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Christophers Napkin Sketch by Al Gleichman

In the Trenches with LAROKE

Konsultant's Log, Cyberdate 06.28.1997 (Restoring a Flash BIOS Meltdown)

    Situation Report
    Take Charge And Move Out
    United States of America
    Mission Report
Previous P2 Articles:

Cyberdate 05.03.1997 Feeding Softwarez to HAL 9000

Cyberdate 04.12.1997 Case of the Phantom Printer

Cyberdate 02.24.1997 Where's my !@#$% FONT MENU??

Later P2 Articles:

Cyberdate 09.20.1997 A Typical week of headbangers

Cyberdate 09.27.1997 Getting P2 ready for his new user

Cyberdate 10.11.1997 P2's transformation slips into high gear

Cyberdate 10.25.1997 More fun with P2, HAL and 4-Bits

Cyberdate 11.08.1997 P2 and 4-Bits - Light at the end of the tunnel

Cyberdate 12.06.1997 P2's configuration suffers a relapse

Cyberdate 12.23.1997 Re-glazing P2

Cyberdate 02.04.1998 P2's lobotomy recovery

Cyberdate 02.23.1998 Moving P2 is as much fun as pulling teeth

Other Sources:

WIM'S BIOS PAGE BIOS information resource site maintained by Wim Bervoets.


ASUSTeK Computers, Inc. P/I-P55TP4XE Mainboard

Award Software International, Inc. Award Bootblock Bios v1.0

Compaq 850 Presario

Cybex Computer Products Corporation Personal Commander switch

Microsoft Corporation Microsoft Internet Explorer, Windows 95

Netscape Corporation Netscape Navigator


SITREP: I got up at my usual time but stayed at the Krash Kompound later than usual to search for Windows 3.x software that I could install on Max's new computer (see In the Trenches installment Cyberdate 06.21.1997 Configuring Max's first PC). Often when I'm rooting around for something at my home or office, I fail to find what I'm currently looking for, discovering instead, an item or two I had searched for in vain a month or two earlier. This time was no exception. I found printer software for my home PC "Comfounded", a Compaq 850 Presario. This software, along with a few other treasures had been hurriedly thrown in one of several boxes and moved to a dusty corner of the master bedroom when I was frantically trying to make at least one room presentable for a visit from Mom over a year ago. I found some software for Max's new machine, "Krash", but none of the manuals. We would have to fly blind.

I got to the office around eight am, and started turning on the computers. When I got to "P2", my old desktop that I've been slowly transferring software to "HAL" from (see In the Trenches Installment Cyberdate 05.17.1997 HAL's softwarez feeding frenzy continues), I ran into the first trouble of the day. "P2" booted normally to the point that he loads supplemental system software for the hard drive, where he got hung up. This phenomenon happens occasionally with this machine, so I was not alarmed. The time-honored solution is to shut P2 off and then on again, which I did.

Something completely unexpected happened. I was presented with a "BIOS ROM checksum error" message, "Detecting floppy drive A media...", and a never-ending series of "Please insert System disk" messages scrolling down the screen, accompanied by a sing-song beeping similar to a European police car. I had replaced P2's defective 3-1/2" floppy drive A: with a salvaged 5-1/4" drive several weeks back (see In the Trenches Installment Cyberdate 05.03.1997 Feeding Softwarez to HAL 9000), and a 5-1/4" system disk was not at hand. AARRUUGGHH!! I cold-booted P2 a few times, but the problem did not go away. P2 was turned off, coffee was brewed, and I retired to the company's porcelain seated library to map my strategy.

TACAMO: 9:11 A.M. 6/27/97 Lighter on my feet and invigorated with my first cup of joe, my simple plan consisted of working concurrently on the Krash and P2 machines throughout the day. I would work on P2 until I ran out of troubleshooting ideas and then work on Krash while I thought of more solutions to P2's problem. After floundering for a while, a 5-1/4" floppy disk was found, and reformatted as a MS-DOS 6.2 system disk using the 5-1/4" drive on the Krash PC. This bootup diskette was placed in P2 and he was started several more times. P2 booted successfully off the A: drive system disk every time. However, C: drive could not be accessed and, during one reboot, the DOS date and time commands displayed, indicating the system clock could not be read or was in error. About a week ago I noticed P2's CD-ROM drive appeared dead. The drive could not be accessed and the indicator light no longer flashed on startup or at any other time for that matter. All these symptoms now led me to believe (and hope) that a failing CMOS battery was the malfunction. I could not get to the BIOS system setup, so the next step was to clear some work area and open P2 up.

