Updating firmware on an Acer Aspire 3 laptop with Linux installed

Okay, to drop the clue right away: you can’t, I mean, not directly. Acer ships my Aspire 3 laptop with Windows and all downloadable firmware from the Acer support site is a zip file with an Windows .exe file in it. It does not provide a firmware download that can be installed in a Linux distribution.

So I’ll explain how you still can update the firmware, using Windows 10 temporarily and without uninstalling or overwriting your Linux distribution.

First my configuration:

Probably you can also do this on another model of Acer laptop, but be carefull, if not you could lose data or run into other problems. Do this at your own risk.

What you need to pull this off to get the firmware update

  • The special bracket I mentioned above to use an extra SSD
  • Another spare SSD you can use, has to be at least 64GB. You are going to lose all data on it, so back it up if you want to keep the data
  • A downloaded Windows 10 ISO, see for instructions here: https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/microsoft/how-to-download-the-latest-windows-10-iso-from-microsoft/
  • A downloaded ZIP file with the firmware update for your Acer make and model
  • A spare USB stick or disk, with the Windows 10 ISO burned on to it, like with Rufus or USB installer or other such software. Also put the firmware zipfile on the USB stick in a new subfolder so you can find it later and use it.
  • screwdriver set
  • Some guts and nerve to venture in the adventure…
  • This is not for the faint hearted, and you cannot hold me responsible for having problems/loss of data/hardware mallfunction/etc./ You do this at your own risk.

This is what I did:

Attach your spare SSD (with bracket)

Turn your Acer laptop off, close the lid and turn it upside down. On the left side there is a compartment for the extra SSD attached to the special bracket. If you are installing the bracket as new or have it installed already: unscrew that comparment en pop the compartment open. If you already had a SSD installed, detach it from the bracket and attach your spare SSD. Otherwise attach the spare SSD onto the bracket.

Compartment on the left, right is also a compartment for extra DDR4 memory, but we don’t need that now.

Get into BIOS and change some things

Now close the compartment, flip the laptop back on your steady surface, attach it to power etc. and turn it on, repeatedly pressing the F2 on the keyboard, so you’ll get in the BIOS settings.

Now you go in the menu to the Advanced and go to SATA Configuration:

Advanced -> Sata Configuration: set SATA Port 0 to Disabled instead of enabled

The M2 SSD with your Linux distribution installed is the SATA Port 0. Set this to Disabled instead of Enabled. This will prevent the disk from being booted and is not present as a drive on which you could accidentally overwrite your Linux with Windows. Press the ESC key to go back to the menu. Now you go to Boot. If the Boot mode is UEFI, change nothing, but if the Boot mode is Legacy, change it to UEFI.

Before you go to Exit and save your changes, insert your USB key or drive with the Windows 10 ISO ‘burned’ on it, in one of the USB ports of the laptop

Now go to Exit and save your changes.

Finicky on if the USB key will be started

Now on my Acer Aspire it doesn’t always want to boot off an USB key. Many times I have to try it on different USB ports, turning the laptop of with each different port. I hope it’s just my model Aspire that suffers this, and hope you don’t encounter this, because trying this costs a lot of time.

Installing Windows on the spare SSD

If all goes well and your usb stick starts with the Windows10 installer, you can install Windows 10 on the spare SSD you attached earlier. Do check and double-check you are not installing it on your Linux m2 ssd! I have warned you! You should not be able to see that disk anyway because you have disabled it in the bios, but you never know if something went wrong.
Now I’m not going to tell you how to install Windows. Just install it, go through that wizard, make an account to install it etc.
Important to know is that you have UEFI set in the BIOS, otherwise the firmware update software will refuse to write itself to BIOS.

Performing the BIOS update

After a succesfull install of Windows 10, go to Windows Explorer and to your USB stick and retrieve your firmware zip file. Put it in the Downloads folder, extract it and start the firmware installer. If all goes well, the software will show a screen with the present and new firmware and will attempt to write it you your BIOS and immediately restart windows. If you get this error:

This is what you get if UEFI is not chosen in BIOS

… than something went wrong in setting the BIOS to UEFI. Retrace your steps and see if you can start again.

For users who already used Windows: You can also get this error when you are already on Windows and want to perform a firmware update. The cause is that your Windows has an MBR partition instead of GPT, and GPT can only be installed at first install of Windows after you set the BIOS to UEFI. You’ll have to reinstall Windows again with UEFI in BIOS enabled. You’ll lose your former Windows and all the data that is on it. So if you want to go that route, backup all your important stuff first to another backup medium.

If all went well you’ll see, after the Windows restart: your BIOS is being updated:

BIOS updating itself

After that it will start in Windows again but it could also start with your Linux again! Anyways, you can now shut it down, remove power and other cables from the laptop and remove your spare SSD from the laptop.

A bright new firmware version

After you have removed the spare SSD and put back your original SSD if you had one, you attach the power cable and such and start your laptop while repeatedly hitting the F2 key on your keyboard to get into BIOS. Now you will see your new and updated firmware version:

was v1.02, now is v1.25

Now when you go through the rest of your settings, you will notice that most settings have been reset to a default. Probably the Advanced -> Sata Configuration says that both SATA Port 0 and 1 are both enabled. If not, set them both to enabled. But the UEFI setting under Boot -> Boot Mode might have persisted. So set this to Legacy again. Go to Exit and save your settings, to find yourself starting your favorite Linux.

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