Can't get into laptop's BIOS and (un?)related problems?

By Cajunbadger ยท 16 replies
Oct 31, 2010
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  1. My laptop is a Dell Inspiron 1521 running Vista Home Prem and WinXP Pro in a dual boot setup.

    Seems like I have several problems but wondering if they're unrelated. Initially noticed a problem with my keyboard - a few keys type the wrong character or ("g" types "gt", "h" types "hy", "t" types "gt" and backspace key puts in the current time and date). I've hooked up an external keyboard and it appears the laptop keyboard has a problem. Figure this is resolved since the "g" and "h" keys are typing characters right next to them...just have to replace the keyboard.

    I've scanned with Avira and Malwarebyte's MBAM and no sign of infection...

    Now for the tougher one - before removing the keyboard to try and clean it, I happened to reboot and noticed the Dell logo had disappeared. It also wasn't doing the preliminary "checks" so I decided to go into the BIOS setup. After hitting the F2 key, it sits for a bit longer than remember and then I get all green hearts on the screen. No BIOS options... I've gone through the steps of removing the battery, disconnecting it from a/c power, disconnecting the CMOS battery, and holding the power button for a minute. When I boot back up it tells me "RTC mode fixed - Time and date may be wrong, Invalid configuration information - please run SETUP program, Time-of-day not set - please run SETUP program, Strike the F1 key to continue, F2 to run the setup utility, Press F5 to run onboard diagnostics" But when I press the F2 key, nothing happens and F1 and F5 don't work either. I end up having to power it down and restart it. Going into Setup, I see the green hearts again.

    As a side observation (not sure related or not), if I try to boot into Vista Safe Mode it goes through the motions and results in a blank screen. Trying WinXP in regular and Safe Mode does the same thing...only booting into Vista regular works. I've tried running a repair but the screen goes blank after it finishes loading the Windows files... Not sure this is related, but odd this all seems to be happening at the same time - wondering if BIOS being fubar'd is creating a display issue? Appears this is related - just tried running Acronis True Image to make an image of my install and it gave me "...unable to set video mode 640x480x4..." I'd jump to it being a video/onboard graphic chip issue but I still can boot into Vista... Also tried running Dell diagnostics at boot up and ran fine once, but now I get a 2000-0333 error: "Graphics test timed out waiting for keyboard response." though not sure what keyboard response I'm supposed to give! It flashed through colors continuously and beeps if I don't hit the keyboard - but never seems to stop unless I stop hitting the keyboard (and it finally stops with this error). Grrr....

    And lastly, my main battery was showing it was at the end of it's life for charging (indicator was flashing orange to show this), yet oddly enough it's all of a sudden not flashing any more - unless this is related to the BIOS problem? At the moment, knowing bad batteries can create some odd problems so I'm running it straight from a/c with the battery disconnected.

    I'm wondering if the CMOS battery could be going bad (about 3 years old)? I had a thought to try flashing the BIOS although if I remember right, it was the most current version. But I'm hesitant if there's a problem and don't want to make the laptop unbootable.

    I can live with Vista as is for now, but really want to correct this. Plus concerned if I do try a fresh install, whether I'll run into a blank screen during the installation process. Any thoughts on what to try - I can order a new keyboard and CMOS battery, but hate to waste money if it's more serious. Help!
  2. EDO219

    EDO219 TS Rookie Posts: 212

    wow ... That is a lot of symptoms to consider!

    1.) How did the keyboard cleaning go?

    2.) Have you connected an external keyboard and spammed the F2 key upon boot-up? If that did not work, then it may still be possible that the computer does not recognize the USB keyboard fast enough. On desktops I have had to use a PS2 type keyboard to select boot-up menus, but I am not certain what an alternative would be for a laptop. You may have to rely on your default, built-in keyboard.

    3.) Try completely uninstalling and then reinstalling your integrated graphics drivers. If this does not work, then I would prefer to burn any important files to disk (not an external drive, in order to avoid spreading any unpleasant viruses). Then I would completely reformat the HDD before doing a clean install of Vista.

