Flashing bios pain in the neck….

One of the “project machines” I’ve had that’s been retired from other service was to become a “storage server” this week. The twin 250GB drives had arrived and I was ready to setup a RAID1 array (mirroring essentially…) in software and use Ubuntu 6.06 as the base operating system. I had already wiped the other drive and removed the drive, plugged in the new ones (master on the primary and secondary channels) and…. BIOS only reads 136GB. Shoot…. it was a relatively recent system (maybe 3 years…) SO…. BIOS update was my best bet I thought.

I tried 4 times to get the BIOS information to stay onscreen long enough to write it down, apparently pause didn’t work on this one, finally I managed to find that it was a k7sem with the 1.1b bios. I did a search and found this ECS page with BIOS downloads, but ALAS, there were warnings that there were 4 different versions of this board and to be really sure I had to look for the stamp on the system board. So, I pulled the system BACK out to inspect the system board. Yes, I had the correct version. OK… next I needed the BIOS flash tool. So, with this TWO downloads in hand I needed a dos boot disk. I still have a few of those, one from Windows ME and 98 respectively ought to do. But…. when this sytem got replaced the floppy drive got pulled to go with the new system because “YES!!! we HAVE to HAVE the floppy drive.”

So, time to rummage for a floppy drive (and cable) pull the system back out to plug in the floppy drive and cable. OK… that much done, copy the files to a boot floppy (takes FOREVER….2 files 200k each.) So, I get the bios set to boot from floppy and…. I boot up and it goes to the CD… so I disable ALL other boot options… it fails to boot. Maybe my disk is bad, so I try another AND another. Still nothing.. Well, maybe the floppy drive is bad. So, I try another (and another) with all three disks. Maybe it’s the cable…. I try two other cables. No luck. I really had planned on leaving this system without a floppy drive as there’s no need (other than this $%!*@#$ BIOS update….)

SO… I think, OK ALL I need is a DOS boot with the bios and flash tool, maybe I could just put it on a bootable cd. I somehow dreaded the thoughts of trying to remember how to convert floppy boot images to a valid bootable (el torito) cd. But…. I quickly found this nice summary of “Flashing your bios the easy way.” Which walks you through using a freedos downloadable boot image, mounting it as a loopback image (-t vfat), removing the fdconfig.sys file, then copying the two files to the disk image (bios.bin file and the flash utility.) Then, unmount the disk image, (test with dosbox…. dosbox -c ‘MOUNT A .’ -c ‘BOOT A:fdboot.img’) and finally put it in a folder called bootcd to make the final ISO image… ($ mkisofs -r -b fdboot.img -c boot.cat -o fdboot.iso bootcd) Really compared to what I’d already tried to get a working floppy boot, very easy.

Why did the floppy boot not work? Maybe it was cables, maybe the only drives I had were bad, maybe I’ve had the disks so long they’re not bootable. (They WERE readable in another system albeit VERY slowly which may indicate the media is less than healthy.)

Some days though you just want to give up and run screaming out the door. Then again some days you find that open source tools really can help give you options that make some things simpler. Oh, and yes…. I finally got to see all 250GB of the hard drives. I discovered that to setup software raid with ubuntu you need the alternate install cd, but it was fairly straightforward from there. (Well, it could be worse, maybe I can give references on that in another post…)

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