HP suggests $400 repair in lieu of shipping out a floppy

Reed Savory had been really happy with this HP MediaCenter PC — he’d even suggested it to other readers here on BBG – but after getting the runaround from HP’s support line, his frown is turning upside…actually, no, it’s still a frown. From his report, after bricking his PC during a BIOS update:

And it did exactly what you’d expect at this point – the machine was now officially a paperweight. When I powered the m8000e back on again, I got an “Award BIOS BootBlock Recovery” screen, asking me to insert a diskette or CDROM so the system could recover the BIOS.

And that would all be fine, and I could obviously fix the PC with such a disk, except for the fact that the HP tech tells me there is no such disk. Instead the tech informed me I’ll have to box the system up and return it for repair, and since I’ve just gone out of warranty just barely over two months ago I’ll have to pay for parts to “replace the damaged motherboard” and bench charges. So I’m likely looking at a bill of around $400, as opposed to just needing a simple bootable floppy disk.

So in total: an HP provided BIOS update, which HP’s own web site recommends to fix the problem I was having, has rendered my PC totally unusable, and HP’s answer is to hold the software necessary to fix the problem hostage and insisting that the motherboard is now damaged beyond repair.

The good news is that Reed figured out how to grab an image of the BIOS from another source and update his machine without sending it back to HP. His whole story, including how to do the fix, is after the jump.Reed writes:

I’ve written in the past here on BBG of my fondness for my HP Pavilion m8000e PC (http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2007/09/28/morning-tech-deals-h-23.html#comment-30243) – it’s been a good, reasonably fast, reliable workhorse of a Vista MediaCenter PC since I got it last April.

That all came to an abrupt end last Saturday morning. I’d been experiencing very slow performance when coming out of Sleep mode, and HP’s recommended solution to the problem is to update the BIOS. The recommendation to do this is right there on the info for the BIOS update (http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/softwareDownloadIndex?softwareitem=pv-55440-1&lc=en&cc=us&dlc=en&product=3385414&os=2093〈=en).

So I installed the BIOS update – and it bricked my PC.

I did the whole process properly – I downloaded the update to my local disk, closed Firefox and all other open apps, and started the upgrade. I clicked through all the typical “Do you accept our license agreement”-type screens, the BIOS update started, and the system froze at “Do not restart or power-off”.

There was nothing – no mouse, no keyboard, no disk activity, no nothing. Just the system sitting there frozen, showing me that same “Do not restart” message, with nothing else happening.

After waiting twenty minutes (just to be absolutely sure it wasn’t just taking a long time), and with rapidly fading hope, I contacted HP support via chat on my wife’s laptop. After taking my information, the tech told me to power-off the PC and power it back on again…

And it did exactly what you’d expect at this point – the machine was now officially a paperweight. When I powered the m8000e back on again, I got an “Award BIOS BootBlock Recovery” screen, asking me to insert a diskette or CDROM so the system could recover the BIOS.

And that would all be fine, and I could obviously fix the PC with such a disk, except for the fact that the HP tech tells me there is no such disk. Instead the tech informed me I’ll have to box the system up and return it for repair, and since I’ve just gone out of warranty just barely over two months ago I’ll have to pay for parts to “replace the damaged motherboard” and bench charges. So I’m likely looking at a bill of around $400, as opposed to just needing a simple bootable floppy disk.

So in total: an HP provided BIOS update, which HP’s own web site recommends to fix the problem I was having, has rendered my PC totally unusable, and HP’s answer is to hold the software necessary to fix the problem hostage and insisting that the motherboard is now damaged beyond repair.

As you can imagine, I feel like I’ve just cut a bad deal with the Mafia, and am now being forced to pay ransom to get back the use of my own PC. I know there are virus writers who create encryption viruses that do this sort of thing to your harddrive data and force you to pay them ransom to unlock it again – I’m just really surprised that HP is apparently so hard-up for cash that they’d do this to their customers. And who knows how many customers have had to pay HP this money to get their PCs back at this point?