    Hopefully, the issue isn't your motherboard! o_o
  3. Cajunbadger

    Cajunbadger TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Using a USB keyboard

    Thanks - it seems like mainly two issues - the keyboard and the BIOS issue (graphics card?/display resolution issues when trying to post or use a native resolution vs Windows based driver).

    It seems like my keyboard died. Taking it out to clean and reconnecting it appears like the "cable" has a serious kink in it - must not have laid flat enough when I reseated the keyboard. Taking it out to clean again, the blue slider/flip up clip was brittle and broke on me (just great!)...though the cable does still seem to seat tight without it. It was the type that flipped up and had to pull to get the cable out - it's still tight but think the keyboard just died due to the cable and not the seating. I'm a little concerned about it seating well if I get a new keyboard - but this is a lesser concern at the moment. At the moment I am using a USB keyboard with it working fine.

    Using the USB keyboard, I get the full green/blue hearts when I try to enter set up. Would a Windows driver prevent the BIOS screen from displaying properly? I'd have thought not at that point of just trying to go through the post steps. It appears it bypasses it (no DELL logo, no normal progress bar at the bottom, etc) and only asks if I want to enter Setup (F2) or Select Boot Order (F12). Should I consider trying to reflash my BIOS - from Windows it shows I'm running the last version (though wondering if this is being picked up from the registry and not the BIOS itself)? If the CMOS battery is bad, would I create a non-bootable laptop afterwords or just be in the same boat? Lastly, I'd have to run the flash utility from Vista since it appears I can't see anything when I run a boot disk...have read this can create a problem. I'd shut all running programs down first...

    Could the CMOS battery be a problem - reading, it sounds more like my date/time wouldn't be stay accurate and would've gotten a warning about a dying/dead battery)? But nothing like this should be occurring...

    As for reinstalling Windows, currently trying to boot up on the recovery disk (and any other Windows based boot disk), it loads the Windows files and then the screen goes blank. When running Acronis True Image, it gave me a display error about not being able to display 600x480x4. If i reformat the drive and try a reinstall, aren't going to run into a blank screen when it tries to boot up Windows install? At that point I'm pretty much stuck with an empty hd and unable to reimage it since I can't boot the image programs! Only work around I'd see is getting an external enclosure for the drive and reimage from another computer but back to where I started!

    I'm willing to try recommendations, though at this point, while I can't exactly afford it I'm tempted to just go buy a new $400-$500 laptop. I'm figuring it will be as powerful as this 3 year old that I haven't been impressed with anyway. Then I can try things and see if maybe I can it working for my daughter to use... Well, give me steps/suggestions to try and I'll go from there for now.
  4. EDO219

    EDO219 TS Rookie Posts: 212

    Excellent, so the USB keyboard does let you choose the bootup menus? If you do decide to reformat your HDD, then I would still replace your built-in keyboard before hand.

    Have you already tried to boot XP from it's "last known good configuration"?

    I don't think your CMOS battery is to blame, but your graphics chip concerns me especially if it is one of the Nvidia models of that year. Have you tried reinstalling the graphics drivers in Vista yet?
  5. mike1959

    mike1959 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,034   +55

    A few pointers that may be of use. If CMOS battery is only 3 years old, it's almost certainly fine, I changed a 5 year old battery and on a test meter I found it was much like a new one. About the keyboard plugged into USB port, I know it used to be the case that the 'extra' keyboard would only be read by Windows when it was loaded up to the desktop stage, not before. So it was impossible to get into BIOS that way. (Meaning the laptop's keyboard must be used). I believe Windows 7 does not have that limitation, but can't comment on Vista)
    If you can use your PC on the 'net, it might be worth you going to the Intel site, and getting a scan and update on your intel drivers (including chipset).
    The page is;
    Also well worth going into 'Device manager', and 'update drivers' for your graphic card.
    Hope some of this helps.
  6. Cajunbadger

    Cajunbadger TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Thanks both of you - and appreciate the positiveness! I think maybe I threw folks by mentioning the keyboard - but didn't want to leave any details out. The keyboard is reasonably new (replaced original one due to keys popping off) but seeing that the USB one works, it seems unrelated to the other problem(s) I came across in trying to test the keyboard. Also, was working and composing this when you replied Mike...I have the laptop keyboard disconnected. So the USB is the only functioning one now - and was able to use both before to get it to at least say it's entering Setup, but then just a screen of blue-green hearts. And as said below, one of first things after the display issue was to update to ATI/AMD's latest driver for the X1200 series but it didn't help (or hurt things).

