It's Alive! I have successfully resurrected my temporarily deceased Acer laptop. This makes me really happy . No data has been lost.
I suspected a BIOS failure of some sort, but it wasn't making any attempt to start up, save for a few of the correct LEDs blinking. I took it in to the Acer repair centre in Hong Kong who, after keeping it for 4 days and charging a HK$300 inspection fee, told me that the main board was dead and needed to be replaced, at an all-up cost of approximately HK$3500 (AU$550). I took it back from them and decided to do some more research myself.
I discovered a forum post where a guy with an Acer had killed it during a BIOS update and had successfully removed the BIOS Flash chip, reprogrammed it (using an identical programmer to one we have at work), and brought it back to life. I started down this path and completely disassembled the laptop.
I decided to keep looking on the net and came across some forum entries that described how to recover some other notebooks from BIOS problems. It seems that if the machine has a Phoenix BIOS then it supports a Crisis Recovery Mode, where you can connect an external USB floppy drive, hold down the correct keys and then connect power and turn on the laptop. If the right files are on the floppy then they'll be read and loaded into the BIOS. I reassembled the laptop to give this a go.
I took a trip to the local computer market and bought a floppy disk for 3 RMB. This place is 4 floors of every electronic component imaginable, with 2 floors dedicated to PC parts. It also reeks of stale cigarettes like nothing else. After each trip there I had to shower and change my clothes and I was only there for 10 minutes!
It seems there are several versions of this Crisis Recovery Tool available. I downloaded one from a forum, one from HP and one from Compaq. I ended up using the one that made the floppy disk with a *.WPH BIOS file, the same file type as the one provided for my notebook by Acer.
I held down the Fn +Esc keys on my dead laptop, powered it up and… nothing. I managed to deduce from the error beep codes from the Acer UK website that the notebook couldn't locate the BIOS file. After many attempts I guessed that my Imation LS-120 Superdrive wasn't being detected the same way as a regular floppy, so back to the electronics market I went to buy a real FDD for 60 RMB.
I re-created the Crisis Recovery Disk using the new floppy drive. This time when I entered Crisis Recovery Mode the laptop gave a repetitive beeping sound, which indicated that the BIOS was being re-programmed. There were 3 BIOS files on the Acer Australia website, one for ATI video (mine), one for Intel video and one to suit Vista that supports both video formats. The first one didn't work, so I loaded up the one for Vista and viola! My laptop came back to life.
The final solution:
- Download the correct BIOS file for the laptop from the Acer website.
- Download the CrisDisk Crisis Recovery Tool from wherever you can find it.
- Create the Crisis Recovery Disk using a USB floppy disk drive.
- Overwrite the BIOS file on the floppy disk with the one for my laptop.
- Connect the USB floppy disk drive to the dead laptop.
- Hold down Fn + Esc on the laptop, connect the power and press the power button.
- Wait whilst the laptop beeps, wait for another few minutes after the beeping stops since this is when the BIOS file is actually being written.
- Reboot and enjoy the paperweight becoming a laptop once again.
I was a bit annoyed with Acer at this point for two reasons. Firstly, they didn't really try to fix my laptop, they were only interested in replacing the motherboard. I guess all these corporations are like this but it's not a good feeling when you know that you're being deliberately ripped off. My second annoyance was that one of the BIOS files on the Acer website that was specifically for my laptop actually didn't work. I wonder how many other paperweights are out there.
Still, now I'm a happy camper again because I recovered my laptop for the equivalent of only about AU$60 and a sum total of a day of my time .