I had other things to do Saturday afternoon, so I called it quits, and got back to looking at the problem Sunday morning. After Googling the issue for about an hour, I found a group of folks over at MajorGeeks.com who’d come up with a solution to how to get hold of the BIOS file needed (http://forums.majorgeeks.com/showthread.php?p=1068202), and gave suggestions on the tools that might be needed to install it onto the PC again. I’ve taken all their information, combined it with info on how to create the bootable CDROM that the “Award BIOS BootBlock Recovery” will be happy with, and have listed the process step-by-step exactly as I executed it to repair my system.

Recovering an HP m8000 series PC from a corrupted BIOS update

This document assumes you’ve attempted to update the BIOS on your HP m8000 series PC and the BIOS update has failed (the PC locked-up or crashed during the BIOS update). The result of the BIOS update failing is that now when you start your PC, you get an “Award BootBlock” screen looking for a bootable diskette or CDROM, and the PC is otherwise unusable.

(This process was specifically used to repair an HP m8000e PC, however the same process should work on an HP m8000n and other HP systems which use the same motherboard and BIOS update file as the m8000e, although it has not been specifically tested on any system except the m8000e.)

Please note that I can’t take credit for the ideas that are at the heart of this fix: other folks have done the legwork on figuring-out how to implement this fix, I’m just collecting the information together in one place here, and providing the step-by-step method I used to solve this problem myself (please see the bottom of these instructions for my acknowledgment of all those who contributed the information upon which this document is based.)

What you’ll need: You’re going to need a working Windows-based PC with a CD-R drive and one blank CD-R disk, or a Windows PC with a floppy disk drive and one blank floppy disk. I strongly recommend using the CDROM disk method, as it will work on to repair all HP m8000 series PCs since they all come with either a CD or DVD internal drive, whereas most do not have an internal floppy drive. If your m8000 series PC doesn’t have an internal floppy drive, plugged into the floppy connector on the motherboard (a USB-connected floppy drive won’t work) then the CD-R option is the only one you can use anyway.

Please note that parts of this process require accessing a command line. When I refer to having to type a command line, please type the command as shown, without the quotes – I’m using the quotes to separate the command line I want you to type from the rest of the instructions.

1. On the working Windows PC, download and install all three of the following applications (these are all evals, but you’re only going to need them each for a couple of minutes):
1a. Go here, and download the trial version of UltraISO http://www.ezbsystems.com/enindex.html
Install UltraISO, although you can remove the checks for “Associate ISO extension” and “Install CD/DVD emulator”.
When install complete, remove the checkmark to launch UltraISO.

1b. Go here, and download the trial version of WinImage http://www.winimage.com/
Install WinImage, just take all defaults when you install.

1c. Go here, and download the trial version of the current release (non-Beta) version of WinRAR http://www.win-rar.com/download.html.
Install WinRAR, taking the defaults, but when you get to the “WinRAR Setup” screen, I’d suggest removing all the checkmarks from the boxes for “Associate with WinRAR” before clicking OK (and then clicking Done). You’ll only need WinRAR for a few seconds in this process, and (unless you intend to keep it on your PC) there’s no point in possibly screwing-up any of your file associations.

2. You’re going to need to extract the BIOS update file itself from the HP setup program.
2a. Download the HP BIOS update (yes, the same file that caused your PC to get screwed-up in the first place). This is the link to the BIOS update that’s current at the time of the writing of these instructions – http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/softwareDownloadIndex?softwareitem=pv-55440-1&lc=en&cc=us&dlc=en&product=3385414&os=2093&lang=en. For whatever version of the BIOS update you are using, be sure to make note of the version number that shows on the HP link (for example, the link given here is version 5.13). Make note of the filename for the update (in the example above, it is sp37190.exe) so you can find it when you need it shortly.
2b. Open “My Computer”, then your local harddrive, and create a directory on the root of your harddrive to store the files you’re going to be needing for this process. Throughout the rest of this document, I’ll refer to this directory as C:\HPBIOSFIX.
2c. Select Start/Programs/WinRAR/WinRAR. Click CLOSE to get past the eval message when it appears. Select File/Open Archive, then navigate to the folder where you downloaded the HP BIOS update executable (again, above it was sp37190.exe), change the “Files of type” pull-down to read “All archives including self-extracting”, and double-click on the BIOS update executable to open it.
2d. Locate the BIOS file itself – it will end in .ROM, and the beginning of the file name will match the version number that was shown on the HP web site (so for the above example, the filename is 513.rom).
2e. Click on this file to select it, then drag it into the C:\HPBIOSFIX folder.

