3 Beeps of Doom – Recovering A Dead Intel Motherboard

What Will You Break Today:

The problem started with me installing 2GB DDR2 RAM (667MHz, 1GB x 2) on an Intel D945GCCR motherboard. The motherboard features 2 DDR2 slots, each of which can take a 1 GB DIMM for a max of 2 GB system memory. With such a low configuration, I am gonna stick to Windows XP for this computer. Since the motherboard features onboard Graphics Accelerator, Sound and LAN, it is rare for people to install additional devices in the available PCI-X and PCI slots.

I had the insane urge to tweak the BIOS settings and I landed up in “Advanced ->Memory Configuration” page. Normally the memory configuration is set-to Auto and the BIOS auto-detects the slowest timing that the RAM supports and uses it. Other modes are “Manual – Aggressive” and “Manual – User Defined”

Symptoms:

I opted for “Manual – User Defined” and entered the parameters that were printed on the RAM (5-5-5-15). Turns out, this was a bad choice. Upon saving the settings and restarting the machine, all I heard was 3 beeps, just once. There was no display on the monitor. The HDD and CDROM drive had spun-up but did not display any activity. The keyboard was non-functional (no caps lock key indicator activity).

The Diagnosis:

I tried all the conventional techie stuff like removing the CMOS battery, attempting to short the battery terminals, attempting to short the CMOS Reset Pins (the placeholders actually, there are no jumper for CMOS reset on this motherboard). I even tried the conventional non-techie advice like blow-sweep-mop-clean-dry (just kidding) the motherboard and RAM slots. Bottom-line – the motherboard still was not responding and considering the fact that the CMOS messages (settings) were not even showing, I suspected that it was a more severe underlying problem. Perhaps some chip had blown somewhere. Perhaps Intel was storing CMOS settings in Non-Volatile memory.

Intel Beep Codes indicated some error in RAM but their website was hopelessly terse and incomplete. TechEnclave had a more comprehensive list of codes (though I did not discover this website till later). Queries on google revealed a clue – “Base 64 K memory failure”. Most sites suggested quite unhelpfully to “Swap the motherboard” or “Exchange under warranty”. If that were possible for everyone, no one would have bothered to raise similar queries even once on various forums and websites.

It appears that on many Intel motherboards, if the user sets incorrect RAM timings, the BIOS is affected and motherboard stops working. A BIOS recovery has to be performed to restore the system.

The Treatment:

Intel offers BIOS updates for most motherboards in it’s product range. Most BIOS updates are offered in 3 formats – a .BIO file for BIOS recovery, a set of files for BIOS update from DOS, a set of files for BIOS update from Windows OS. Obviously, I choice was Option 1 – the BIOS recovery file.

The procedure says that either I should copy the .BIO file onto a 1.44MB floppy (ruled out: don’t have floppies at home, nor care to trust a floppy to store even 1 byte data correctly) or a blank CDROM. I opted to burn the .BIO file to a new CDROM disk.

The instructions said – to start recovery, I should insert the CD in the CD-ROM drive, put the BIOS in recovery mode by removing the jumper from BIOS Configuration Jumper Pins on the motherboard and start the computer. This did not help at all. The system beeped thrice, the CD-ROM drive whirled for a while and then there was silence. I tried all other combinations of BIOS Configuration jumpers like “Normal Mode”, “Configuration Mode”, “CMOS Battery ripped out”, “CMOS Battery put back-in”. None of these worked.

I was about to give up when it stuck me that practically all the on-board components depend on / share the installed RAM to work. The .BIO recovery file was supposed to boot up and activate the display, allowing me to reset the BIOS options to Default; but how would I get the display if the Onboard Graphics Chip did not have access to the installed RAM (which of-course was being handled incorrectly)? Come to think of it, if the main BIOS was not working, would it’s sub-component, the Video BIOS work? And without the Video BIOS the on-board Graphics Chip wouldn’t fire-up either.

I proceeded to install a nVidia 6200 PCI-X Graphics Card that was lying around. The card contains a dedicated Video BIOS and Video RAM. I set the BIOS Configuration jumpers to “Config” mode and started the computer with the CD containing the .BIO file. Voila! In a few seconds, I had a BIOS Configuration Screen that had “Maintenance” options in it; including simple option to Reset BIOS Configuration to Default.

I used the Maintenance BIOS to reset CMOS settings to default and restarted the computer after removing the CD. The computer started up and displayed quite a few error messages about CMOS settings being incorrect, but it started up nevertheless and soon I was tapping away at the Configuration Screens of the Motherboard’s original BIOS program.

