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Bug Upgrades Hardware

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

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.
  • Sure Name Them (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:42PM (#42851463)

    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 sdnoob ( 917382 ) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:43PM (#42851481)
  • by Zenin ( 266666 ) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @02:44PM (#42851489) Homepage

    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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

    No you fool. It's not unfair. You're just ignorant, as in ignoring what he said. Hardware exists that can have a factory read only ROM, and a Flash-able ROM that you update. If a firmware update fails part way through or becomes corrupt the hardware can re-flash itself with the known good fallback copy of the original factory ROM firmware. The stuff like hard drives and video cards that have flashable firmware can be reflashed from another boot media. The onboard GPU can be used until you un-gork your graphics card firmware. Don't have onboard GPU as a fallback? Well, who's fault is that? Buy unbrickable hardware, it's really that simple. Sometimes it'll cost you more, sometimes A LOT more, but if you think it's worth it, then pay for it, we solved this issue. It's fair to make you pay more for the solution you want that most other folks don't actually need. Hardware that's out of warranty probably means the price is now about half of what it was when you bought it new -- Cost less to replace than the time to fix it or the difference between it and the dual firmware model -- Except MOBOs, it's a pretty standard feature there.

  • 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.

  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @03:48PM (#42852005) Homepage Journal

    I think the most 'robust' anti-brick motherboard I've ever seen had two bios chips - and a hardware switch selecting which one was active. The active one was rendered read-only, you could only flash the inactive one.

    To update the machine you'd flash the inactive, power down the system, flip the switch, power back on and hope it worked*. If it worked, generally you just trucked on on 'B' instead of 'A', in case there was something hidden borked that you didn't find for a while. If the update was borked you simply powered down again and flipped the switch back.

    *Like with any bios update...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 10, 2013 @04:15PM (#42852249)

    So if a company notifies me that my call may be recorded, does that count as two party consent if I want to record that call?

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dshk ( 838175 ) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @04:57PM (#42852623)
    Your comment reminded me how great that there is Supermicro, who let me completely build even the most advanced x86 server if I want so.
  • 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]

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bruce_the_loon ( 856617 ) on Sunday February 10, 2013 @05:16PM (#42852823) Homepage

    Present each physical disk as an individual volume via the raid controller. I've done this with the IBM ServeRAID controllers in 2 x3650 M3 machines we used for proxy servers. The WebGUI firmware configuration allows 1 disk in a volume.

    For the HP servers, the same should apply, but I have no experience with them.

  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DES ( 13846 ) * <des@des.no> on Sunday February 10, 2013 @07:58PM (#42854137) Homepage

    I work for an organization that has a large number of Dell servers, all of them with 5-year support contracts: a mix of 4-hour and next-business-day. In my experience, Dell have never, ever, ever solved an issue within the specified period of time. They also frequently refuse to replace failing parts until after they've actually failed (which AFAIK is a breach of the support contract), and they once told me that six DIMMs were a “large order” that would take a week to fill (after I'd already spent a week just getting them to agree that they needed replacing). They simply don't give a shit. I've had far better experiences with HP, but they also far more expensive.

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