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”
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).
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.
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. 🙂