How to Identify BIOS on a Dead MOBO

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How to Identify BIOS on a Dead MOBO

Postby bytemaster » Mon Feb 09, 2009 5:48 pm

Please GAWD help me!! I have been in the business for quite some time but always shy'd away from true hardware troubleshooting. I have a few systems to deal with and own a Micro2000 POST card but have no real experience with it nor have i ever got it to give me any real info.

I have a mobo right now from BIOSTAR - a P4M900-M4. I understand reading the BIOS stickers for the BIOS but in a number of cases that info seems to get me nowhere. This chip is very small, square and just says: P490M on the first line and C21BF on the second. There is no other info. I scratched off the sticker and the writing is soooo small i cannot read it. The manual and the website mention AWARD but nothing about what version. I am getting an E6 POST code from the reader that mentions setup pages. ??? I tried replacing the RAM and using a separate video card of which the one is built in. No other components than the CPU and the RAM are installed. The board starts up, the fan spins but no video. HEELLLPP..

As an generality - I sorta understand how to read the POST codes and then refer to the book, i'm not an idiot, but HOW THE HECK DO YOU FIGURE OUT WHAT BRAND AND VERSION OF BIOS IS INSTALLED ON THE MOBO IF IT WON'T BOOT UP AND THERE IS NO INFO ON THE MFRS WEBSITE OR MANUAL.

I am so frustrated but would be so excited to finally see the big picture as hardware diagnosis has always been a sore subject. :(
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Postby evasive » Mon Feb 09, 2009 10:32 pm

What CPU did you fit? What RAM? If you don't get any beeps at all, pull everything out and try again. If it still does not beep at all the board itself may be truly dead. If it beeps, add a compatible CPU and try again. Etc. See the sticky post about troubleshooting new builds.
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BIOS ID from a dead mobo

Postby bytemaster » Tue Feb 10, 2009 2:33 pm

Thanks Evasive. Some background: this WAS a working system. Killed via a power outage in their house. No new parts-yet. Do all P4-era mobos utilize beep errors when working properly? That may be a good tip. But does that guarantee that the CPU is OK? I have swapped out the RAM and tried another video card. I am fearful of ordering a replacement mobo if its not the problem. I have 2 other systems that don't beep even if I pull the RAM and video card. I have confirmed the PS and RAM through swapping. Going back to my original question: how do I identify the BIOS chip mfr and ver when the sticker an website are no help? Is there a resource website u could use to investigate. I would like to justify my Micro2000 post card reader. What symptoms indicate a working Mobo and bad CPU and the reverse. If you're saying no error beeps under any circumstance means a dead mobo then that's a big help. But could the CPU be bad and if so what symptoms could I note?
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Postby Karlsweldt » Tue Feb 10, 2009 5:28 pm

Check over the mobo for the issue of "bad caps". If the tops of any are domed, leaning or they show leakage, they are bad. More info at www.badcaps.net/ .
The mobo and CPU are required for the minimal signs of life. No data ribbons, no memory or device cards. But a system speaker must be attached, and all power leads affixed to the mobo connectors. The CPU should, of course, have its HS and fan mounted. With this setup, you should hear several long beeps from the speaker. No beeps, then either the CPU or mobo is dead or there is a mismatch. Testing the CPU in another compatible mobo will prove its worth.
The battery for the CMOS and BIOS may also be a culprit in a no-signs-of-life scenario. If the real-time clock isn't working, the mobo may refuse to start. Its nominal life is about 3~4 years.
The BIOS brand can be either AMI or Award/Phoenix, by the choice of the builder. The same mobo design may have either.
A power outage in a home should not "kill" a computer, unless another signal lead was given a zap from a surge. Dial-up modems are the most susceptible, but a LAN or other leads to other equipment can cause a path to trouble.
There is one lead in the ATX power plug that signals the mobo circuits to become active, only after the PSU has stabilized its load. That is the "PG" lead, normally a gray one at the back of the plug. See the diagram below:
Image
That lead is supposed to present about +5 volts, but if too low, the mobo chipsets won't become active. If having tried several known-good PSU subs and still the level is lower than about 4.5 volts, then there is a problem in the mobo circuitry.. and may not be fixable. I have "forced" a boost by using a 470-ohm 1 watt resistor to bridge the lead from the +5 volt mains. But there is a risk that other damage may cause a wisp of smoke or other bad signs.. meaning the mobo is DOA. Do so at your own risk.
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Postby miki02131 » Wed Feb 11, 2009 3:27 pm

Bytemaster,

I am still in the process of developing a simple procedure for testing a barebone mobo. It may help, it may not help at this time. I will suggest it to you anyway.

Needed: Voltmeter, Mobo manual, Bios Chip pinouts.

