Day 2 with a new Dell and Vista

Day 2 with a new Dell and Vista

Summary: I’m documenting my experience with a new Dell C521 that arrived last week. Day 1 was uneventful, as I unpacked the pieces, backed up the original hard drive and replaced it with a new larger drive, and installed a few updates. Well, uneventful except for the BIOS update I left running overnight… On Day 2, I get to put Dell's support to the test as the system is completely unresponsive.


Update 12-June, 6:00PM EDT: Dell has pulled the defective BIOS from its website and is working on a replacement. I exchanged e-mail with Lionel Menchaca, Dell's blogger-in-chief, who reports: "We recently pulled the later version of the BIOS for the same reason you describe in your blog. Version 1.1.4 is the current version that’s available, and it does not have the issue that causes the flash not to complete on some C521 systems. Our development team is currently working on a new BIOS version, but I don’t have a clear estimate on the timeframe at this point."

Coming in late? Get the first installment here: Day 1 with a new Dell and Vista. The executive summary? I’m documenting my experience with a new Dell C521 that arrived last week. Day 1 was uneventful, as I unpacked the pieces, backed up the original hard drive and replaced it with a new larger drive, and installed a few updates. Well, uneventful except for the BIOS update I left running overnight…

Morning. Birds singing, sunshine streaming through the windows, a fresh cup of coffee. Ah, it’s going to be a glorious day. Or maybe not.

When I last saw the new Dell, it was slooooooowly applying a BIOS update. At least that’s what it appeared to be doing. The results, in the cold light of day, are a spectacular failure. The front power light is glowing solid amber (it’s supposed to be green). The screen is dark. Hitting the power switch causes the CPU fan to rev up to Space Shuttle noise levels, but the power light stays amber, the hard drive is ominously silent, and the screen remains black.

About this time, I come up with rule #2 of BIOS updates: Don’t even think of launching that updater until you see what has happened to those who've gone before you. At the Dell Forums, I find this guy, whose C521 “doesn’t work” after a BIOS update. This guy adds his tale of woe:

I was asked to download the new BIOS and did so according to the instructions, but now I am having trouble. Dimension C521 I get a blank screen and the fan starts going to hyperspeed (Loud). Nothing will appear on the screen (minutes) and it does not sound like it is loading anything.

Meanwhile, this guy is on motherboard #3:

I recently purchased 3 C521's. I did a bios update from Dell's site to one of them and it never booted up again. [T]he second board died with a solid amber light, no error codes. No solution again, Dell is sending a replacement board. The tech rep was initially claiming that it was my fault that I used the Dell's validated bios update and the motherboard died, soon to realize how funny this claim was and ended up sending a new board after consulting his supervisor. …

The good news is that Dell’s online support is fast and accurate. I spend roughly 20 minutes online with a polite support rep who confirms that the motherboard is toast and schedules a tech to come out and replace the motherboard and CPU fan assembly. Although the service commitment is for 24–hour support, it will take a day to get the new part to the tech and another day for him to get to me. The machine goes on the shelf.

So, Day 2 is a write-off. To Dell's credit, the repair process goes flawlessly. I get a call from the tech, who schedules an appointment in my office for the next day at 11AM. he shows up at the appointed hour with a new motherboard, and 20 minutes later the system is up and running again. I ask if he's seen other people experiencing this issue, and he tells me about two C521motherboards he replaced on the previous week for exactly the same issue. Then he flips through the remainder of his list and notes that he has an appointment later that day for another C521 with a dead motherboard.

In fairness, most people who buy a new Dell won't run into this issue, and it's probably not Vista-related. Still, I've decided to restore the original backed-up image and start fresh tomorrow, just as if it were Day 1 again. You can read it now: Day 3 with a new Dell and Vista.

Topics: Windows, Dell, Microsoft, Software

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  • Is it only C521 motherboards?

    Where there other motherboards having problems on the Dell support forum? If it is just the one motherboard, it sounds like a quality control / manufacturing issue.

    It is definitely NOT something you want to go through. My own preference is to ignore such "update requests" unless the existing BIOS is known to be stuffed.
    • Bios by boot disk/medium only

      In my experience windows applications that update the BIOS are much more likely to fail then a good old boot floppy. I have never had a failure in Linux, but it still makes me nervous.

      However in the age of Floppy-less computers, I imagine this will be a reoccurring theme. Perhaps they will come out with boot flash drives for Bios/Firmware updates. Cd's would be okay, except you can't back up your original image.