3. Download the file http://www.jetway.com.tw/evisn/download/bios/Awdflash.exe into the directory C:\HPBIOSFIX (this is the Award utility to flash the BIOS under DOS).

4. Download the file http://oldfiles.org.uk/powerload/bootdisk/drd600bd.zip into the directory C:\HPBIOSFIX (this is a copy of DR-DOS which works well for this process. I was unable to get any version of MS-DOS to boot on my PC, including those from Win95 and Win98, and DR-DOS provided an alternative that worked perfectly.)

5. Now, from the C:\HPBIOSFIX folder, double-click the drd600bd.zip file to open it. Once it’s open, drag the file drd600bd.img out of the ZIP to the C:\HPBIOSFIX directory.

6. Now select Start/Programs/WinImage/WinImage. Click OK to go past the Evaluation screen.

7. Select File/Open, and navigate to the C:\HPBIOSFIX directory. Select the drd600bd.img file, and click Open.

8. From the open C:\HPBIOSFIX directory on your desktop, drag the files 513.rom and Awdflash.exe into the list of files on the right side of the WinImage screen. You’ll receive a message asking if you wish to inject these files into the image, click Yes. Once you’ve “injected” both 513.rom and Awdflash.exe into the image, select File/Save in WinImage.

9. You now have a bootable disk image file that contains all the files you need to repair your system BIOS. Now you just have to put it onto either a floppy disk or a CDROM disk. As I mentioned above, you can only use a floppy disk if your PC has an internal floppy drive, connected to the floppy disk connector on the motherboard. I personally used the CDROM method, and this is the one I suggest.

9a. If you are going to use a floppy disk – insert a blank floppy into the drive, and select “Disk/Use Floppy A:” (assuming your floppy drive is A:). The select Disk/Write disk. Once the write process has completed, eject the floppy disk and label it as “HP BIOS Update version 5.13″ (or whatever version you have). Please skip down to step 10 to continue.

9b. If you are using a CDROM disk, select File/Exit to leave WinImage. Now select Start/Run/UltraISO/UltraISO. Click the “Continue to try” button to get past the evaluation screen. Now select File/New, then select “Bootable CD/DVD Image”. Navigate to the C:\HPBIOSFIX directory, and select the drd600bd.img file. Please note that the “total size” will read “0″ even after the file loads – this is normal. Now insert a blank CD-R disk into your drive, and select Tools, then “Burn CD/DVD Image”. Make sure that Recorder reflects the proper drive which contains your blank CD-R disk. I also suggest changing Write Speed to the slowest possible setting (this may not be necessary, I’m just being very careful here, since we’ll be booting in DOS shortly), make sure Write Method is set for “Disk-at-Once”, and turn-on the checkbox for “Verify”. Once these settings have been changed, click Burn. The process will take only a few minutes, even with Verify turned-on and the Write Speed set to the slowest setting – you’re burning very little data to disk here. Once the disk has been successfully created, the screen will show that the “Verify” was successful, and the disk should eject. Now select Close, and then click File/Exit (if you receive a message on exiting indicating “File changed, save it?”, just click No).

10. You’re now ready to repair your PC. Take the floppy or CD-R disk you just created over to the failed HP system and insert the disk into the appropriate drive. Please note that the “Award BootBlock” screen doesn’t wait very long, so you may have to open your CD/DVD drive, insert the CD and close the tray, and then power-down the system and power it back up again. Either way, the “BootBlock” screen should show, after a few seconds, that it’s booting off the disk. Note: even if you boot off the CD, you should see a note indicating the drive is being used as “A: 1.44mb:”. The “BootBlock” system apparently tricks the DOS operating system into thinking that the CD drive is a floppy, in order to get it to boot properly.

11. Once the DOS operating system has loaded, just hit ENTER twice to get past the Date and Time prompts. When the A:> prompt appears, type the command line “Awdflash 513.ROM” and hit ENTER.

