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Refurb Dell Precision T3400- BIOS Upgrade Question


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#1 OFFLINE   Cluttermagnet

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 07:54 AM

Hi, All-

I got another of these Dell desktops. Couldn't resist- it was just north
of 40 dollars on Ebay. I already have two others and I like them a lot-
they're easy to work on, fast, and quiet.

It  came with an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU at 2.33GHz which I immediately
upgraded to 3.16GHz. A mere 10 dollars on Ebay. Ditto for the big
aluminum extrusion heatsink- replaced it with a nice copper heat pipe
cooler for another 10 dollars. The box came with enough RAM that I
can just leave it be- 4G of ECC PC2-6400E/800MHz. It's all good enough
for me. So for around 65 dollars, I get a real nice piece of 2007 tech.
This is a great price point on the desktop continuum...

I'm writing to ask for opinions on the BIOS issue. This newest box
has a rather old BIOS, version A02, which dates to December '07.
That's around the time these first came out, I think. The other two
boxes have A07 and A11 BIOS versions. Now, given that this new
unit seems so far to be fully up to the easy job it has here, do I really
want to bother to update it? Looks like A11 and A14 are currently the
two available options. I'm looking at A11...

I think most of the BIOS revisions addressed changes in WIndows,
not so much related to Linux at all. I'm running MInt 17.3 mate on the
new box. I think some of the BIOS updates allowed for more and more
RAM, up to 16GB if I remember right...

If I were to update my BIOS on the new box, this would be the first
time ever for me. I understand roughly what is involved. I'm running
from off line UPS power, so potential power drops would not be an
issue. I'd simply have to learn how to make an install medium, CD
or flash drive, that would boot (I guess) into a DOS-like environment
and run the .exe form that the BIOS update comes as. If I do that,
I would be seeking just a little coaching to get through the first
experience.

So what do you guys think? Should I leave well enough alone, or go
ahead and update? Meanwhile, I will continue to read up on what,
exactly, the various BIOS revisions actually did- but I have seen some
comments on this in the past and have already formed some
impressions as to what changed. I'm not yet clear whether this would
really add anything meaningful for me.

Thanks, Clutter

Edited by Cluttermagnet, 22 February 2016 - 08:32 AM.

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#2 ONLINE   sunrat

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 08:01 PM

Don't update BIOS unless it specifically addresses an issue you are having. I'm still running 2008 BIOS on my Core2Duo machine.
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#3 OFFLINE   Capt.Crow

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 08:39 PM

Flashed a bios once .. Never again ... Major bloop .
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#4 OFFLINE   ebrke

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 08:51 PM

Only time I ever flashed BIOS was was back in 2004 when I started with linux. I was trying various live distros, and after running Knoppix live on disc and shutting down, the machine wouldn't power on again. I finally unplugged and replugged the box to fix the issue. Someone advised that it was a BIOS problem, and I flashed with great dread. It did work--box is still running. albeit slowly, today--but it's a testament to how badly I wanted to run linux. I haven't flashed a BIOS since.

Edited by ebrke, 22 February 2016 - 08:52 PM.

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#5 OFFLINE   V.T. Eric Layton

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 09:00 PM

I've never updated a BIOS on any machine I've ever used. Too much chance of converting it into a brick.

#6 OFFLINE   zlim

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 09:59 PM

I updated a BIOS once because I wanted to install Windows 2K on a ME laptop. The screen kept blacking out during the install. One of the BIOS updates fixed the problem of "screen blacks out" while trying to install Windows 2000.
Sweating bullets, I took the plunge and it worked out okay. I could then install Windows 2K.

My advice: unless there is a specific problem and a BIOS version says it fixes this problem, don't mess with the BIOS.
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#7 OFFLINE   goretsky

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 02:29 AM

Hello,

I update the BIOS (or now UEFI) firmware on all my computers as soon as I'm aware that new firmware is available.  A few hundred machines (maybe over 1000 now) ranging from palmtop PCs to servers, each probably done 3-4× over the life of the machine.  Some, though, never had any BIOS updates made available, while others might have had ten or more.

I can only think of one instance in which a laptop was "bricked" and couldn't be recovered.  This was around the time Microsoft Windows Vista was coming out, and I was upgrading a laptop whose BIOS manufacturer specifically said the update was needed for Vista compatibility.