10:42 A.M. 6/27/97 After cleaning up my work area (where I discovered some more lost treasures I'd been looking for), but before cracking the case on P2, I went to WIM'S BIOS PAGE on the Internet to get some info on the Award Bootblock Bios v1.0 installed on P2's motherboard. WIM's site deals mostly with new Flash BIOS's but he had several Award links for me to follow. The first stop: Award's Home Page. The MSIE 4.0 Platform Preview (pre-beta) browser I've been experimenting with on HAL could not render the frames on the Award site properly, and I could not manoeuver through the site, so I had to "fire-up" Netscape Navigator 3.0 which also resides on the HAL system. The site was readable with Navigator, but all the info I could find was for newer BIOS's than P2's ancient 1995 Bios (you can't even blink, before your current PC technology is obsolete these days). Back to WIM's page. The second link to follow was "Award Documentation and Whitepapers" main page which was again located at the Award site, but undiscovered on my first visit. A couple of minutes in this area yielded the "BIOS Error Messages" page where I found the following:

BIOS ROM checksum error - System halted The checksum of the BIOS code in the BIOS chip is incorrect, indicating the BIOS code may have become corrupt. Contact your system dealer to replace the BIOS.


CMOS checksum error - Defaults loaded Checksum of CMOS is incorrect, so the system loads the default equipment configuration. A checksum error may indicate that CMOS has become corrupt. This error may have been caused by a weak battery. Check the battery and replace if necessary.

Well, the error was "BIOS ROM checksum error" but the "Defaults loaded" after the boot disk was placed in drive A: so I still had hopes of a bad battery.

12:23 P.M. 6/27/97 Peering at the motherboard for awhile did not disclose the battery location, so the systemboard manual had to be "dusted off". There being only one mention of "battery power" in the entire manual, and that being generalized PC info and not specific systemboard data, indicated I had a "encapsulated battery CMOS chip combination" rather than a separate replaceable battery (ah, progress zaps me again). Further perusal of the manual enlightened me to the fact that I did have a Flash BIOS and that a utility for restoring or upgrading the BIOS, and a BIOS programming/data file, shipped with the motherboard, along with instructions. Did I have a corrupt Flash BIOS? I didn't know, but here was a solution worth trying. If restoring the Flash BIOS didn't work, I didn't think P2 would much sicker than he already was.

2:15 PM 6/27/97 Updating (or restoring) the Flash BIOS turned out to be a Three-Step Process: set a jumper on the systemboard (hardware); run the BIOS Flash Memory Writer Utility (software); and reset the systemboard jumper (hardware).

The following excerpt is taken from the manual for the ASUS P/I-P55TP4XE Mainboard, under the heading "Updating the Flash BIOS":

Jumper JP5 enables programming for the type of BIOS ROM chip installed. There are two settings. The default setting, which shorts pins 1&2, is for Write-Protect/Normal Read. The other setting, which shorts pins 2&3, is for Enable Programming. Jumper JP6 should always have pins 2&3 shorted.

Switching my attention between the limited diagrams in the manual and the motherboard, itself, I located what I believed to be Jumpers JP5 and JP6 between two expansion bus slots, one of which was occupied by an adapter. Bad ~!@##$$ design for maintenance. I had to move a jumper block in a tight space which I promptly filled with needlenose pliers, a magnifying glass, mini flashlight, my fat fingers, weak eyes and a good dose of cursing. Jumper JP6 was not set as the manual stated, but since I was concerned with JP5, I ignored it. I finally got JP5 reset for programming. I booted P2 and was immediately assaulted with a staccato blast of warning beeps, and a system halt. P2 was turned off and the Jumper block area studied closer with my face and magnifying visor right down in the ribbon cables and chips. $$%^*&( it! JP6 was not a jumper block at all. It turned out to be two globs of solder and hard-wired. JP5 was a block as was JP4 right next to it (which I had mistaken for JP5). After more suffering, I undid the mistaken JP4 setting and set JP5 as the manual requested. This time P2 booted properly off of drive A:

