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Hella BIOS adventures March 22, 2009

Posted by ecomnomnom in Hardware, Linux, Technology.
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I am waiting the two hours for my iphone to back-up and sync. Therefore, this will be a long blog post, with many pictures, so bear with me. I have noticed that my most visited post, by far, has been the one about the OSX themed linux, and I will devote more space to linux and technology. Today, I’ll recap my story about my Dell Latitude CPi.

Latitude CPi

Latitude CPi

So, I pulled out an old late 90’s Latitude c-series Pentium II notebook out of my basement, in order to install the new version of Backtrack 3 Linux on its tiny hard drive.

First, I inserted the BackTrack 3 LiveCD to see if it would work. Unfortunately, the computer wouldn’t let me boot off the CD, and instead tried to make me boot off of the non-existent floppy drive. Even worse, the BIOS was password protected.

Mark my words, Laptop manufacturers should never password protect their BIOSes. It does not stop the hard drive data from being stolen, and it does not deter theft. Criminals don’t carry around a list of difficult-to-crack BIOS passwords with them- they steal when the opportunity arises. Hella stupid.

So, I went to my computer to find latitude.exe, the program which cracks all latitude BIOS passwords, given their service code. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work for c-series computers, and definately did not work for mine.

Ram Chip

The Ram Chip

Ok. When a computer is off, the necessary functions (like the clock and BIOS data), are powered by the tiny CMOS battery. You can disconnect that, and after a while, the BIOS will reset itself. However, once again, the Latitude c-series is smarter than that. All the data is stored on an internal RAM-chip, which presents itself as an 8-inch pin on the motherboard.  You can disconnect the power all you want, but the data will be there.

I had heard that people had had sucess re-assembling the laptop so that the motherboard faced the other way, then shorting the RAM chip with a paper clip. Unfortunately, with the specific CPi model, that re-assembly would be impossible.

Russian Engineering

Russian Engineering

Things were getting more difficult. I dissasembled virtually every part of the laptop trying to figure out a way to start the laptop while shorting the chip, including the bitch-ass clamp holding the CPU down. Eventually, I went to my old soviet junior-electronics set and pulled out two standard wires. I tried to solder them onto the board, but ended up getting a really bad burn on one of my fingers from the iron. This is where Russian innovation came into play. I got out my scotch tape, and taped down the wires onto the chip, and hoped I wouldn’t start a fire.

BT3 in Flux

BT3 in Flux

After reasembling the laptop and holding down the power button while shorting the wires in my other hand, the bios erased itself on the third attempt. I changed the boot device to CD-rom, and hoped for the best. BackTrack 3 live-cd only ran in Fluxbox (couldn’t handle KDE), but I feel that I might be more sucessful replacing Windows 98 with a clean copy of BT3.

Moral of the story: never spend this much time trying to fix an insignificant thing. This laptop is a current hobby project of mine, though, and I will keep you posted as I gradually change this piece of the 90’s into a masterpiece.