Close call with an Acer laptop (or: never update your BIOS)



  • Long story short: I was upgrading a 5 year old Acer laptop to Windows 7. Originally came with 1 GB of RAM, but was upgraded to 4GB. After a fresh install, I noticed:

    Memory: 4.00 GB (2.93 GB usable)

    Over a GB missing? That's more than the computer originally had! Google told me to see if I can update the BIOS. Good idea.

    The sticker said it's an "Aspire 9301AWSMi". I went to the Acer website and searched for Aspire 9301. Nothing. I entered the serial number on their "identify device model" feature. No results. In fact, there's absolutely no signs on any Acer website that this model ever existed. It's an unlaptop.

    But the body of the laptop says "Aspire 9300", and that one does exist. I assumed they just ignore the smaller revisions and lump it all as the same product. And wow, there was a newer BIOS, 1.14 to 1.20! But is a 9300 and a 9301AWSMi really the same thing? In a clear example of optimism bias, I decided to try it, because surely the included flashing program will be smart enough to not continue when the model doesn't fit the file (after all, it's trivial to implement, right?).

    I ran the program. No offer to make a backup, no options at all, just a generic "WARNING: may break things" dialog. Process completed successfully, computer restarted, then nothing. No POST, no messages, just a black screen and a blinking cursor. Oh I fucked up.

    I obviously flashed the wrong BIOS, I google to see if it can be easily fixed somehow. No clear universal process to do that, and on top of that I don't even have the original one to restore. Guess I better start checking laptop prices.

    In a last ditch effort I googled "Acer 9300 bad BIOS" and found salvation in a forum post form:

    I discovered that the v1.20 bios has had support for 4gb memory removed. I had to pull a 2gb strip of memory out and the system fired up again. 6 months I was without my machine because of the morons at Acer making such a stupid move like this. I flashed back to orginal that I had backed up and put memory back, everything has been fine since. I will say that I will NEVER buy an Acer product again.

    Still skeptical, I took out a single 2GB stick, booted up and... it works :) :clap:! I was right after all! But I lost 0.93GB of RAM :( . I guess could try to find an older BIOS version and re-flash it, but is it worth the risk?

    Firmwares, am I right? Good thing UEFI will make things better...



  • @anonymous234 said:

    Memory: 4,00 GB (2,93 GB usable)

    If I understand correctly, on a 32 bit architecture, only 4GB of RAM is addressable (unless PAE is active), so if you have other components which map to memory, such as graphics cards, they will use up some of the available address space. As such, the 2.93GB (in this case) would represent the limit of the memory which would be usable, no matter how much memory you installed.

    Some or none of the above may apply to your situation.


  • :belt_onion:

    @anonymous234 said:

    I will say that I will NEVER buy an Acer product again.

    Amen to that!

    On mine:

    • The sliding "lock" lid lock thing (you know, that thing you have to slide over to release the lid lock, whatever it's called) decided to break on it's own and fly off in a specular fashion one day. I applied no extra pressure or anything, just decided to break.
    • The whole thing started to creak about a month in. Cheap plastic all around.
    • Battery went down to 15mins of use within 6 months. I may have treated it slightly better, but still, 6 months?
    • Not Acer specifically, but fuck Atheros WiFi adapters! Every one of them has some kind of a firmware fault where it just decides to die and you have to power cycle the card for it to work again. Sometimes putting the computer to sleep works. Sometimes rebooting helps. Sometimes it doesn't and you have to shut down / power up. On Acer sleep and shut down worked. On my current Dell reboot and shut down work.
    • Touchpad stopped working every time the machine got warm. Which was often due to poor cooling system.

    There was probably more, but I'm upset enough for now so I'll stop.