    I agree about the concerns with the graphics card, though this model has an ATI X1200 chip. I gave WinXP last known good configuration a try again - can see it going through the paces (Webcam flashes, harddrive is active, and see pagefile.sys is created when I reboot into Vista) but screen suddenly goes black and it just sits there for over 10 minutes with no display. I stumbled on one thing very curious - I hit the sleep button on the keyboard and the display with WinXP working fine when I woke it back up. Unfortunately that worked once - next time I tried booting up with the other choices and never got it back asleep. I did choose Enable VGA Mode once and wonder if this helped mess things up with getting XP to sleep/display on the following tries? Also thought about overheating here - but don't think that's it as Vista was booting fine afterwards...

    Originally I had updated the ATI driver to the latest without any changes (this was right before I started this post) After not getting XP displaying again, in Vista, I tried uninstalling the ATI software and driver to where the ATI Catalyst doesn't recognize any software installed (uninstalled were the ATI driver, IDE - Southbus driver). I rebooted and still not seeing the DELL logo, but did get back into Vista. Thought maybe I needed to go back further driver-wise so uninstalled the Graphics Adapter removing all drivers and did a hardware detect. Unfortunately what was picked up was a Generic VGA adapter only displaying 640x480. I was going to reinstall the original drivers from the Dell Resource Disk, but decided to reboot first because it told me I needed to. I get the same thing with Vista - hear it booting, see the activity, lights come on the keyboard, etc but no display. Looks like I'm sitting with two functionally installed O/S's but no display...and without that, I can't do anything whatsoever. I'm going to try a few things and let it run Vista overnight w/o the display, and see if it'll go to sleep and try the sleep trick to bring back the display. I knew I should have at least reinstalled the original display drivers before rebooting.... At this point, looks like I'll have to hook up the hard drive to my desktop, reimage with backup images and try again (doing the same, but installing the original Dell graphics drivers). If that doesn't do it, may just dump everything and try to reimage with the plain, original clean Vista image.

    Now after all that long writeup - with the BIOS still not accessible, should I consider trying to reflash it to see if that corrects that piece? If I get Vista back up and running, do it from there or try running it from a bootable flash drive? If do it from a flash drive, I'd have use the F12 - Select Boot device...and if it requires a reboot, I'd have to hit the F12 again(?).

    So much fun....but any thoughts on what all's transpired or how to proceed are very welcome! Thinking just install a clean image of Vista and be done with it if that will work - though again, the BIOS is an issue.
  7. EDO219

    EDO219 TS Rookie Posts: 212

    So ... when you hit F2 to go into the BIOS your screen is suddenly filled with green and blue hearts? o_o

    Updating drivers often does not fix the issues. Rather, you have to completely uninstall the drivers, then reinstall them.

    Also, to rule out the deep sleep glitch, you might try unplugging your laptop and removing the battery. Then wait half an hour or so.
  8. Cajunbadger

    Cajunbadger TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Right - I'd noticed the DELL logo missing, it not doing the POST during initial boot up and only getting the message about F2 - To enter Setup and F12 - To select boot device. At that point hitting F2 said it was entering Setup (the BIOS settings) and then just display a full screen of blue (or green?) hearts. Would reflashing help correct any "corruptions/problems" with the BIOS? Seems to me this is partly of fully related to the problems again outlined below when booting into a lower resolution.

    If I chose to let it continue booting, it did boot into Vista fine. If I chose to boot into Safe Mode, used a boot disk/rescue disk, or any choice on booting into my dual boot WinXP install the display goes black. After your suggestion, I tried booting into WinXP with the "last known good configuration", let it boot up completely, hit the sleep key to put it to sleep, and then woke it back up - the display worked fine and was able to run WinXP until I rebooted. That worked once but couldn't duplicate it - possibly because I tried booting into Enable VGA mode after(?)...