      Furthermore am I the only one who thinks that giving Windows the ability to write to the BIOS at all is a bad idea?
      • Extermely Bad

        Since malware could do the same thing
      • boot CDROM works

        just make a DOS bootable cd using nero or other.
        use flash floppy image created on a virtual Floppy drive.
        not of this world
        • Can't backup

          My only problem with this is that you can't backup your current Bios/Firmware.

          On several occasions I have had to roll back to the prior image in a "hurry".
          • How about using a rewriteable CD

            Most of the equipment now sold without floppies does have write to CD and/or DVD capability.
            Update victim
          • missed the point.

            If you don't want to use an OS based BIOS tool, suggesting CDRW would require the DOS tool to have burning software included.
          • Use dual bios

            My Gigabyte motherboard has a dual bios. I can flash one and use it till I'm sure it works then back it up on the second bios chip. If the new bios doesn't work I restore from the original on the backup bios. The Gigabyte M/B also allows bios backup to floppy. I have an external USB floppy drive($30) for use on floppyless computers. On bootup I can select which bios to use if they are different.
      • Oh, YEAH! Big Time Trouble

        AFAIC, NO OS should be able to write to the BIOS! I don't care if it's Windows (I'm a happy Windozer!), Linux/Unix/*ix, MS-DOS, Mac OS-whatever, or even some of the pre-PC-days systems. To MY way of thinking, you pesky OS'es keep your greasy, infection-laden fingers OUT of my BIOS!

        Just MY opinion; YMMV.

      • You are NOT alone

        With the history that I have had with M$ placing virii (code that modifies another vendor's installed application) into their setup utilities, that is just another reason for me to avoid them.
        Update victim
  • Ed Bott -- give it up

    report on something more professional - news worthy.

    you have bad luck with computers its plain to see,
    - so spare us your embarrassment.

    or just blame it on vista like everyone else !
    not of this world
    • But This IS Important!

      notw -

      Any time a (at least semi)-pro PC Techie has trouble with a COMPANY-REQUESTED BIOS upgrade, this IS important news! And it is EXTREMELY professional.
      HOWEVER, I DO agree that Ed's terrible luck with computers IS embarassing - at least to him.
      And I DO have to wonder; are people having this kind of problem with Refurbed Dells running OLDER OS'es, or JUST with Vista?

      Ed, any data?

      • Waddaya mean?

        "Ed's terrible luck with computers..."

        What are you talking about?

        I have written about problems with a specific Shuttle PC, which was defective, and this one. I have written about many, many positive experiences with hardware and software.

        I have installed and configured four new Dells this year. This is the only one with problems.

        So what's your point?
        Ed Bott
    • While it was not unimportant

      the fact that we had to waste not one but two articles on getting a Dell w/ Vista on a BIOS failure makes me wonder whether or not he made this a multi-part series to string this out longer than necessary. There was good information to be read here, from learning that there is a major PC out there with BIOS problems (why doesn't Dell cut off the update???) to seeing how well Dell support works (though I've heard of nightmare stories, I've had nothing but pleasant experiences with Dell's support).

      But couldn't we have saved the reader some time by combining day one and two into one entry? Or better yet, days one, two, and three?
      Michael Kelly
      • I already combined days 2, 3, and 4

        And I have what I hope is an interesting follow-up to all this. Dell has yanked the offending BIOS from its website and is working on an update.
        Ed Bott
        • Time for a reset?

          Honestly, IMHO Rule #1 of BIOS upgrades is, if you don't have a real issue that you are specifically solving with the upgrade, don't bother. Most BIOS upgrades are to add new hardware or fix a major incompatibility, neither of which is applicable to a newly unboxed OEM machine.
          • Probably true

            I've done many successful BIOS upgrades, and remember that many recent BIOS updates are specifically to accommodate Vista features. In this case the problem was a defective flash RAM installer, which Dell has now pulled from its website.
            Ed Bott
    • Vista?

      Why would the OS matter? This is a failed BIOS upgrade, a vendor supplied file that has absolutely nothing to do with Vista, XP, or Linux (or hacked OS X).
  • Can I ask 1 simple question?

    Why would a new Dell computer not have the latest BIOS already applied? It shouldn't have left Dell this way.
    • Good question...

      Who the heck knows?

      There was already a lot of discussion about this in the "Day 1" posting. But since Dell has not answered this question, I doubt we will ever know.

      A better question is who would buy from a vendor that ships this?