So the trick to fix a 3 Beep or Base 64 K memory failure appears to be to use a PCI/PCI-X Graphics card to activate the display and use a CDROM to load the .BIO file into memory.

Don’t Fix It If It Ain’t Broken:

Simple adages like these don’t work for me. It appears that I am quite the technology sadomasochist and I like the pain of fixing problems created by me in the first place. The only good thing that came out of this experience is this article; which I am hoping, will help you relieve your pain. 🙂

Rajib Ghosh

Based in Hyderabad, India.

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26 Responses

  1. ssj4Gogeta says:

    Your explanation doesn’t make much sense to me. 🙂
    The PCIe GPU may have dedicated RAM, but it needs the CPU to work. CPU needs the system RAM. If you remove the system RAM, the computer won’t boot up at all, regardless of how much dedicated memory there is on the GPU. The BIOS itself is run on the CPU, so it needs RAM as well.

    In general you don’t need to fiddle with the memory timings unless you’re overclocking your RAM, or you want tighter timings for some reason. If you set the timings incorrectly, the system won’t boot, but a simple BIOS reset (removing the battery, leaving it out for some time, and changing a jumper position on the mobo) works just fine, as the manual timing settings are stored in the BIOS. Once it’s reset, the system decides the optimal timings itself.

    • Rajib Ghosh says:

      Hi SSJ4GoGeta,

      The BIOS chips on PCIe equipment like Display Cards, SCSI adaptors etc. are initialised before the main BIOS of the PC. Also, the BIOS of a PC acts independently of the CPU and installed RAM. That’s what allows it to start up and detect conditions like ‘No RAM installed’. On many mainboards from Intel, the BIOS Reset Jumper is completely missing. Removing the battery and shorting the terminals too does not seem to have any effect – thus making me infer that the BIOS settings are being stored in NVRAM.

      Sometimes in a quest to set right what seems non-optimal, we actually break things that were working just fine before. A computer is no exception. What is shameful is that it is so easy to break a Intel motherboard.

      Regards

  2. prusswan says:

    I have much to thank you for this timely and highly relevant post! For the past few days I was grappling with a replacement board (DG33FB) sent to me, but one I could never get to work. It turns out that the bios was very old (initial release in fact), and could only detect my cpu after a PCI-E gfx card was added. All along I was trying to work with the integrated graphics which was supposed to reduce the hassle of troubleshooting. How ironic indeed.

  3. ssj4Gogeta says:

    Hmm, prusswan’s reply indicates that adding a discrete graphics card does indeed help. I still don’t fully understand how, though.

    “Also, the BIOS of a PC acts independently of the CPU and installed RAM.”
    That should mean it’ll run even if there’s no CPU or RAM?

    • Rajib Ghosh says:

      Hi SSJ4GoGeta,

      The BIOS is not just a bit of RAM. It is electronics that can detect the presence/absence of components in the system, perform initialising routines on hardware and pass boot control to other devices in the system that may have BIOS too. RAID cards, Network cards have their own BIOS chips that are capable of performing specific functions to load an OS in the computer’s memory.

      HTH

  4. ssj4Gogeta says:

    Hi,

    All this time what I thought you meant by the BIOS was the BIOS setup program (my bad). Of course the BIOS itself has to run independently to detect the status of the system components and that’s how you get the beep sounds when memory is not present, etc. 🙂

  5. prusswan says:

    Hi, to further elaborate on what I was facing:

    1. the only signs of life exhibited by the motherboard were the 3 long beeps when no memory modules are present

    2. As I suspected (and later confirmed), the bios is too old to detect the cpu and the other components properly (particularly its own integrated graphics)

    3. When the external graphics card is used, the bios was able to at least detect the cpu partially and allowed me to get into bios where I can see that my E8400 3.0 Ghz is running at 2.0 Ghz and actual version number of the bios being a whopping 0216

    4. Only after the necessary bios update etc, the mobo was able to boot and detect the integrated gfx as per normal, without the presence of the external video card.

    As much as such behavior is probably reasonable from the engineering point of view, the user would be quite helpless if he does not have the equipment on hand to resolve the problem.

  6. ssj4Gogeta says:

    “As I suspected (and later confirmed), the bios is too old to detect the cpu and the other components properly (particularly its own integrated graphics)”

    How can it be too old to detect integrated graphics? Other components that you have may be new for the old BIOS, but the integrated graphics were there since the beginning. It wouldn’t have made it out to consumers if it couldn’t detect the integrated graphics.

  7. prusswan says:

    Based on what I have witnessed, at that version of the bios and with the cpu being used, it is not possible to get into bios using the integrated graphics alone. Of course that could have been a side-effect of the cpu detection, but normally it should not be interfering with the detection/operation of the integrated graphics – this turned out to be a wrong assumption.