    Uninstalling the ATI software/drivers it only reverted the graphics driver back to a previous ATI driver version. I wanted to go back to the MS driver just to see - so uninstalled the Graphics Adapter choosing to remove the drivers. Unfortunately that only gave me the lower resolution (640x480x4) which seemed to be the problem with the display in Safe mode, the boot disks, etc. and now booting into Vista gives me same dark/black screen. Also wasn't sure if removing the IDE (it's related to the Southbus - but all system devices were still working fine) driver during the ATI uninstall created a problem? It's running, just not displaying...

    Right now I've removed the power sources and the CMOS battery to drain the laptop for 30-45 minutes. Also am reimaging the laptop hard drive w/the Vista backup to see if I can get it back to where I was to do a little more testing with the drivers. Then will likely try reimaging the entire drive with an earlier clean/working image of Vista (with only one other partition containing docs, etc) to see if that helps.

    Still wondering with not being able to enter the BIOS setup, will flashing it to the latest version (this was the version it was running before all these problems) be a thought?

    Thanks for spending so much time reading my long replies and providing insights/thoughts!
  9. mike1959

    mike1959 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,034   +55

    Xp/Vista/BIOS problems

    It's possible you have several Graphic card drivers installed, or parts of, which is not helping!
    There is a program which can completely remove all previous drivers, so that you can start again.

    Also, I have used the free version of 'Drivereasy' to find out which files my PC needs, although note the free version is very slow to download the required files, (say 2MB or more), but the information from the scan is useful, and seems to be accurate. Of course, you can get the actual driver from the usual sites.

    If you do a fresh install of Vista, it will install a video driver from it's store of generic drivers, that will be fairly high res, certainly much better than VGA or SVGA.
    But it may all be down to your BIOS update, or a faulty BIOS chip, I have never been blocked out the BIOS screen on any PC I've owned. Would be interesting to know how this turns out when you get it working. (If you use either of these program, be sure to 'Run as administrator'.)
  10. Cajunbadger

    Cajunbadger TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Will let you know when I get home from work...I did get it back to booting into Vista by reimaging with a backup made when I first discovered these problems. I went back through the uninstall process for the ATI Catalyst sofware and next thing I knew, I'd lost the X1200 in Device Manager. It was replaced with a Standard VGA display adapter and could only do 640x480x4 resolution. Tried updating the driver (using system option to search for a driver online/resident), it found a driver for the X1270, but errored on the install.

    Just before leaving home, I decided to set up one partition for Vista and one for storage/files (getting rid of the dual boot with XP). I'll be trying various images I have and see if I can make any progress with them...especially since they were made when there weren't any issues (and try the driver tools suggested).

    If I resort to doing a fresh install and get a blank screen when booting from CD (after it does the initial file copy, etc), I have to assume the only thing left to try is to flash the BIOS? With a blank slate (empty harddrive) and loading the files from CD, any display issues are presumably going to be either hardware or BIOS related, right? So at that point, reload a working image and can reflash the BIOS to see if it does anything. As said enough times - want to try everything else before taking any risk with a bad flash...

    Will update my status - and as always, any thoughts are appreciated!
  11. Cajunbadger

    Cajunbadger TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Ok - after going through a bunch of various things think have narrowed it down enough to say I need a new laptop *sigh*.

    First I reimaged the hard drive using the image made a few days after I'd bought the laptop. It booted into Vista fine though the display was dimmer than I'm used to, but a step forward. After trying several different things to no avail, I decided to reflash the BIOS. After that didn't fix things, decided to try an external display to see if it was any brighter. Lo and behold, there was the logo and it went through the POST (showing the progress bar and all) and was able to go into the BIOS setup. I set some things back to how I had them before flashing and tried booting back up without the external display. It still doesn't show the logo, POST progress bar, or go into setup (still the blue or green hearts and it freezes).

    I tried booting up - no logo, etc., shut it down, boot it up connected to an external display and the logo and POST progress bar display as normal. Disconnect the external display, boot up and again it's gone again. Next tried my rescue disk - no display after it finishes loading the Windows files. Do same again with the external display connected and it brings up Windows setup.

