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Monday, May 20, 2024

I Bricked My Computer With a BIOS Update. But There's Hope!

The screen went black, then nothing.

The notification in my task tray suggested a driver update, and I had some time, so I acquiesced. This particular alert prompted me to update the BIOS, and the convenient Intel Driver and Support Assistant let me do this right from Windows. I rarely updated my firmware; however, for the past two years, I’ve been enjoying the Hades Canyon NUC, an ultra-small form factor device the size of a paperback novel capable of low-end AAA gaming.

This bastard of a device is the love child between Intel and Radeon graphics processors, with two graphical brains cleverly parked in one computer body. Intel handles the day-to-day visuals, and Radeon takes over for visually intensive work. It’s a slick device, but keeping the drivers and firmware current has ensured steady operation. Prior updates from this tool relieved a litany of bugs before they became too annoying to troubleshoot. So I ran the update without much thought.

How It All Began

Several minutes passed. The screen indicated the flash update completed successfully just before it went blank. As the minutes pressed on, the gentle hum of the computer sounded dull and inanimate. I grew nervous that I’d missed a critical step. Darkness pouring from my screen, I searched the internet for BIOS update instructions. “Do NOT at any time power off the computer at this stage”. Intel’s instructions for this two- to five-minute procedure went on: “If a BIOS update process is interrupted, your computer might not function properly.” I was being mocked by the user manual.

An hour later, I restarted the computer. The screen’s last information displayed before going dark read, "Flash update has completed successfully"; I remained dubious. When I pressed the soft glowing plastic power button, the lights on the case fluttered to life. The monitor, however, remained bare. The lights confirmed power was getting to the machine, but nothing more. For a few moments, I’d yielded to the omnipotence of the Intel Driver and Support Assistant, not even taking a few moments to back up important files. The display glowed just enough to demonstrate it was powered on, offering no information from its host.

Several options remained for reversing course. I prepared a bootable flash drive with the latest version of the BIOS, although I didn’t have the prescience to connect the update to my misery. The frantic run to a neighbor's house to set up a flash drive on his computer surely confused him, though he consented. Most of the recovery options required operational BIOS menus, and my machine wouldn’t even get there. I had never performed either of the viable remaining options; a power button menu update or recovery by security jumper. The power button menu update involved holding down the power button and releasing at exactly the right moment to essentially force a menu selection for those unable to access a menu. The security jumper involved opening the case and physically moving pieces around on the motherboard. In an effort to preserve the computer’s innards, I opted to start with the power button menu update.

Success! Blackness yielded to the power button menu. The white terminal typeface greeted my eyes like a beacon of hope. I hurriedly selected BIOS recovery before it disappeared. The screen was a facade, mocking me with an unreachable carrot on a stick. Keystrokes triggered no response. Unsure if I’d accidentally pressed the wrong button in my haste, I rebooted with similar results. The surgical approach remained my only option.

Oh, No: Time for Surgery

I gathered my miniature screwdriver set to attempt the update via security jumper. This process involved removing the case of the computer to find the minuscule CMOS battery as well as a near-microscopic yellow piece of plastic, both on the motherboard. The plastic needed to be removed from a few delicate metal prongs and placed on two different, just as fragile spikes. This maneuver felt extra challenging with the ultra-small form factor NUC and its tightly compacted components. I was suddenly aware of my lack of attention to detail and precision as I set to work.

The surgery was a failure. Even if the BIOS update hadn’t turned my beloved computer into a defunct brick, I most certainly had done so with my Frankensteinesque manipulation of the internal components. Dismay turned into acceptance. At this point, it was clear I’d need a new computer, or at the very least would need to replace the motherboard. It wasn't until I tore my computer apart that I discovered it might still be under warranty. Intel support quickly concluded I’d need a replacement. Despite my misguided rescue attempts, they agreed this was initiated by the Intel Driver and Support Assistant and issued a return merchandise authorization. The computer was dead, and perhaps in a few weeks I’d get it back without having to purchase a new one.

Instead of finding satisfaction in this solution, I was frustrated. Countless others were facing the same issues, all from the same update. A post on the Intel community support board matched my issue, and it seemed like the forum participants were well on the way to a solution. Several users were achieving different results by making minor tweaks to the rescue steps. For example, the front yellow USB slot was the proper slot to insert a flash drive, not an incidental color placed there by chance. There were additional tips, including proper formatting of the flash drive, and also using a prior BIOS version. I tried them all and yet the screen stared back at me with lifeless unresponsiveness. As surrender set in, I left the computer disassembled underneath the desk.

Finding Hope in an Unlikely Place

The forum offered one more suggestion that appeared to work. Disconnect the hard drives. Apparently, the latest BIOS update was causing some SSDs to become unrecognized. With the computer's entrails still exposed, I popped both hard drives out of the motherboard. I cycled the power with a flash drive loaded with an older BIOS version inside the yellow USB port as mandated. I couldn’t help but chuckle with relief as the computer hummed to life, notifications flashing across the screen. The flash update using the prior version processed effortlessly with the press of a single key. I reconnected the SSDs and restarted one last time to find the Windows login screen awaiting my password.

This recovery humbled me rather than restoring my technophile status. Granted, backing up important files could have helped avoid some of the self-induced anguish I had gone through. BIOS updates will inevitably become necessary, though a small measure of patience to ensure a stable release could avoid catastrophe. Three Intel Driver and Support Assistant updates were released since the one that almost junked my PC; I’ve ignored all of them. As I write this, only two remain.

Perhaps, in some cases, true technological savvy lies not in acts of restoration, but restraint.

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