In the decade since then, I have not had a problem, and many computers these days have a "recovery mode" built into their BIOS so if a flash does go wrong, you can still do a recovery.  I've done those a few times on smartphones.

I looked at the Dell Precision T4300 downloads and noticed the two BIOS updates, A11 and A14.  I did not, however, see a change log for
either, which is kind of annoying.

Generally speaking, though, motherboard BIOS updates often add support for new models of CPU (higher frequencies, more caches, cores, etc.) or, memory speeds and memory capacities that were not available when the motherboard was being qualified and tested.  Sometimes they might add support for a new spec for something, but only usually when they shipped with something that was a draft spec. Occasionally, they may even contain fixes for bugs or security vulnerabilities.

If you do decided to update the BIOS, I would suggest making sure you first install a fresh CMOS/RTC backup battery.  Many motherboards use a CR-2032 Lithium coin cell, which are pretty ubiquitous in terms of availability.

Regards,

Aryeh Goretsky
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#8 OFFLINE   Cluttermagnet

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 07:49 AM

Great replies, All-

Well, so far I did upgrade from a 2.33GHz CPU to a 3.16GHz, which
is supposedly about the fastest you want to run this particular mobo.
Anyway, I obviously didn't need a BIOS upgrade to do that- though I
was prepared to have to back out of the CPU swap if it didn't go well.

I agree, Aryeh, it's irritating to not be able to see a change log and
a list of all the BIOS releases. What I have found over the years is
anecdotal comments from obviously knowledgeable folks discussing
informally what fixes what problems- and invariably it centered around
new releases of Windows, or else adding more RAM or CPU capability-
well, mostly... The Dell forums have yielded various nuggets of info
during my searches, but so have others...

I think I will hold fast at 4GB RAM for this box. So no obvious issues
at the outset. I think I'll just continue casually researching the BIOS
history for the Precision T3400 for now. One other possibility is that
I may want to try installing an old copy of XP on a different HDD than
the small 120G SSD I presently have running. Love the fast boot, BTW.
So that may force the issue so far as the BIOS. Time will tell. BTW
if I do that I would keep that install of XP bottled up and not let it see
much if any of the internet, as it is a sitting duck these days. If I can
find the time... have been spending a lot of time with the radio hobby...

Clutter

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Edited by Cluttermagnet, 23 February 2016 - 07:55 AM.

Special Limited Edition Cluttermaster 2007 with direct air cooling system.
"ClutterLabs" --open hardware for open software" .......... Registered Linux User 446867


("It takes an entire village to raise a child...")
"It takes only one bulldozer to raze an entire village..."
"Hey, Mel- isn't that your kid driving that bulldozer?"

In loving memory of Bruno Knaapen of Amsterdam, who shared
his love of Linux, and thereby made the world a better place...

#9 OFFLINE   V.T. Eric Layton

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 07:27 PM

View Postgoretsky, on 23 February 2016 - 02:29 AM, said:

Many motherboards use a CR-2032 Lithium coin cell, which are pretty ubiquitous in terms of availability.


I just bought five of them a couple weeks ago for .72 cents w/ free shipping. That's .72 cents for all five w/ free shipping. Direct shipped from China. I received them in 8 days. Gotta' love those Chinamen (and women). :yes:

http://www.ebay.com/...&rt=nc&LH_BIN=1

#10 OFFLINE   Cluttermagnet

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Posted 25 February 2016 - 01:01 AM

Nice price for a small lot. Yep batteries are getting so cheap!
BTW if you're interested, I can put you onto a deal for 100pcs
for often 5 dollars or less. Thing is, you have to bid for them on
Ebay. This same auction comes around every 6 days. I've seen
so many auctioned that I think they are getting a bit less
competitive. I spend way too much time on Ebay, BTW. I love
to buy up parts for all the electronics I'll probably never have
time to build. Heh!
Special Limited Edition Cluttermaster 2007 with direct air cooling system.
"ClutterLabs" --open hardware for open software" .......... Registered Linux User 446867


("It takes an entire village to raise a child...")
"It takes only one bulldozer to raze an entire village..."
"Hey, Mel- isn't that your kid driving that bulldozer?"

In loving memory of Bruno Knaapen of Amsterdam, who shared
his love of Linux, and thereby made the world a better place...

#11 OFFLINE   V.T. Eric Layton

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Posted 25 February 2016 - 02:16 AM

Yeah, eBay is FUN! Wish I had more $$$ to waste there. ;)




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