    So - can I figure I narrowed it down to a problem with the laptop display/motherboard? For all to work with an external display and not with the lapt display seems to say it all. I have to think it's either the display or part of the motherboard related to the display. And with the keyboard acting up at the same time...maybe coincidence, but...

    To take it in to have the motherboard and display checked over, buy a new keyboard, and possibly motherboard or display - seems better to just buy a new laptop (don't need and can't afford a higher end one). I can still buy a keyboard, install it, and use this one with its limitations (only boot from hd, etc).

  12. EDO219

    EDO219 TS Rookie Posts: 212


    Are you certain that your laptop isn't still under warranty? As for buying a new one or coping with the one you're currently working on, I don't know. It's your call, really.
  13. Cajunbadger

    Cajunbadger TS Rookie Topic Starter

    So from my last post, I'm not jumping to conclusions am I? I can't see anything else given the single factor of it working with an external and not working with the laptop display. All seems to point back to anything requiring a lower resolution in conjunction with the laptop display.

    As for the warranty - it ended almost two years ago so no luck there. I disliked this laptop soon after I bought it anyway - I just dealt with the "negatives" until now. The only way could see not getting a new one at this point was if it was an inexpensive fix. Doesn't look like it will be though... Don't see myself buying another Dell anytime soon though!

    Thanks for your ideas and input!
  14. EDO219

    EDO219 TS Rookie Posts: 212

    If you have already tried Mike's driversweaper suggestion, then yeah, I too think your integrated graphics chip/ mobo are physically damaged.
  15. Cajunbadger

    Cajunbadger TS Rookie Topic Starter

    I hadn't pursued the driversweeper for a couple of reasons. I'd installed the original image made after purchasing the laptop (factory drivers) and got the same results. Also tried going into setup and boot disks without the harddrive installed so there wouldn't be any Windows driver issues/conflicts. Same results here - blue/green hearts entering setup and blank screen running any boot disks. Lastly with it working by just connecting an external display - all these led me to believe it's not driver related. I did just try running Drivesweeper - selecting all options and removing all detected entries. Initial bootup still didn't displaying the logo, POST progress bar, etc. and in fact, it appears to have removed too much - laptop appeared like it was booting into Vista but no display when I let it go through the whole bootup (but works with the external display hooked up).

    With the external display working would that point more towards the display and or motherboard connection/communication? In any case, looks like I can reimage the hard drive, run Vista and just be limited by not being able to run setup and boot disks unless I attach an external display. Hopefully be able to order a new keyboard and it'll work for me (back of my mind wondering if it won't have problems too since the keyboard was acting up at the same time as the display issues)...
  16. mike1959

    mike1959 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,034   +55

    It may all come down to a fault in the BIOS or a related part of the motherboard.
    If you could try your saved Vista images on a different PC, and prove if they are good, then it probably does mean a new motherboard, (inc BIOS). I don't know about the blue/green hearts error, possible virus maybe?? It's also possible you have 2 entirely unconnected faults, one of them being motherboard, and another somewhere connected to the screen output.
    Like most things to do with PC's, it will no doubt cost you money to fix, either a lot, or more than that !!
  17. Cajunbadger

    Cajunbadger TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Maybe misunderstanding or I'm not explaining clearly, but the Vista images (currently using one made right after bought the laptop) are fine - if I let the laptop boot up, Vista comes up and is fully functional. It's just when it first powers on and I try to get into the BIOS setup or run a "Windows" based boot up disk that I run into the problems. It appears for some reason the lower resolution can't be handled and the laptop display goes blank. But...on an external display it shows fine (still blank on the laptop, but external lets me do everything - go into BIOS, change the settings, run a boot disk, etc). That has lead me to believe it's somewhere with the laptop display and/or motherboard - whatever it is, it's being bypassed or not used when I connect the external display.

    As said, yes computers repairs are costly... To have it take it somewhere and have it repaired very likely won't be worth it. I think better to just put that money towards a new budget laptop. Same time if I can get my hands on a keyboard locally that works on this laptop, I could see if it works. If so, I'd order a new one and just hook up an external display when I need to go into the BIOS or run a boot disk... Are laptop keyboards generic enough for me to at least hook it up to test (not that it would fit properly in the enclosure)?

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