P2 was shut down again and the 5-1/4" system disk removed. The BIOS Flash Memory Writer Utility for restoring the BIOS, and the BIOS programming/data file had to be copied from the "PCI/I-P55TP4XE SUPPORTING DISKETTE", which was in 3-1/2" floppy disk format, to the 5-1/4" boot disk. "Krash", the PC that is being setup for Max sufficed for this task since it has both floppy drive types installed. There was also a short "readme" file on the supporting diskette which outlined the process and offered dire warnings about voiding warranties, etc. I darn near memorized it and booted P2 off the system disk once more.

After a successful bootup displayed the A: prompt, the PFLASH.EXE Flash Memory Writer Utility was started and offered me three options. From the readme file I knew that "3. Advanced Features" was what I wanted. Option 1 was the default. I pressed the "3" key and "1" disappeared to be replaced by a blank space. After that, no keypress could get a response from the program except the "Esc" (Escape) key. (*&^%$#!! Was I up the proverbial Kreek? Not yet. P2 and "Old Blue", the server, share a keyboard, monitor and mouse through a Cybex Personal Commander switch center. I had a hunch if I bypassed the switch, The program might work correctly.

After rooting around in the company's "Elephants graveyard" of parts, I got a suitable keyboard to connect directly to P2. Next, the monitor was disconnected from the Cybex switch and cabled directly to P2's open chassis. With fingers crossed, P2 was started yet another time with the boot diskette, and the PFLASH.EXE program run. This time I got the proper keyboard responses. Option 3. Advanced Features led to another screen where the "Update BIOS including Boot Block and ESCD" choice was selected. After being prompted for, and typing in, a Flash Update filename (indicated in the readme file, and copied from the supporting diskette earlier), I was asked if I really wanted to proceed, since I could damage the system if I had screwed up somewhere along the line. Girding myself for a "ride through hell", I pressed the "Y" key, and off we went.

It was a piece of cake. Five minutes of machine numbers scrolling in a screen window to indicate progress, and we were finished. Now for the "acid test". P2 was shut down and the system boot disk removed from drive A:. P2 started and booted normally up to the point where Windows 95 discovered that the mouse was missing (it was still connected to the Cybex switch).

I turned P2 off and restored the Cybex switch keyboard, mouse and monitor cables. When P2 started again, Windows 95 went into "Safe Mode" because I had disturbed the previous startup process before it was finished. After Safe Mode startup finished OK, P2 was restarted in normal mode, and finally came up as expected, presenting me with his familiar "True Love" wallpaper and standard desktop icons.

True Love Screenshot

After shutting down P2 one final time. Jumper JP5 was reset to it's default configuration. This took even more fiddling around and profanity, in the cramped space, than the first time around. Murphy, I guess. P2's case was replaced and the machine restarted, and run without incident, for the rest of the day.

MISREP: It took me about five hours to get back to where I was when I left the office last night, but now at least I knew a little more about Flash BIOS's. What caused the BIOS to get corrupted? I haven't a clue. Maybe it was a residual effect of the storm last month (see In the Trenches Installment Cyberdate 06.14.1997 "When it rains, it pours"). Maybe it was an atomic particle, in the radioactively decaying resin encasing a computer chip, letting loose and passing through the BIOS memory on it's way to another area of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Maybe "Hadley downloaded a virus!" as the IBM TV commercial asserts. There are things in this universe obscure and fantastic to mortals like me. I have a steamer trunk full of unsolved mysteries, to which I will now add this incident.

It's too late to go back to configuring Max's computer, Krash, for this installment. I will have to start that tomorrow and report on it later. I'm on my way to treat (and abuse) myself with a "Wendy's Classic Bacon Cheeseburger Combo" and a cigar. Tomorrow I'll go back to more healthy vegetables, nuts and berries.


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LAROKE Microcomputer Consultants
155 East Boca Raton Road
Boca Raton, Florida 33432
(561)368-0659 (Tel & Fax)

Issued Saturday June 28, 1997

Updated Friday May 8, 1998

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