  • @anonymous234 said:

    After a fresh install, I noticed:

    Memory: 4.00 GB (2.93 GB usable)

    To kind of pile on and expand on what other people have already said:

    • In 32-bit Windows Vista/7/8, there is a hard limit of 4GB of RAM addressable, which includes video RAM. Windows has a tendancy to try to address all of the available video RAM first, and then proceed with addressing system RAM. If you have a stand alone card with +/- 1GB of RAM on it, then the above is perfectly normal and expected behavior for a 32-bit Windows OS.
    • If you have an integrated video card, there's usually a BIOS setting for how much RAM to siphon off for the video adapter, which will cause Windows to display total Memory and then (some amount less useable) to indicate the memory is there but not available as system RAM. This can happen with either 32- or 64-bit operating systems.


  • @anonymous234 said:

    In fact, there's absolutely no signs on any Acer website that this model ever existed. It's an unlaptop.

    This is my experience with pretty much any piece of hardware I've owned where I've ever gone looking for anything on a vendor's site. WTF.



  • @izzion said:

    - In 32-bit Windows Vista/7/8, there is a hard limit of 4GB of RAM addressable, which includes video RAM.

    Well this sucks. I only had a 32-bit installer at hand, but it was a 4GB system (and not upgradeable to more) so it seemed like an OK choice.



  • My Acer Aspire S7 is the best laptop I've ever owned.


  • sockdevs

    @izzion said:

    - In 32-bit Windows Vista/7/8, there is a hard limit of 4GB of RAM addressable

    IIRC, that's existed on all 32-bit Windows, not just Vista onwards.



  • Well, true. I guess I posted it that way because there wasn't really a useable 64-bit version of Windows until Vista and onwards (since XP 64-bit was a Discoursian level of steaming :shit:) .



  • I had a similar issue. 4 year old Acer that came with 4 GB of RAM, tried to upgrade it to 8 GB with the same result.


  • area_deu

    My old Aspire TimelineX (2011) was pretty great.
    Apart from the fact that the hinges were completely uncovered after two and a half years, the "E" and Tab keys weren't usable anymore and the fan seemed to have had a broken off fanblade.

    And the fact that it was always running 60-90°C hot was kind of an annoyance, too.

    But the battery still lasted 6 hours, which was still impressive in my eyes.

    Once something harddrive-related broke I decided to buy a laptop with a working keyboard and less insane temperatures, though.


  • mod

    @aliceif said:

    Once something harddrive-related broke I decided to buy a laptop with a working keyboard and less insane temperatures, though.

    I first read that as "less sane temperatures" and thought you were looking to cook something with your laptop.



  • @anonymous234 said:

    I obviously flashed the wrong BIOS, I google to see if it can be easily fixed somehow. No clear universal process to do that, and on top of that I don't even have the original one to restore.

    Can be fixed? Probably. Easily? Not a chance.

    I once made a mistake of installing drivers off the CDs on a new MSI motherboard. It installed, and then wanted to update stuff, so I let it update stuff. Except among all the drivers and whatnot, there was also a BIOS update. Installed from within Windows, of course.

    It ended just as well as you'd expect - the only sign of life I got from the computer after that "update" was the whirring of the fans. And there's no backup BIOS. And the standard procedure for flashing from an USB stick didn't even make the PC flinch.

    In a desperate attempt to not part with my fresh new PC for a month with no replacement in the middle of a semester, I've even whipped up a makeshift parallel port programmer on a prototyping board using a few pieces of wire and a 2,5-to-3,5-inch HDD converter. It almost worked, managed to even read a few bytes out of the BIOS, but writing a new one was apparently beyond its capabilities.

    In the end, I shipped it on warranty - they had 2 weeks to react, and they took all the time they've had to simply throw away the old motherboard and put in a new one.



  • I know I've read of BIOS recoveries that went something like this:

    1. Find an identical motherboard with an identical BIOS chip.
    2. Boot up the motherboard and remove the BIOS while it's running
    3. Install the borked BIOS while the motherboard is running
    4. Do a BIOS flash/update on the system to restore code to the chip.
    5. Return the just-flashed BIOS to the original system and attempt to use it normally.


