General FAQs

System p5 FAQs

General FAQs

What is microcode?

System microcode, sometimes called system firmware, initializes, or sets up, the hardware configuration so that your system will boot up and operate correctly; it provides the interface to the operating system software to talk to the hardware. Adapter microcode is the operating code of the adapter; it initializes the adapter when power is applied and it controls many of the ongoing operations executed by the adapter. Device microcode provides these same functions for devices such as tape drives.

Microcode is usually found programmed into electronic modules on the system board, electronic card adapters, or devices. If these modules are "flashable", you can update the code electronically rather than changing the module, entire card, or device. This update is usually performed using a floppy diskette.

Why would I need a microcode update?

There are two reasons why you might want to update microcode:

  1. We at IBM periodically update microcode to add new function for your systems and adapters. For example, you might want to install new system flash microcode to add boot support for a boot device that was not available when your system was shipped; or you might want to update the microcode on a graphics adapter so you can attach a new display that was not previously supported.
  2. You may want to update your microcode to fix a problem. Even IBM's rigorous test process does not always catch all of the problems. Whenever possible, we update the microcode to fix a problem.

How do I download microcode?

Downloading microcode packages requires the acceptance of a license agreement. In some cases, unpacking the package also requires a password. Follow these steps to download and install microcode.

  1. Go to Firmware and microcode for Power-based systems.
  2. Under the "Firmware and microcode resources" section, select the machine type and model of your system.
  3. The resulting page lists the firmware for the selected system, as well as all devices that run on the selected system. Multiple firmware packages may be selected on a given system page.
  4. Read the Info file for a given microcode update to learn details about the update. In some cases, this information file contains installation instructions for the microcode.
  5. Select the package format that is appropriate for the system receiving the microcode update:
    AIX for AIX systems
    DOS for Windows NT or DOS
    RPM for Linux or AIX (at level 5.1 or higher)
  6. Click the "Continue" button at the bottom of the page.
  7. Confirm your package selections and click "Continue."
  8. Read the license agreement, and sign it by selecting the appropriate acceptance statement at the top of the license page and clicking "Continue."
  9. Download the microcode packages either individually by clicking on the appropriate links under the "Protocol" column or by using the Download Director option.
  10. After downloading the microcode, transfer the file(s) to your system. Follow the directions in the Info file to unpack and install the microcode.
  11. In addition, for some microcode you will be required to enter the following eleven-character, case-sensitive password to unpack the file: **RS/6000** (Note: The **'s are part of the eleven characters.)

What's the difference between the AIX, DOS, and RPM file formats, and which one do I use?

These are different packaging methods of the same firmware. The RPM format supports Linux or AIX (Level 5.1 or higher). DOS format supports Windows NT or DOS. The AIX format is for older AIX systems (below Level 5.1) Choosing which file format to download is dependent on the update method that will be used to install the firmware.  Use the following table to assist in determining the firmware package you need to download.

Files Installation Methods
HMC AIX/Linux Dignostics MDS Tools
p5 ISO image Y Y Y N
RPM file Y Y unpack N N
XML file Y N N N
MDS ISO image N N N Y

What is your recommended firmware maintenance strategy?

IBM Product Engineering recommends the following:

  1. Subscribe to the Bulletin Subscription Service to receive e-mail listing the latest firmware levels that are available and when applicable, important firmware notifications. The URL to subscribe to these notifications is:
  2. Review the microcode download web page once a month to see the latest firmware levels that are available.

How do I install microcode updates on a remote system?

You can install microcode remotely by copying the microcode to the correct directory on the remote system or systems and then remotely executing the same commands that you would run to update microcode locally. You can manually copy and install microcode files from the CD-ROM or Internet download site to other systems anywhere in your network.

You need root authority on the remote system to install microcode. You also need to make sure you have enough directory space to install the microcode. Before proceeding, read the installation instructions for the microcode you want to install, and then follow these steps:

  1. Use your preferred file transfer protocol in binary format to copy the microcode file into the correct directory on the remote system to be updated.
  2. Run a checksum on the files to be sure they were transferred correctly.
  3. Log in to the remote system and execute the installation command(s) listed in the individual microcode installation instructions.
    Note: If you update the system microcode, the system may or may not reboot automatically after the microcode is installed, depending on the microcode update. Read the installation instructions carefully for details pertaining to your system and configuration.
  4. Query the VPD on the remote system or systems to ensure that the new microcode is installed.