12. After several seconds, the Award BIOS Update utility screen will load. You’ll be asked to hit Enter to start the process, and it will then run on it’s own. The update will take 3-4 minutes, during which time you will see an on-screen indication of the process as it installs each portion of the BIOS and then checks it. Please monitor the process closely, and obviously, do not power-off or reboot the PC while it is running.

13. Once the update has finished successfully, you’ll see a very brief message indicating “Reload”, and then the screen will go black. Once this happens, pop-out the disk, and the normal system start-up screen should appear, and your PC should now operate properly.

Please note that on my PC, all the CMOS settings were lost, although I’m not sure if this is typical. I had to hit F10 to go into Setup, and reset and save all my CMOS values.

I strongly suggest labeling your BIOS Recovery disk, and setting it aside, should you ever need it again.

Please also note, for no specific reasons that I can explain, the first time I booted into Windows following restoring the BIOS my PC ran very slowly, and I had to select to “Start Windows Normally” from the menu that appeared. After this first boot however my PC has since run perfectly.

You can obviously remove WinImage, WinRAR, and UltraISO when you are done – or pay to keep them, they are all great products.

Acknowledgements: I’d like to thank “mbs_MA”, “n3et”, and “Janus Prospero” at the “MajorGeeks.com” site (who apparently all went through this same problem themselves and solved it), for the information on how to get the HP BIOS file out of HP’s executable file and for direction on where to get Awdflash.exe (link to the discussion on this topic is http://forums.majorgeeks.com/showthread.php?p=1068202), and Jack over at www.Badflash.com (who sells replacement BIOS chips for folks who’s PCs are too shot to repair using a bootdisk as we’ve done above), who’s FAQ provided links to several ideas I used to fill-out the steps in this process regarding creating the bootable CDROM.

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19 Responses to HP suggests $400 repair in lieu of shipping out a floppy

  1. Harrkev says:

    Wow, that seems like a LOT of steps for a bios update. Then again, the last time I did this, I used a floppy.

    However, if the whole process can be done in short order, I wonder why HP doesn’t follow these directions and have the ISO available for download?

  2. Reed Savory says:

    I agree that it looks like a lot of steps – simply because you are having to extract the ROM image and then build the bootable disk yourself.

    And I could have make it a lot shorter by taking out much of the detail, but I wanted to be sure that every step in the process was covered explicitly rather than implicitly.

    It took me several hours of guesswork figure-out every step in the process, and at least this way, with all this detail, it’s all now a 30 minute process that anyone should be able to execute.

    And yes, I’m hoping having this posting out on BBG will shame HP into making the ISO available for download.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Step 3 has a bad URL – do you know the correct (full) one?

    3 . Download the file http://www.jetway.com.tw/evisn/downl…s/Awdflash.exe into the directory C:\HPBIOSFIX (this is the Award utility to flash the BIOS under DOS).

  4. Reed Savory says:

    #7 – try talking to Jack over at http://www.Badflash.com. The contact data is on their website. Can’t say if he can help you or not, but if it’s possible to pull our your dead BIOS and replace it, http://www.Badflash.com may be able to help you.

  5. Reed Savory says:

    #17 “metlmangreg” – that’s fantastic. Thanks for letting me know it solved the problem for you on your m8000n. Always good to hear when a fix works for someone else!

  6. bardfinn says:

    HP won’t make the ISO available for download, if they’re operating under the same legal restrictions they were operating under when I worked for HP support oh-so-long-ago. The BIOS code is something they want to keep out of the hands of competitors and have an agreement with the BIOS vendor to restrict distribution of – to protect their trade secrets.

    Of course, sometimes those trade secrets turn out to be a bad ACPI table for Unix variants, and sometimes that agreement stymies actual customers, but who cares about functionality of the implied warranty of fitness of purpose anymore?

  7. Pieps says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t buy Toshiba, Compaq, or HP laptops. Their warranties are jokes and they break early and often (and in serious ways).
    The low price and wealth of bells and whistles don’t make up for the lack of quality.

  8. Reed Savory says:

    #12 – Whoops, sorry about that. Meant to fix that before I asked Joel to post it.

    http://www.jetway.com.tw/evisn/download/bios/Awdflash.exe

    Just checked it, URL is still valid.