  • While we're shitting on Acer:

    My first laptop was an Acer Aspire 5050. Vista, 1GB RAM, 120GB hard drive. I'd had it for ~7 months when it started overheating. It got so hot that it slightly melted the power cable. I sent it in to be repaired, and was told that I'd have to pay for a new power cable, because, despite the fact that the problem was caused by the laptop itself overheating, accessories only have a 3 month warranty, regardless of how essential they are to the functioning of the laptop. After a bit of arguing, I gave in and got my laptop back, no longer overheating, but with an LED visible through the headphones socket for some reason.
    A few months later, I wanted to upgrade the hard drive. I bought a ~320GB drive, cloned the old drive on to it, swapped them over, and the laptop wouldn't boot. The BIOS wouldn't recognise it either. Some googling eventually revealed that that particular model was artificially limited to 160GB or smaller drives. So I had to swap the old drive back in.
    Literally days after the warranty ended, the right hinge fell apart, and they wouldn't do anything about it. Fortunately, by that point, I'd got a new laptop.
    (some of these details may not be 100% accurate, as it was a while ago and I didn't know that much about computers at the time)

    My sister's current laptop is an Acer, and when she first got it it would BSOD whenever waking from sleep. She took it back to the shop where she bought it, and they told her that computers "don't like it when you do that". They held on to it for about a week, and gave it back to her, claiming to have fixed the problem. She avoided putting it to sleep for a while, but I convinced her to actually test whether or not they fixed it. So she put it to sleep, woke it up... and BSOD. I managed to fix it after fiddling with graphics drivers for an afternoon, but it wasn't easy.

    So I'm never buying an Acer product again.



  • Given the fact that AFAIK, all motherboards now use shadow RAM, this... kind of makes sense. Aside from the obvious "pulling a chip out of a running system" Bad Idea, if you can boot into the flashing software and have it wait for you, it should be okay.


  • area_deu

    I don't regret having bought the one Acer I ever had.
    It was a great-looking laptop with insane battery life, for being 15" and having a midrange CPU. Not to forget, everything just worked :tm: with Linux (apart from the ever-irritating dual graphics system).
    It just wasn't really all that good in terms of build quality and such.
    Well, and the keyboard had some of the strangest ghosting combinations ever.



  • @aliceif said:

    everything just worked

    heh



  • @aliceif said:

    My old Aspire TimelineX (2011) was pretty great.
    Apart from the fact that the hinges were completely uncovered after two and a half years, the "E" and Tab keys weren't usable anymore and the fan seemed to have had a broken off fanblade. And the fact that it was always running 60-90°C hot was kind of an annoyance, too
    Sounds awfully similar to the Acer my sister used to have, and the one my dad used for a while, years ago. Especially about the hinges.

    Me, I'm still using my > six year old Toshiba laptop, with the minor upgrade that it now has 2GB of RAM rather than 512Mb, and an SSD instead of a HDD. Original battery still gives me about two hours of work-time though, but then I usually run it off the power-grid. Quite possibly the longest enduring computer I ever bought.



  • @Maciejasjmj said:

    In a desperate attempt to not part with my fresh new PC for a month with no replacement in the middle of a semester, I've even whipped up a makeshift parallel port programmer on a prototyping board using a few pieces of wire and a 2,5-to-3,5-inch HDD converter. It almost worked, managed to even read a few bytes out of the BIOS, but writing a new one was apparently beyond its capabilities.

    +1 for the effort.



  • @anonymous234 said:

    Memory: 4.00 GB (2.93 GB usable)

    Others have already mentioned the video RAM taking that up, just confirming I've seen this too.