How do I copy rpm or bin files to my system?

We've gathered a collection of rpm and bin file information resources into a single document for easy reference.

Where can I find information about microcode for my tape drive?

We've gathered a collection of tape drive information resources into a single document for easy reference.

My firmware is asking for a password, what is it?

For some microcode you will be required to enter the following eleven-character, case-sensitive password to unpack the file: **RS/6000** (Note: The **'s are part of the eleven characters).

Which Internet browser is recommended?

IBM doesn't recommend any particular Internet browser. However, the filename and extension must be maintained when downloading files. Some browsers change the filename or the extension during the download, so the user must insure that this information is preserved. When downloading firmware from the Microcode Download web site, Product Engineering recommends the use of Download Director. Using this feature will preserve the filename/filetype during the download.

Why should I use Download Director?

After accepting the license agreement, you will be given the option to either download files individually or using Download Director.  Download director provides the following features:

Which media writer software is recommended?

IBM doesn't recommend any particular CD burner software. Most CD software supports the writing of iso images.

System p5 FAQs

Why is there more than one system firmware level listed on the "Microcode downloads" page?

In response to customer requests, IBM now maintains multiple p5 system and power subsystem firmware levels on the download web page. Since updating firmware within a release level may be concurrent (only for systems that are managed by an HMC) and upgrading to a new release level is disruptive, the customer can decide which firmware option fits their needs (based on maintenance windows, fixes needed, etc.). It is recommended that the "Firmware Information and Description" section of the system firmware description (Desc) file be reviewed to assist with deciding which level to install.

Why are there some packages identified as  "Power Subsystem" in the title?

Some p5 models require power subsystem firmware in addition to the system firmware. Since there are dependencies between the system and power subsystem firmware, the new web page will now display both packages in the same place. When selecting firmware to install, insure that you read the titles carefully and download the correct power subsystem firmware based on the system firmware you selected.

Where is the XML file?

On the old web page, the XML file was displayed with the RPM file along with an option to open or save it. This xml file(s) are still required for HMC controlled systems. After selecting a system and/or Power Subsystem firmware package to download and accepting the license agreement, the XML file(s) will be available for either download or viewing/saving. If Download Director is used, the XML file(s) will automatically be downloaded along with the firmware that was selected. Please read the XML information panel on the 'Microcode downloads' web page (page shown AFTER accepting the License Agreement) for more information on the XML file.

How can I tell whether my system firmware installation will be disruptive or not?

Upgrading from one release level to another is always disruptive. However, for systems managed by an HMC, updating from one service level to another (within the same release level) may not be disruptive. Please refer to the system firmware description (Desc) file for additional information.

What does concurrent mean?

Concurrent means that the FSP (Flexible Service Processor) can be updated without requiring an IPL to activate the changes. Note that ONLY systems managed by an HMC have the option of performing a concurrent update.

What does deferred mean?

Concurrent levels of system firmware may, on occasion, contain fixes that are deferred. These deferred fixes can be installed concurrently, but will not be activated until the next IPL. Deferred fixes, if any, will be identified in the "Firmware Update Descriptions" table of the system firmware description (Desc) file. For deferred fixes within a service pack, only the fixes in the service pack which cannot be concurrently activated are deferred.

What is your p5 System recommended firmware maintenance strategy?

IBM Product Engineering recommends the following:

  1. Subscribe to the Bulletin Subscription Service to receive e-mail listing the latest firmware levels that are available and when applicable, important firmware notifications. The URL to subscribe to these notifications is:
  2. Review the microcode download web page once a month to see the latest firmware levels that are available.
  3. Install firmware Service Packs once a quarter concurrently (on HMC managed machines).
  4. Plan at least one disruptive window per year to upgrade to a new Release Level.

