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Tadpole M1400/FT01: BIOS Update 


 


 

 



BIOS Update

Aim

As our problem in repurposing the FT01 lies in the customised BIOS one solution would be to replace it by the standard BIOS. We fall at the first hurdle here as not being able to boot anything of our choosing we can't run the necessary reflashing software. However.....

Background

I've only recently become aware of an in-built mechanism in Phoenix BIOSs that provides a way of flashing a new BIOS should an existing BIOS become corrupted - maybe through a BIOS update that fails in the middle. In most desktops that I've had the BIOS chip is usually socketed and so can be readily changed. However in laptops the BIOS chip is soldered to the board. In fact, in researching this topic, all the discussions/questions I found were from laptop owners trying to unbrick their computers.

There are small variations in the recovery procedure depending on the laptop manufacturer. What I discuss here is the most common approach that I think is also applicable to the FT01.

BIOS Boot Block

There is small section of the BIOS chip (~4k?) that holds a very simple program to restore things when it all goes wrong. The most usual one will just boot a floppy disk or USB pen drive which contains the necessary recovery software and BIOS image. What's not clear to me is what limitations exist in this recovery environment as most of the standard BIOS functionality could well be missing.

Procedure

This is easy to write - item 1 is not so easy to do.

  1. Prepare the recovery media.
  2. Power down the FT01, remove the battery and unplug the charger.
  3. Connect a USB floppy drive or USB pen drive with the recovery media.
  4. Hold down the Fn and B keys.
  5. While holding down the two keys plug in the charger.
  6. Still holding down the keys press the power button to switch on the laptop.
  7. I'm not sure exactly when you can release the keys. I wait until I see the floppy drive being accessed.
  8. Wait maybe ten minutes?
  9. Reboot if the laptop hasn't automatically rebooted.

Note: I haven't yet managed to successfully reflash the BIOS in the FT01 so I don't know how long the final stage takes.

One advantage of using the USB floppy drive is that once the initial software is loaded you should hear it clunking away for some time while the 1MB BIOS file is loaded. If you get a short (3-4 seconds) lighting of the access LED and no more then something is wrong with your media.

Whilst all this is going on the laptop screen remains blank. This is a bit of a bummer as it means that if things don't work you have no idea why it didn't as there are no error messages to read.

Finding your BIOS

I believe the FT01 uses the same BIOS as the Compal FT90 and FT91. Google found me several examples. My experiments have been with BIOS version 1.12 which I got from http://compal.net.pl/compal-fl90-download [Site found to be down in June 2018].

Recovery Media

This can be a floppy disc in a USB floppy drive or a USB pendrive (no more than 2GB in size?). In my searching of the web I did find one comment that the FT01 ONLY works with a USB floppy drive and not with pendrives. I'm fortunate that I have such a beast to hand and the discs to go with it although I haven't used it in years. Not having succeeded yet in flashing the BIOS I do not know if the 'floppy only' comment is right.

Recovery Software

Phoenix - and various laptop manufacturers - have released a package called Crisis Recovery Software that can be used to prepare the recovery media. Google found me three or four instances of this. The files in the package comprise:

BIOS.WPH1,028KB
CRISBOOT.BIN32KB
CRISDISK.BAT18KB
MAKEBOOT.EXE10KB
MINIDOS.SYS3KB
PHLASH16.EXE74KB
WINCRIS.EXE232KB
WINCRIS.GID9KB
WINCRIS.HLP8KB

What is not mentioned is that WINCRIS.EXE does not run under 64-bit Windows. I ended up running it on my Wyse X90c under Windows XP.

This software is written for preparing a bootable floppy disk. For those too young to have used them the basic 3.5" floppy disk has a capacity of 1.44MB. As the BIOS file is ~1MB this doesn't leave much room for the recovery software.

What WINCRIS does is format the floppy, install the loader and copy over the MINIDOS.SYS, PHLASH16.EXE and BIOS.WPH files.

I did find mention that the loader is extremely simple. It just loads the file it finds in the first directory entry of the root directory. If this is accurate then, when formatting the floppy disk, DO NOT add a label as any such label occupies the first directory entry. MINIDOS.SYS at 3KB seems remarkably small for a rudimentary operating system, but it's the same across the various versions I downloaded.

Work to date

I've spent a couple of days on this and haven't yet managed to get past the first stage. Here are various observations:

  1. The Fn + B key is doing something as the USB floppy drive is accessed and the main screen remains blank. On a normal boot the floppy drive is ignored.
  2. The limited activity on the floppy drive indicates that it doesn't get as far as loading the BIOS.WPH file so something fundamental is wrong.
  3. A pendrive prepared more conventionally with FREEDOS is ignored.
  4. Booting normally from the USB floppy drive on an IGEL D200 results in the message:
    Flash crisis recovery disk
    Remove and press any key
  5. Booting normally from the FreeDOS USB pendrive on the IGEL D200 results in PHLASH16 running, loading the BIOS and then stopping and complaining as it's the wrong BIOS for the machine it is running on.

Being unable to see error messages I'm in the dark. [1] shows that the laptop does apparently support this recovery scheme. [2] shows a problem with either the software or the preparation of the boot media. I wonder if it is behaving as shown in [4]? My feeling is that the floppy disk should boot on the D200.

Some BIOS recovery mechanisms actually don't need any form of operating system on the recovery media - just the BIOS image. In that case we need to know the correct name for the BIOS image file. My research has shown widely differing names across various manufacturers rather something generic like BIOS.ROM.

Also we don't know what Tadpole have done in customising the BIOS. If they've fitted their base operating system in there they must have thrown away something.

The word according to General Dynamics...

The Tadpole M1400 administrator's guide includes the brief paragraph:

The BIOS revision on the Thin Client can be updated, if required. A BIOS image will be provided by our customer care centers, along with instructions on how to deploy it. Once the image is in place, the BIOS can be updated from the BIOS panel.

The Menu-M key brings up the main menu - which leads on the BIOS panel. However, at least on my M1400, the first thing it asks for is the system administrator's password before it will progress further....and we also currently are missing the information on how to deploy any BIOS file....

Once again the Administrator's manual has the following useful information:

Should a system password be forgotten or lost, contact your nearest Tadpole customer service representative for further instructions on how to reset the system password.

Any help/guidance/suggestions welcome.

 


Any comments? email me. Added August 2016