    We've gone through several HP laptop models that suck out up to ~1.28GB RAM for video - and there's no option to change that amount in the BIOS, it's automatic. Models Probook 6555b, 6560b, 6570b, 600 G1, 650 G1 all the same WTF. Worse, the 650 G1 (latest) gives you resolution choices of: 1024x768, then next up, 1920x1080. Nothing in between available. Already getting complains from users with eye trouble, which I knew was going to happen. When asking my vendor for other options besides expensive Elitebooks, the only answer: Dell, and...Acer. :-1:



  • @jakjawagon said:

    My sister's current laptop is an Acer, and when she first got it it would BSOD whenever waking from sleep. She took it back to the shop where she bought it, and they told her that computers "don't like it when you do that". They held on to it for about a week, and gave it back to her, claiming to have fixed the problem. She avoided putting it to sleep for a while, but I convinced her to actually test whether or not they fixed it. So she put it to sleep, woke it up... and BSOD. I managed to fix it after fiddling with graphics drivers for an afternoon, but it wasn't easy.

    My sister had bought an HP Pavilion (forget which model, but I told her "Pavilion? That's your first mistake") years ago that, at random, wouldn't boot. Took it back to Best Buy as by that time it was occurring often enough to annoy her. It was beyond the 1 year manufacturer warranty, but well within the 3 year Best Buy extended warranty. They initially called her back the next day saying nothing wrong found (which I predicted), and it failed as soon as she got home and fired it up. Took it back with me in tow, explaining to them to test for a week by firing it up several times a day. Within a few days, replicated the problem, sent it out to their repair center with full notes for repair.

    Guess what? Repair center sent it back week later with a won't fix note. WTF? (I guess it was a feature, but they didn't go so far as to say that.) No amount of arguing would get them to honor their own warranty terms.

    Ever since then, whenever a Best Buy salesperson starts to offer me an extended warranty spiel for anything I'm buying, I just look at them in that certain way and simply say: "Don't..."

    Within a few months the laptop was failing more often than booting, so she gave up on it.

    Best part: about six months later I took a look at that POS again and found a new BIOS release available. Downloaded, installed - voila! No more problems. Less than three months after that, she bought a new laptop.

    Why do I bother sometimes?



  • @redwizard said:

    Elitebooks

    Some Elitebooks only leave you with 2.93GB from 4GB - at least the ones we use do.



  • Hmm.

    • Does your BIOS support UEFI booting?
    • Have you ever tried to boot an UEFI-enabled Linux distro but then switched back to BIOS/CSM mode?
    • Have you ever did this with a Linux distro that failed to boot for some mysterious reason, and threw you back into the boot manager, and you booted something else from there?

    Then, with some BIOS versions, it can happen that it breaks your CSM memory map, i. e. whenever you repeat this, afterwards a few MB of RAM less are usable - until you boot a UEFI shell with a hex editor and fix up the memory map manually.

    Source (yes, the asker is me):





  • Wow. So many familiar issues in this thread.

    I bought an Acer Aspire 2012WLMi (15.4", 1.5GHz, 512MB RAM, 40GB hdd, 6.6lbs) back in ~2005. Other than the bloody annoying blue power LED (very very bright in a darkened room), and a complete inability to resume from standby, I had no issues for about a year.
    Then the left hinge cracked. I had purchased an extended warranty, so repair was arranged and parts were ordered. Replacement hinge needed to be ordered from 'Japan' (I'm in Australia) and given we're almost completely isolated from the rest of the world </sarcasm> it took ~2 months for parts to be received and repair completed.

    Several months later, the right hinge snapped off entirely - I had to remove a plastic panel and tolerate broken metal protruding from the machine in order to close it to take to/from uni. Repair arranged, parts ordered and I commenced six months of following up weekly with the repair agent, then the repair agent AND the retailer I'd bought it from, then eventually the repair agent, the retailer, the retailer's head office and local consumer protection. Finally, after six months of hassling and no replacement parts in sight, the retailer offered me a brand new machine (Travelmate 4224WLMi - Core Duo 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM promptly upgraded to 2, 100GB HDD).

    Of course, the brand new machine was faulty, so it got replaced 2 days later by the retailer.

    As this was several weeks before the launch of Vista, the machine was advertised as 'Vista Ready', with an upgrade available for ~$20. So I went for it. Installation required a BIOS firmware update (you can guess where this story is headed).
    Of course, BIOS upgrade failed, the machine no longer worked, and it got returned to Acer for repair (new motherboard). I have vague recollections of taking this machine to the repair agent numerous times, including new keyboard, touchpad, wifi antenna.