1- Place the mobo on a non conductor surface to prevent short circuit
2- Connect power supply to mobo
3- Jump the Power pin to turn on the PS
4- Measure voltage-to-ground for the different bios pins.
5- if zero reading on all pins, then the Mobo is almost certainly bad.
6- If there are some non-zero readings, then compare the results to your bios socket pin out for possible clue. The procedure is inconclusive at this point. Research is still underway.

Good luck,

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orignal question

Postby bytemaster » Wed Feb 11, 2009 4:00 pm

when it rains it pours...

I have just taken on yet another "dead" system. It is a Dell XPS 410. It makes noise, fan runs, etc etc. but no video. The mobo does beep but only once a few seconds into power up kinda like normal I removed the ram and it beeped at me - errorlike. There are diagnostic numbered lights on the front of XPS's it would appear. The manual shows that for the state it ends with (lights 1, 2 and 3 are lit) that "Another failure has occurred.". WOW that is sooooo helpful. There are separate light codes for bad RAM, hard drive, PCI cards, etc.

Back to my original and most important question: What list of steps would you take to determine the Brand and Version of the motherboard's BIOS. Not all BIOSes have a sticker on them. i.e. I would like to know definitively that a certain board had an AWARD BIOS ver 4.51 PG, or AMI BIOS 8, etc. With this i could use my Micro2000 card.

I want to use my MICRO2000 Post Card reader which gives me the hex post codes to refer to the error in their manual and as i am told bioscentral. When I go to Dell's website it merely says that a BIOS download is available but doesnt say whether it is AWARD, PHOENIX, AMI, DELL etc. What can i use from what I know/have in front of me to find out what BIOS so i can refer to the chart to look up the HEX code. Does the chipset figure into this perhaps. I suppose I could call each manufacturer and ask them but I would look stupid (which is how i feel about this right now) in front of my customer. In this case, at the moment, I made a wild assumption that since it is a Dell XPS that it is a Dell BIOS. The code the post card reader gives me was 3E which refers to the NPU. If I knew that it really was a DELL BIOS then I would be lead to believe i need to replace the CPU.

Remember I am also troubleshooting a BIOSTAR mobo and an ASROCK mobo. One of their websites mentions AWARD as the software to install the BIOS with but AGAIN no definitive reference anywhere to tell me what version etc.
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Postby Karlsweldt » Wed Feb 11, 2009 5:40 pm

Micro 2000 has about the best diagnostics products going. But expensive, and geared toward the pro. For the occasional user there are other sources, such as Elston Systems. POST diagnostics cards start at less than $25.00 USD, and this page link notes about reading the hex codes for troubles.
I felt lost when my old Micro House POST card died! The one I got from Elston works nearly as good, but not with all the same features.
Award/Phoenix are nearly identical BIOS programs. AMI is entirely separate. We once had at least eight BIOS types to loose hair over!
This site may be of interest.

The label on a BIOS chip reflects only the last copyright date and a production ID number. Could be many versions and revisions within that group. Only way to find out is to note the top of the first screen shown when powering on. If the chip is socketed, then transplanting it to a similar (and working) mobo should reveal its heritage. If it is SOB, then not much can be found without the mobo operating.
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Postby miki02131 » Wed Feb 11, 2009 8:24 pm

In this case, you have two options left:

1- ISA Multi IO card, if an ISA port is available.
2- Hot Swap.

In both cases, Uniflash can write a backup copy of the current bin file on the chip. Then, you can use a bin tools to study and examine the bin file.

Thanks,

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Postby bytemaster » Wed Feb 11, 2009 10:26 pm

OK. From what I've gathered I can monitor the voltages from the BIOS leads (above my paygrade) or possibly contact the mobo mfr but for me Miki may be onto something. 99% of the systems I work on belong to Noobs and highly unlikely that the BIOS has ever been updated. Could I download the oldest update from the mobo website and use a utility such as the flash program or a more universal "BIOS info utility" to read the Mfr and general version of that download? Could I "pretend" to flash my own pc with the BiOS and before completing the process find out the info. After that, I'm easy as cheese. Any suggestions on windows based BIOS info utilities? Remember I want to use the POST code reader to diagnose the system but I need the Mfr i.e. Award, Phoenix, AMI and the 'general' major version of the BIOS to interpret the hex codes.
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Postby evasive » Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:41 am

Ah, now it starts making sense. Once you have found out make and model, check the drivers/support page for the board and look for the bios updates. In 99% the bios make (Award/Phoenix or AMI) is mentioned. I wish it was this easy to know what bios belongs to what chipset, it would greatly simplify the process of identifying motherboards. the truth is, you can use either Award or AMI bioses for any hardware because they are modular. This does NOT BY ANY MEANS allow you to interchange bioses between boards/manufacturers. Flash the wrong bios and you have a bricked board that can only brought back to life with hotflashing the chip on an other board with the proper bios.

BTW: Kudos to Miki for doing research on board status without post being run.
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