detect the update and I had to download and install it manually.
The thing that bugged me in the latest update, however, is that Lenovo’s web page also announces a new ECP software version, which was not present after the BIOS update. So it seems that it was not included in the .cab file on fwupd.org.
This is the cheapest Lenovo Thinkpad line and it seems their Linux BIOS upgrade support is quite limited. There is no update file on fwupd.org and their own web page for a recent Thinkpad E14 Gen 4 (AMD) model. Instead, updates are only provided for ‘that default operating system’ and a CD variant. There is a way to convert the CD image to something that can be put on a USB stick and booted from. The process worked fine but the BIOS flash process after booting from the USB stick ended with a non-descriptive error message. So for now, my E-series notebook unfortunately remains as it is. I guess I will have to try again once a further BIOS update becomes available, but it’s sad that Lenovo doesn’t provide Linux tools for BIOS updates here.
Even though things have changed for the better in recent years, it’s still not as seamless as I would hope. While I can do the extra manual steps, many people won’t be able to, so their systems will remain unpatched.