    In the end, this machine still works (8 years later) and was still my 'loungeroom' computer until a few months ago.

    Despite the issues, I ended up relatively happy with 10 years of service from a single purchase (across several machine), but I'm Acer averse, and will never buy again.

    Then again, I write this on a Lenovo X1 Carbon, which took 5 weeks(!) to build and ship, and has minor faults since new which the local repair agents are taking their sweet time to fix for me. I don't have great luck with electronics.



  • Many HP laptops (the Pavilions were the worst) had flow soldered GPUs. You'd use the laptop, say in a café, then put it in your tote. Rinse and repeat. The solder would slowly migrate away from the GPUs pins until, one day, BSODs or no boot. HP's answer to that was a solid WONTFIX. I've had 3! laptops from HP die this way. Screw HP. Love my ASUS.



  • @M_Adams said:

    I've had 3! laptops from HP die this way.

    Why didn't you stop after the first 5?



  • @loopback0 said:

    Some Elitebooks only leave you with 2.93GB from 4GB - at least the ones we use do.

    Which models? (Sorry to hear that.)

    My work approved an Elitebook 8560w for me a few years back (..I'm happy...) because I run local VMs for various testing. Dedicated video RAM ensures no stealing from system RAM in this case. :smile:



  • Thanks for the LOL!

    It was in fact 3 laptops (HP Pavilion dv9xxx series) bought from different stores w/in weeks of each other as we replaced old beat up Acer laptops at home...



  • @ben_lubar said:

    @M_Adams said:
    I've had 3! laptops from HP die this way.

    Why didn't you stop after the first 5?

    Ben's post came in after mine, listed as before, but I didn't see it initially even after I posted my reply. Another Discourse bug? Set that counter back to 0 (and it's only 13 minutes past midnight here...)

    EDIT: timeline looks right, but Ben's post wasn't there when I made my post.

    Oh wait, NOTABUGITSAFEATURE...I keep forgetting...



  • No, that's the correct order. I'm not sure why 22 wouldn't come between 41 and 18 in your mind.



  • It is the correct order.

    Your post wasn't there when I posted my reply, and still wasn't there when I re-read it. Only when I came back later did it show up. No screen shot of that as I didn't expect it at the time. Hence, bug report.



  • @redwizard said:

    Which models? (Sorry to hear that.)

    Can't remember - I barely use my work laptop at the moment as I've got a 5 year old Elitebook which is dying and it's a bit slow and useless. I've got two desktops if I'm in the office, and I use my personal Samsung laptop (and remote back in to my desktops) if I'm in another office.

    We've actually just had approval for laptops similar to the 8560w for our team for the same reasons.



  • Really, the only issue with XP 64-bit was a lack of manufacturer-supplied drivers. Which is the same thing that gave Vista a bad rap in it's early years (aside from its high requirements)



  • @Maciejasjmj said:

    In a desperate attempt to not part with my fresh new PC for a month with no replacement in the middle of a semester, I've even whipped up a makeshift parallel port programmer on a prototyping board using a few pieces of wire and a 2,5-to-3,5-inch HDD converter. It almost worked, managed to even read a few bytes out of the BIOS, but writing a new one was apparently beyond its capabilities.

    Well, that's probably because you didn't quite get as far as turning off the hardware write protect switch on your BIOS Flash chip(s)...anyway, it's actually easier to do that today than it was in the olden days, it seems SPI NOR is the tool of choice for BIOS Flash any longer, and that stuff's pretty standardized, to the point where anyone with an el-cheapo microcontroller devboard could program it to be a Flash programmer...



  • @abarker said:

    I first read that as "less sane temperatures" and thought you were looking to cook something with your laptop.

    That would be the Dell XPS M1530, or just about anything else using the nVidia 8600M chipset.