  8. deven says:

    hi,
    i have intel 945gccr. I am facing no display problem. Moreover no beeps heard in normal mode when ram is not installed but while in config mode it gives three long beeps. I tried for bios recovery procedure suggested by intel but nothing help me out.

    • Rajib Ghosh says:

      Hi Deven,

      Looks like the display chip maybe out of order. Can you insert a graphics card and connect the monitor to it and see if your computer boots successfully?

      HTH

  9. lokesh babu says:

    I have intel D945gccr. You hv said you faced problems when u fixed 2 x 1gb rams 667 mhz. Infact I too am in the process of fixing the same. Earlier I had 2 x 512mb rams 667mhz. Will I face any problem if I fix 2 x 1gb ram of 667mhz. My processor is P4 631-3.0 ghz, HD 2MD L2 cache. With this config can I also fix a 512 mb / 1gb graphic card. Should I also change my PSU. Pls. advise. Thanks in advance. Bye.

    • Rajib Ghosh says:

      Dear Lokesh,

      The problem I faced was not because I was trying to plugin additional RAM. It was because I changed the RAM speed/timing values in BIOS to unsupported values.

      HTH

  10. NItesh Kr. says:

    Dear Rajib, I have intel 945 motherboard with dual core 2.8 CPU, i am facing same problem of 3 beeps while switching-on my pc. I had once replaced 512 MB Ram with 2 GB RAM last yr and pc worked fine. But now, PC is giving 3 beeps and no display is coming on monitor.
    someone told to check frequency of ram, so currently i am using 677 MHz Kingston RAM.

    please help..

    • Rajib Ghosh says:

      Dear Nitesh,

      I have problems with RAM timing too; to the extent of locking up the PC. While you can play around with RAM frequency to check if it makes any difference, 3-beeps typically indicates BIOS did not detect any RAM.

      Perhaps you need to remove the RAM, clean the slots and reinstall the RAM. If you can source some RAM for testing, you can use that to determine if your RAM has gone bust or not.

      HTH

  11. Deepak Saini says:

    Thnx for this post it’s help me a lot…and also the 1st comment..u make my day…

  12. Vinay Shukla says:

    Hi Rajib,

    My younger brother did the same mistake and we couldn’t figure out how to solve this issue. The solution you provided worked like a charm like you said you did not have floppy i did not have a disk i did the same using a USB drive. The steps to make a bootable usb disk can be found from various sites and then unzip the content of the zip in to the usb drive. and change to config mode and then restart and you can restore defaults.

    Thanks

    • Rajib Ghosh says:

      Dear Vinay,

      The USB Drive (formatted as bootable drive) is an excellent suggestion.
      Following your comment, I re-read the article and frankly I was laughing my head off with the stupid round-about way in which I wrote it.

      For those who did not manage to read that crap:
      “If your computer no longer boots because you tweaked BIOS settings of RAM, try plugging in a Graphics Accelerator Card.”

      HTH

  13. Sachin Tipnis says:

    Hi Rajib,
    Thanks for information. I have put myself situation. Now I have find graphic card with video bios.
    With best regards,
    Sachin

  14. JIya Uddin Jitu says:

    Hi Rajib brother ” need some help . give me some tips . Intel D945GCPE Motherboard no display now what can i do ? mail me dispay solution

  15. don dee says:

    well, i have a similar problem with my intel motherboard. it is also booting after tweaking with the memory setting.i have applied all the solution read on this site and others and there is no meaningful solution. what i want now is how to revive the INTEL mobo(DG41CN) with 3 beeping sound.

  16. doug muller says:

    seriously i am very hot. i have a similar experience with my intel motherboard and it is still not solved. i tired to change the memory settings a year ago when i was upgrading the memory and ever since i have render the board dead.i last tried resurrect it using the standard procedure given above and it proves futile.i will very grateful if i can be helped.my problem is how to boot and change the memory setting to default. can someone HELP ME PLEASE.

  17. Qaisar says:

    Dear Rajib i have the same problem i check almost 3 types of Graphic Cards no display…no beeps..
    when i remove ram then beeps sounds… but not with ram no display … its very hard to solve.. i write the bios key…

  18. megan says:

    hi,this is somewhat the same situation i am facing now,dg41cn undeclocked the ram speed in bios,the system starts-shuts down-starts again and continues –no video no bios screen nothing,can i buy a video or graphics card and try pls help..my id- meganinrussel@gmail.com

  19. megan says:

    i bought gt730 zotac,n tried ,still same on/off cycle no boot post

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