Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A word of caution: MSI H97 PC MATE

First time since forever, I purcase a new system, and decide on a midrange system consisting of an I7-4790 with 32 GiB ram on an MSI h97 PC MATE motherboard assisted by a GeForce GTX 780 and powered by a 700 watt PSU from CoolerMaster.

The system booted perfectly, and I decided to venture away from my strict Linux-ways and do a dual-boot with Windows 7.

Installation goes smooth, and as a last, finishing touch, I decide to make sure the firmware on the motherboard is as new as shiny as it can be. This is where everything went south.

I have a look around in the BIOS, taking notice of the "M-Flash" utility, which surely must be the safest bet.

I jump to MSI's website, and download the latest BIOS, ,my old version was 7850v50, and I download 7850v3, extract it to the root of a fat32 formattet usb disk attached to one of the USB3 ports.

After rebooting to BIOS, I first save the old BIOS, just in case, the file saved is called E7850IMS.500.
Good, everything seems fine, I'm now choosing to upgrade with E7850IMS.530. I'm confronted by a screen telling me the obvious: "Don't turn off the power, restart or unplug anything while the upgrade is in progress, the system will reboot to continue"

I accept, and the system does indeed a reset, to darkness. Forever.

After useless advice from MSI (Clear CMOS, rip out battery, try again and again), I admit defeat. I tried booting the system with the usb disk in every possible USB port, I tried 3 different USB keys, it is dead, fans runs, but nothing else, no beep, no power led, nothing.

I continue my investigation as to what might have gone wrong:
I redownload the file and compare sha512 sums of both the file on the USB disk, and they unsurprisingly match.

I download the old version of the bios, also called E7850IMS.500, this should be the same software as I had on the board to begin with. I compare this with the backup that I did from the BIOS, well, first of all, the file from the website is 16777216 bytes (all versions from there are the same length), but the file written by the BIOS backup function is 6815744 bytes long.
Opening the files in a hex editor shows that the content of the file written by the BIOS is only a subset of the file from their website.. The content that the board wrote corresponds with what appears inside the file from the website at offset 0x9d0000.
So here's my question... (which MSI would not answer, even though I phrased it quite politely in my corrospondance with support): Why the FUCK does the BIOS write different files than it's supposed to read? Would it read both? or could the "M-Flesh" be so badly written that it just writes whatever file to the flash without checking as an absolute minimum the following conditions: "Does this file contain firmware for this board model?", "Does this file contain firmware in a format compatible with the current version of M-Flash?", "Is this firmware the expected size?" - I guess stuff like that is not important for a board which comes with no jtag, no schematic, no NOTHING that could possibly allow me to recover it?

Could it be that MSI ships their boards with a flash utility which is not able to flash their own updates ?

MSI has no documentation on how to update their BIOS, they state "use the provided utility", well, I did, it was provided by my motherboard, and if the onboard version can't handle the file format, it shouldn't fucking try, now should it ?

And how to flash the board correctly.. MSI is not able to give me any instructions, the README that comes with the updater tells nothing at all, the utility that comes with the board will not run under windows (which was why I resorted to M-Flash to begin with), and MSI is unable to tell me which version of DOS I should use with it..

Support finally told me this, in more broken English:
Flash the board by extracting the files into the root of an USB-Drive and using the M-Flash utility.

They told me this AFTER I told them exactly how I bricked the board.
They told me to do the exact same thing that I did, that's as close to a canned answer as it can be.

I'm done with MSI.

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