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Bug Upgrades Hardware

What To Do When an Advised BIOS Upgrade Is Bad? 467

Posted by timothy
from the wishful-thinking dept.
Bomarc writes "Twice now I've been advised to 'flash the BIOS to the latest,' once by a (major) hard drive controller maker (RAID); once by an OEM (who listed the update as 'critical,' and has removed older versions of the BIOS). Both times, the update has bricked an expensive piece of equipment. Both times, the response after the failed flash was 'It's not our problem, it's out of warranty.' Given that they recommended / advised that the unit be upgraded, shouldn't they shoulder the responsibility of BIOS upgrade failure? Also, if their design had sockets rather than soldering on parts, one could R/R the faulty part (BIOS chip), rather than going to eBay and praying. Am I the only one that has experienced this type of problem? Have you been advised to upgrade a BIOS (firmware); and the upgrade bricked the part or system? If so, what did you do? Should I name the companies?"
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What To Do When an Advised BIOS Upgrade Is Bad?

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  • Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by platypusfriend (1956218) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:38PM (#42851435)
    You should name the companies.
    • by Johnny Loves Linux (1147635) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:47PM (#42851511)
      It's been almost 4 years since I built my last box. I'm planning on building another desktop this summer and would like to know who to avoid as I'm intending to purchase a motherboot that's supported by coreboot so I don't have to deal with UEFI. If there's a motherboard vendor doing evil stuff and they're listed I would like to avoid them if I can. Here's the link for supported motherboards: http://www.coreboot.org/Supported_Motherboards [coreboot.org]
      • by SCPRedMage (838040) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @04:32PM (#42852357)

        Corporations are not people; they do not care about you, nor should you truly care about them.

        The only thing corporations are concerned about are their bottom line; if doing something helps them profit, they'll do it. If doing something HURTS their bottom line (such as, oh, I don't know, paying taxes), they'll avoid doing it as best as they can.

        Any example you might provide to prove otherwise is only an example of image control, a calculated effort to improve their standing in the eyes of their consumers.

        Bottom line: report what corporations do. If it's bad, it'll help your fellow consumers avoid being screwed over. If it's good, it'll steer them towards companies that care enough about their image to not be total dickbags.

      • by GigaplexNZ (1233886) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @10:00PM (#42854845)

        I'm intending to purchase a motherboot that's supported by coreboot so I don't have to deal with UEFI

        Why? What's wrong with UEFI that you need to replace it with coreboot (which just so happens to have a UEFI payload [coreboot.org])

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bomarc (306716) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:54PM (#42851559) Homepage
      Hard drive RAID controller: by LSI [lsi.com]

      System: Dell [dell.com] PE 1950; critical update for the BMC controller.

      ... BTW: EMS firmware upgrade for the BSM [dell.com] V 2.50 bricked two motherboards. The motherboard for system #1 *may* have had a faulty BMC, however system #2 was working perfectly.

      • by Smallpond (221300)

        I've upgraded a number of LSI RAID controllers. Sometimes you can't skip intermediate levels, so if your firmware was way out of date that could be the problem. You also need to use the latest version of their tools.

        • Re:Yes (Score:5, Informative)

          by Bomarc (306716) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:03PM (#42851623) Homepage
          LSI: I ran into problems with later hard drives being recognized. I was advised to flash the BIOS. It bricked the controller. After the advice of "buy another"; I removed all of the (in service) LSI controllers, as the risk of data loss (and the need for later hard drive compatibility) forced me to remove them.
          • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Z00L00K (682162) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:07PM (#42851637) Homepage

            Yes - buy another is definitely going to make you buy one of their products again.

            Just tell them that you will look at competitors. And there are a few around to select between.

          • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

            by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:33PM (#42851851) Homepage

            I tell anyone who is considering a serious deployment of hardware RAID that they should buy two of the cards from day one, to have one in a backup server. Then you can run experiments on unrecognized drives or firmware updates on the backup. Also, if something fails on the main server, it increases the odds you'll be able to get to the data if it's still intact. Needing spares around is unfortunately part of the overhead of having this sort of hardware.

            RAID controllers are pretty low volume products compared to a lot of other computer parts. And the problem where a new drive doesn't work with an old controller is depressingly common too. You could just as easily run into this same issue with any other RAID hardware. LSI at least does keep updating things. I have a drawer full of old RAID cards that stopped being useful mainly because the manufacturer gave up on updates.

            Ever since 3ware was assimilated by LSI, there aren't many viable alternatives to them, if you must have hardware RAID. The only good reason to prefer it over software RAID nowadays, where you can move the drives anywhere and read them, is that booting is preserved in more failure cases. It's easy to let the boot area of a software RAID1 volume be mismatched.