There are different strategies to consider for Release Levels and Service Packs:

Upgrade Strategy (Release Level):    New functions are released via Release Levels.  Installation of a new Release Level of firmware is disruptive. Unless a customer requires the latest functions and/or features being introduced by the latest Release Level, it is generally prudent for a customer to wait one to three months until the Release Level stability has been demonstrated in the field. Release Levels are supported with fixes (delivered via Service Packs) for approximately one year. Supported releases will overlap, so fixes will usually be made in multiple service packs.  Typically, customers are not required to upgrade to the latest level to obtain fixes. The exception to this is when the customer's Release Level has reached End of Service Pack support.  This allows  customers to stay on an older (typically more stable) Release Level and still obtain fixes (via Service Packs) for problems. Since the number of changes in a Service pack is substantially less than a Release Level,  the risk of destabilizing the firmware by a Service Pack Update is much lower.

Update Strategy (Service Pack within a Release):   The strategy to update to the latest Service Pack needs to be more aggressive than upgrading to the latest Release Level. Service Packs contain fixes to problems discovered in testing as well as fixes to problems reported from the field.  Our fix strategy has always been very pro-active, meaning we want to encourage the installation of a fix before the problem is encountered (or rediscovered) in the field. Both the N and N-1 Service Packs will be available on the Firmware Download web page for some period of time.  For customers who are more comfortable installing firmware that has some field experience, but whose maintenance window is scheduled soon after a new service pack is made available, this allows the option of installing the older (N-1) service pack rather than rescheduling the maintenance window.  A thorough review of the Firmware Description (Desc) files for both Service Packs should be done to validate the decision to install the N-1 Service Pack. Once Product and Development Engineering has determined the latest available (N) Service Pack has sufficient field penetration and experience (30 - 60 days) we will remove the older (N-1) Service Pack from the Firmware Download web page.

Are there interdependencies between the HMC levels, system firmware, and the  power subsystem firmware?

Yes. The "Cautions and Important Notes" section of the system firmware description (Desc) file will identify these interdependencies if present.  On the download web page, the power subsystem firmware title will indicate the system firmware level it is associated with. It is also important that the HMC is updated (to a level equal to or higher than) prior to the power and system firmware.

What is the difference between a release level and a service pack?

Release Level:  A Release Level is the term for firmware that is released to support major new function (introduction of new hardware models and significant function/features enabled via firmware. IBM intends to limit the introduction of Release Levels to no more that three times per year. In addition to the new function/hardware support, Release Levels will also contain fixes. Upgrading from one release level to another will always be disruptive to customer operations. You can skip release levels, meaning you can upgrade from release level A to release level D without having to install release levels B & C.

Service Pack:  A Service Pack contains a group of fixes within a specific release level. Service packs primarily contain only fixes however, minor function changes may be released within a service pack. These fixes will be for highly pervasive, critical, or security related issues. Release levels will be supported by Service Packs for one year following the release level. This will allow you to stay on a particular release level and still receive fixes without having to upgrade to a later release level. Service Packs are cumulative, so if Service Pack 3 is applied, all of the previous fixes contained within Service Packs 1 and 2 will also be applied.

Can I skip release and service pack levels?

Yes. Updating from an older release level to the highest release level, when there are other levels in-between, is supported.  The same is true with service packs.

Does the Microcode and Discovery Tool CD-ROM image available on the web contain all of the available firmware levels?

No. For p5 system and power subsystem firmware, the CD-ROM image only contains the highest release or service pack level that is available.  To obtain previous release or service pack levels, you must download either the files (RPM and XML) from the Microcode download web site or the specific p5 iso image.

Where is the p5 and i5 .iso file?

In order to support multiple levels/versions of the p5andi5.iso file (one for each supported level on the web), the naming convention had to change. The new naming convention will be SFxxx_yyy_BPxxx_zzz.iso file (where xxx is the Release level, yyy is the Service Pack Level). A link to this file is located on the Microcode Downloads web page (under 'Download CD ISO image containing all available updates'). Selecting that link will display a new page. The iso files are located via a pulldown under the 'Download p5 microcode' section.