  9. Ocker3 says:

    One reason I’m a huge fan of buying from local stores, that way I can walk in and say “hey, I bought this 8 months ago, it’s broken.” Now, I can usually fix basic stuff myself, but a broken BIOS I’d take back. I prefer to face to face recognition of a local store that probably won’t require me to prove myself as they know me. And they are much more interested in keeping me as a customer than most larger corporations are.

  10. Anonymous says:

    For what it’s worth I ended up just telling myself I’d never buy a toshiba laptop again, nor would my clients, and decided to rip the damn thing apart, guess which chip was the bios, unsolder it, figure out my eeprom programmer doesn’t support it, talk to countless clueless “bios recovery services” who were all wishy-washy about whether laptop bioses could be flashed, until I found http://www.bios-repair.co.uk/ where I spoke at length with a knowledgeable man named Paul who assured me he could successfully flash my chip, sent him $30 and in less than a week a shiny new bios was mailed to me overseas. Good service, I highly recommend them.

  11. Daemon_of_Waffle says:

    This is Carly Fiorina’s fault, and by extension, John McCain’s fault.

  12. Reed Savory says:

    Thanks to Joel, this error has been fixed in-line now, so all set.

  13. Harrkev says:

    Bardfinn (#4),

    I doubt legal restrictions are a problem. They freely make the BIOS update utility available to anybody who asks. All they have to do is put the ISO after a page of “lawyerese” like they do for everything else.

  14. metlmangreg says:

    Hi, I’m new here, and wanted to let you know I have been trying for over a week to fix my m8000n which was damaged exactly like yours, I tried the stuff on Major Geeks but couldn’t get it to work. Took it to a local computer shop, explained what was wrong, asked if they could reset it. They called the next day saying the M2N Mobo was bad. I went and got it and wouldn’t give up ’cause I knew they were wrong. I was looking around the web this morning and came across this site and…….By Gosh, IT WORKED!!!!
    I am getting ready to test it out to see if I have lost anything where I took it in to have it “checked out”, so wish me luck. The info was very simple to understand and easy to implement. Thank You Very Much. I did have to select reset in Awardflash after it finished the update, which most people may already know, I didn’t, but Many, Many Thanks!!!!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I recently had the same thing happen to my Toshiba u300 laptop… Toshiba has notoriously buggy bioses which by updating I was hoping I might be able to use to alleviate my linux power management woes… however, toshiba only provides a windows-based flashing utility, and for the first time in my 12 years of flashing bioses, did I have a problem.. sure enough BSOD halfway through flashing.

    I looked up solutions, and found the solution for HP laptops, and read that it would work on all phoenix bioses, though came to realize shortly that toshiba locks out this recovery mode in their bioses for absolutely no reason.

    I called up toshiba and decided to get this fixed under my warranty… The laptop is less than a year old, since the entire u300 line is less than a year old, ALL toshiba u300′s in the universe are currently under warranty. I had never noticed until I called toshiba, that the serial number has completely worn off the bottom of my laptop without a trace. I’ve never used any solvents except water on the bottom of my laptop, so I’m guessing in their infinite wisdom toshiba decided the S/N should be written in water soluble ink… After hours upon hours of talking to dozens of asian men named “John”, after explaining to supervisors that this was caused by me trying to fix a toshiba problem using a toshiba utility I got from tohsiba’s website, and despite the fact that my laptop MUST be under warranty, they basically told me I was out of luck and they would not help me. Their best solution was to take it to an authorized toshiba repair center, have them replace the motherboard, pay full price for the repairs ($550), then if they decide to send the motherboard back to toshiba and if for some reason toshiba decides to use advanced forensic techniques to read the serial number off the half-flashed and broken bios chip, then perhaps maybe I could speak to a manager about getting a refund.

  16. mdhatter says:

    HP = How Pathetic

  17. Anonymous says:

    do what i did . if you bought the comp with visa they extend the warranty another year . they gave me , estmate costs and repair costs for my 2 month out of warranty acer . total of $525 .

  18. proto says:

    Dear HP,
    Just so you know: you’re still tied with AT&T for the number one spot on the top of my “number two” list.

  19. Rob Beschizza says:

    I swear HP support is a fully-functional enterprise.

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