            • Re:Yes (Score:4, Informative)

              by maestroX (1061960) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @04:23PM (#42852309)

              Ever since 3ware was assimilated by LSI, there aren't many viable alternatives to them, if you must have hardware RAID.

              areca

            • Re:Yes (Score:4, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 10, 2013 @04:44PM (#42852475)

              Or, you know... Use RAID how it's intended: To guard against disk failure. It's never a replacement for backups.

              RAID is for availability of the system, not for keeping your data safe.

            • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

              by dcollins117 (1267462) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @06:54PM (#42853641)

              LSI at least does keep updating things

              I admire your optimism, sir. Sure, the updates brick his controllers, but at least they come often. It's that glass-is-half-full spirit we don't see enough of these days.

              • No, this is the well known 'glass is empty but some day the guy pouring won't miss the target' brand of optimism.

          • Re:Yes (Score:5, Informative)

            by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@@@world3...net> on Sunday February 10, 2013 @05:19PM (#42852845) Homepage

            As usual Slashdot posters don't mention where they are, but in the UK you would still be able to get the controller fixed or partially refunded (plus possibly costs incurred due to having to switch brand) thanks to the Sale of Goods Act. Doesn't your country have any consumer protection from douchbag vendors?

          • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

            by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Sunday February 10, 2013 @05:20PM (#42852859) Journal

            Moral of the story: If a company screws you NEVER buy from them again. Abit screwed me on their CPU support list which turned out if the chip wasn't released prior to the board? They didn't test squat, just looked at the voltage which of course doesn't magically tell you if the CPU will work so I never bought from them again, same thing with Biostar when I had to buy a new board because their CPU support list said the X6 was supported and it turned out that like Abit they were ONLY looking at the watts on the box and ignoring that later Phenoms have turbocore which requires a boost to wattage when it activates.

            At the end of the day all you can do is not buy from them again and warn others, just as I was warning others before it came out Nvidia had made a batch with faulty solder or how I warn people now that Seagate drives over 500GB seem to be having crazy high failure rates.

            I DO have a question though, what was the firmware number you were on and which did you try to upgrade to, if you remember? As I stated in an earlier posting a lot of those devices can NOT have in between firmware skipped without serious risk of bricking so I am curious whether you applied the previous updates and it still bricked, or if you tried to go straight to the latest and that is when it crapped out.

        • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

          by lightknight (213164) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @04:01PM (#42852119) Homepage

          Wait, wait, wait. A BIOS flash should (almost) completely erase the BIOS, then reprogram it.

          Are you telling me that some companies use incremental BIOS upgrades? And why?

          This is particularly worrying to me, as I have a SuperMicro L8i SAS controller I just installed in my main machine, and LSI is apparently behind the chipset.

          • Re:Yes (Score:4, Informative)

            by Smallpond (221300) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @06:31PM (#42853433) Homepage Journal

            The only thing you should need the BIOS flash for is to boot from a RAID. I was assuming if he bricked the controller then it is also the RAID firmware, since otherwise you can boot from a rescue disk and run lsiutil to rewrite the BIOS flash.

            The problem with skipping intermediate versions is that the on-disk format can change (more new stuff in metadata, for example). Each firmware rev only knows its own version and how to update from the previous version.

      • by eksith (2776419)

        "Dell". Well, there's your problem. Hindsight is 20/20, but if there's any chance at all you can move away from Dell, I would strongly consider that. You always have to balance short term expense with long term maintenance costs.

        I can't speak for the RAID controller since I don't have experience there, but this response is really inexcusable.

        Some companies do this: Create a public site/page somewhere and post a detailed story of how and what happened. Usually that gets a response from the company to mitiga

        • by mvdwege (243851)

          Nonsense. Dell's Pro Support is reasonably good, especially once you get past the first line.

          The major problem I have had with Dell is their insistence on doing fast model upgrades and giving lower-quality support on superseded hardware SKUs; not to mention their lousy habit of upgrading the hardware but continuing to use the same model number in their catalogue.

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:17PM (#42851745)

        What's the failure mode on each of {the BMC, the PERC}? I have some experience handling failures of this nature.

        In particular, it's been my experience that on some Dell models of that generation, if you update the BMC firmware without updating the NIC firmware as well, the BMC will fail to be reachable on the network. Fortunately a NIC F/W update fixes this readily enough.

        I wish they told you that.

        [Too lazy to log in.]