    Not only did those thngs run hot enough to burn skin, the GPU ran hot enough to desolder itself and brick the entire unit. Owners affected by these problems found that they could use anything form hair dryers and blow torches to pizza ovens to flow the solder back where it came from.

    Amazingly enough, it works in many cases.


  • area_deu

    Wasn't there a similar issue with the nvidia 8800GT/GTX which could be fixed by putting it into an oven?


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    @M_Adams said:

    You'd use the laptop, say in a café, then put it in your tote. Rinse and repeat. The solder would slowly migrate away from the GPUs pins

    I had a laptop lose all its USB ports that way, one by one. The little black part would come loose, leaving the contacts bare and with no way to align to the plug. The GPU was prone to overheating and was located near the bank of USB ports so I figured that was probably the culprit.


  • Grade A Premium Asshole

    @redwizard said:

    Your post wasn't there when I posted my reply, and still wasn't there when I re-read it. Only when I came back later did it show up. No screen shot of that as I didn't expect it at the time. Hence, bug report.

    I have had it happen to me several times. I find it a barrier to discussion.



  • HP laptop?


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    I doubt it. I'm trying to remember what brand it was, I think it might have been a Gateway or a Lenovo?


  • Grade A Premium Asshole

    I have observed that USB problem on 15.6" and 17" Dell laptops with dedicated GPUs. In one case, the recommended fix by Dell was to use a USB hub on the ports that still work.


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    It was probably the Lenovo T500 I had before my current laptop. I think. That fits the timeframe anyway.



  • @Spencer said:

    Really, the only issue with XP 64-bit was a lack of manufacturer-supplied drivers. Which is the same thing that gave Vista a bad rap in it's early years (aside from its high requirements)

    TRWTF was Vista breaking so many apps due to its heightened security setup. Whether this was due to developers Doing It Wrong™ in their coding or lack of proper coding guidelines from Microsoft is a matter for debate. I know we held off on implementation because it broke practically every program we ran, save MS Office. For us, Windows 8 was almost out by the time most of our apps qualified for Vista/7.



  • @redwizard said:

    Whether this was due to developers Doing It Wrong™ in their coding or lack of proper coding guidelines from Microsoft is a matter for debate.

    No it's not.

    Applications that correctly followed Microsoft's guidelines from Windows 95 or NT4 still run fine with UAC. Applications that were written for Windows XP, but shat all over the guidelines don't run at all.

    @redwizard said:

    I know we held off on implementation because it broke practically every program we ran, save MS Office.

    Then you're part of the problem, if you were buying apps without looking for the Microsoft certification, or at least doing a quick-and-dirty check for compliance. (Running it through MS's app compatibility testing tool, for example.)

    The reason all these shitty apps are around is because people pay money for the shitty apps. Stop paying the money, and the apps either improve or go away.


  • :belt_onion:

    @DCRoss said:

    or just about anything else using the nVidia 8600M chipset.

    Hate! HAAAATEEEE! I usually prefer NVidia, but that thing... not only it overheated all the damned time, it also had the worst driver support of any NVidia product on Linux. I've seen laptops with older chipsets leaving it in the dust on the account of the shitty drivers.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    Applications that correctly followed Microsoft's guidelines from Windows 95 or NT4 still run fine with UAC. Applications that were written for Windows XP, but shat all over the guidelines don't run at all.

    That tells me most banking apps didn't follow MS guidelines.

    Not feeling reassured today...



  • @DCRoss said:

    That would be the Dell XPS M1530, or just about anything else using the nVidia 8600M chipset.

    Not only did those thngs run hot enough to burn skin, the GPU ran hot enough to desolder itself and brick the entire unit. Owners affected by these problems found that they could use anything form hair dryers and blow torches to pizza ovens to flow the solder back where it came from.

    Amazingly enough, it works in many cases.

    Hm, there's a dead Packard Bell laptop somewhere around my house... Before it died, it was pretty much shutting down constantly due to heat - those things ran hotter than 100C, you could make a tea on them.

    Might give the blowdryer a try.


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