      • Thanks for the info. Next step is to send their marketing department a link to this Slashdot article so they can see what wonderful publicity they are getting in return for being douches.
    • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cyberzephyr (705742) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:34PM (#42851857) Journal

      This poster is correct. These companies need to be named so that other folks don't get screwed by them. Case in point i have a SAMSUNG 32 inch tv. It started turning itself on and off, so i called the company and found out they lost a class action suit and had to send a tech to your home to fix the problem. Hmm did SAMSUNG call me or even send a letter about this? NO. The SOB's need to be told on period!

  • Sure Name Them (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I found updating a motherboard's BIOS from Windows is as safe as Russian roulette. I found most motherboards have a SPI bus connector. You can make a parallel port to SPI adapter and save a bad flash.

  • by Let's All Be Chinese (2654985) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:42PM (#42851469)

    is what the legal status of their "recommendations" is and whether you ought to sue them.

    The tried-and-true andwer to that is: Ask a lawyer. I'm quite sure it can and does swing either way depending on local laws and any number of details you haven't provided.

    • by Smallpond (221300)

      Might be helpful to record the phone call where they told you to upgrade the BIOS, also.

      • by Bomarc (306716)
        Not legal in this state... HOWEVER: I believe that Dell does record every conversation....
        • by cob666 (656740)
          There are NO states in the US where it is illegal to record a phone conversation. Most states require that at least ONE party consent to the recording, other states require all parties to consent to the recording.

          If you want to record phone conversations you simply have to state that the conversation may be recorded for quality control purposes. If the other party doesn't hang up or object then that is implied consent.
  • by sdnoob (917382) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:43PM (#42851481)
  • by cnettel (836611) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:44PM (#42851483)
    Name the products, which will of course also tell us the companies. However, it is very hard to evaluate this in general terms. A flash operation can always go wrong. If the updated code expliclitly recommended by the vendor was in fact incompatible, then I think they are at fault to some extent even for out-of-warranty hardware. But that's the only case.
  • I never made a brick by flashing the BIOS but I never solved a problem that way either. It was always a malfunctioning chip on the board that the BIOS can't solve.
    • by Psyborgue (699890)
      You must be very lucky. My last MB had SLI issues. Current one has raid issues with the firmware on one of my drives. Both fixed with a bios/few update. Some stability issues too.
  • Don't buy hardware that can be bricked by flashing the BIOS. In this modern day and age there's just no reason for it, especially not for a price anyone would call "expensive".

    Dual BIOS setups are ideal, but the ability to backup the current BIOS in case it needs to be rolled back is a must reguardless.

    • by Sipper (462582)

      Don't buy hardware that can be bricked by flashing the BIOS.

      Unfair statement; this was a situation where firmware came out later, and also almost all hardware (video cards, hard disks, network cards, motherboards, etc) has flashable firmware. Even if you have a backup of the BIOS, that cannot always save you -- like a backup of a video BIOS when the videocard can't work because it's BIOS is borked so that the screen is always black.

    • by greg1104 (461138)

      A true bricking BIOS update will trash the system so badly you can't reach any backup BIOS. By definition, if the machine is still functional enough to allow reverting the BIOS update, you didn't really brick it.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      Exactly. There is no excuse for any product that could be called "expensive" to be accidentally brickable.
  • Name names (Score:5, Interesting)

    by edcheevy (1160545) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:46PM (#42851501)

    I generally exercise some degree of distrust towards computer manufacturer recommendations when my product is no longer under warranty and their legal team likely has them relatively well protected against your situation, but I'd definitely name names. Send a note to the Consumerist, find a few execs and contact them directly. It may be legal, but it's a dishonest approach for those companies to take. It doesn't cost you much time and energy to bring unwanted attention to the companies and that attention is sometimes enough to suddenly get your components replaced. It won't cause systematic change, but at least you're better off.

    Not one to miss an opportunity for a car analogy: if a critical recall fix bricked your ride, I think most everyone would agree it is the manufacturer's responsibility to make things right even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Of course, there's obviously more regulation involved and a more direct correlation to physical safety in the case of cars (i.e., you are putting yourself at risk of bodily harm if you choose to disregard the recall fix).

  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:50PM (#42851523)
    If it is working, then an "upgrade" cannot make it better. It can only be the same or worse.
    • If it is working, then an "upgrade" cannot make it better. It can only be the same or worse.

      Right! That's why I hold on to Netscape Navigator 1.0.

    • Ummmm, no (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:34PM (#42851861)

      That is not at all the case. BIOS/firmware/driver updates/upgrades can potentially do four things for a working system:

      1) Add new features. Many products get new features as their life goes on. My desktop board, an Intel, has gotten a number of new BIOS features during its life. When you update the code that runs something, no surprise that code can add features.

      2) Improve performance. Sometimes, a faster/more efficient way of doing something is discovered. It takes an update to make that happen. I remember a big one back in the day with 3com switches. A firmware update provided a major improvement in through put and CPU usage.

      3) Fix a bug that you haven't hit yet, but could. This is why you'll see updates tagged as urgent. Just because you never hit a bug that got discovered, doesn't mean the bug isn't there. So you want to get it fixed, BEFORE you hit it. There have been firmware updates that fixed some nasty ones, like data corruption with SSDs. Some people never got hit, but that doesn't mean the update wasn't a good idea.

      4) Security issues. Same deal as with the bugs, just a different kind of bug. If a security issue is discovered, it'll take a patch to fix it and the system will be working before the patch.

      The "Don't fix it if it ain't broke," really is not a valid ideology for systems administration.

  • Why are you flashing these devices?

    The only "critical" firmware upgrade is one which will - or at least has a fighting chance of - fixing an issue you are actively experiencing.

  • ... and solder a socket in?

    • by rs79 (71822)

      A SMT chip with 30 mil leads? Good luck with that.

      It can be done but you need really, really special tools. As in a microelectronics lab.

      • by BigDish (636009)

        These really aren't hard to do. I can take one off in under a minute, and I'm not even that good at it. SMT stuff is nowhere near as scary as people make it out to be.

    • by Bomarc (306716)
      Which part to remove? In the system, there are four parts that have "copyright" stickers on them. Once I get the part removed, where to I get a "true" image of the BIOS to replace? (Dell only gives install via GUI, no image that I can find).
  • I think it's best if the original author would please name the particular products.

    • by matty619 (630957)

      Not a bad idea. I'm rather curious myself. Was it flashed with a Windows executable? Or from a boot disc? USB flash drive or cd-r?

      • by Bomarc (306716)
        See my previous comments, they are upthere.

        For the Dell system - Windows exe (for the BMC upgrade, listed by Dell as "critical")

        For the LSI it was a boot disk

        However: the question is about the failure -- when advised to upgrade, and the upgrade fails what to do then.

  • A Crucial consumer SSD (yeah I know, not a CPU) stopped, instantaneously.

    Answer from Crucial: "Update Firmware". Updating involved the consumer understanding how to use cryptic commands in various states of the pre-boot process on a 2nd machine running Windows with wording no consumer would have ever likely understood and then used in a command line.

    Companies who sell things like this without having adequate software and instructions do not DESERVE TO BE SUPPORTED by consumers.

  • I have never had a problem since switching to using only Intel boards with Intel bios. The upgrade process usually goes quite well (I've probably flashed 100 or so Intel boards over the past 3 or 4 years) and if there is ever a problem, it automatically rolls the changes back. Out of that 100 or so bios flashes, 0 have been bricked. That being said, when it comes to consumer grade boards, especially when they're out of warranty, I just assume I'm on my own and if something like that happens, its off to EB

    • You do know Intel is getting out of the mobo biz, right?

      I've really only found it necessary to flash a mobo BIOS once in the past 10 years or so. It made my hands sweat. Not going to do it again if I can avoid it at all.

  • I once had to move (hot swap) a socketed BIOS chip to a other board that also had a socketed BIOS to re flash after it failed and it worked when I put it back in to the first board.

    Does the card / board have an bios recovery mode? I did that a few times on laptops that where not booting and was able to fix most of them.

  • Sockets are expensive and would add considerably to the height of the component. Everything is surface mount now.
  • If it is out of warranty, then of course you're the one at fault. Since it's out of warranty, it's on you to see what the firmware does and make the decision on whether or not to flash. Either way it's all on you to deal with the consequences.

    You nearly always have the option of purchasing extended warranties for "critical" equipment. If it is really that critical, why didn't you replace it at the end of its warranty period?

  • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:13PM (#42851711) Homepage

    I have a Lenovo Thinkpad T500 brick that I made this way three months ago. I was running into a few weird Windows problems--everything was fine on Linux--and "upgrade the BIOS" was a stock troubleshooting suggestion. After a decade of happy Thinkpad ownership I didn't think this was risky. On the first reboot the update did something to fry the TPM chip. It worked fine before, never again afterward. Boots hung for about 10 minutes as the BIOS tried to talk to it, I stopped that only by disabling it there. And then the next week the computer stopped POST altogether. The laptop had been running fine for 3 years at that point. I've seen a few similar reports at the Lenovo forums; it's not just me. The only people who resolved this were still under warranty, the rest of us haven't considered it cost effective to pay for a fix.

    I tried to jump two major point releases at once here, from 1.20 to 3.24 [lenovo.com]. My guess is that QA wasn't done on this much of a jump at once. Maybe 1.X->2.X->3.X or some other two step sequence would have worked. The Thinkpads have been disappointing is several ways recently, so I can't really say this surprised me.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:20PM (#42851763) Homepage Journal

    I have some Thinkpads around here and it seems there's a firmware update every few months. But if you read the 'what's new' it's usually something stupid like "Old version updated to support new model xxxxxx" which I don't even have. Or worse "Corrected typo in BIOS menu."

    Before I flash anything I'd like to know why and under what scenario, if any, it's necessary.

  • by McDutchie (151611) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @04:39PM (#42852425) Homepage
    After bricking three successive broadband routers using firmware upgrades recommended by their respective manufacturers, my position on firmware upgrades is simple: NEVER do them, unless you have nothing to lose (i.e. if your device is working so badly that you would need to replace it anyway).
  • by leehwtsohg (618675) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @05:10PM (#42852767)

    I'm too far down for this comment to really matter, but in general, it is possible to unbrick a failed BIOS flash. The reason is that already for some time all (or maybe almost all) manufacturers have two parts of the BIOS - one that gets updated, and a second part that never does, or maybe can't. The second part (actually it is the first), only has very rudimentary software. It can read floppy disks, but not much more than that. The idea is exactly that you can recover from a failed flash.

    That means that to recover, you need to get the right program into a floppy, with the right BIOS on it. You then boot into this special flash mode, which often means pressing some key combination. I've done it on an LE1700 that I bought of e-bay, and I'm pretty sure you can do it on almost any computer.
    In some more modern BIOSes you don't need a floppy, but can do it with a USB stick.
    I'm too lazy to do a thorough search for the exact procedure, but here are two good links that I found:
    http://www.mydellmini.com/forum/dell-mini-10v/18080-how-unbrick-mini-10v-using-floppy-drive.html [mydellmini.com] (this will work also on other computers, I think)
    http://www.wikihow.com/Reflash-BIOS [wikihow.com]
     

  • On top of that make an internet research about the upgrade.

    Honestly: if you are in a corporate environment there is no reason _inside_ to upgrade stuff, regardless what reason is given by the vendors, except in very rare cases. (E.g. girewalls etc. are protecting you, so how should a security flaw _inside_ be a _serious_ problem?)

    With inside I mean the computers/hardware inside of your corporate network.

    What I want to say: judge if an upgrade is so serious you need to install it immediately.

    Make a google/internet research what others say about it. If possible wait until you get enough google hits. Likely you only get hits if something went bad with the upgrade. So chose your timeframe.

    German companies, I mean big ones, but its true for smaller ones as well, e.g. never upgrade to a new Windows version until the one they are currently running is _failing_ (not no longer supported, but: _failing_).

    Of course this approach does not work, e.g. if a BIOS or firmware upgrade needs to be done for your gateways (routers to the outside) or similar.

    In such cases obviously you need a backup. A replacement router from a different vendor, another RAID controller or another set of harddrives, what ever you do.

    I remember an online game where suddenly there was a new TeamSpeak client available. Lots of people upgraded, with the result that the server rejected the connections, as the server was old and outdated. I keep my TS client as it is and only upgrade when the server rejects me because my client is to old (and I install the new version into a new folder so I can run both at the same time)

  • by slacka (713188) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @07:03PM (#42853723)

    I'm an IT pro, and I have flashed thousands of devices in my career. Hundreds of MB'a and countless HDs, cd-roms, RAID controllers, and amd network devices like WAPs. The only time I have bricked a device is when I lost power in the process. Even then, I was able to recover the device with some googling.

    Maybe I've been lucky or maybe just buy H/W from good manufactures like Cisco, Dell, and HP.

  • by mpfife (655916) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @07:19PM (#42853839)
    ...unless you're experiencing a problem expressly fixed by a BIOS patch - do NOT update your BIOS.

    As much as I like to upgrade like the next guy - I've experienced far more problems than fixes with most bios updates. The only time I update now is when they specifically fix a problem I'm having.

    In the case of your 'really expensive' stuff or essential hardware - if it's just a security patch - get a nice $50 router with firewall and plug your device into that. No use risking or destroying a piece of essential hardware on a BIOS update that is ALWAYS a risky operation.

    And shame them. Shame them publicly on reviews and on their forums. Be courteous by not using foul language or being irate - but state the facts and how they treated you. If they don't realize this is super-bad PR, then these guys likely don't deserve your business.

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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