A diskette? What’s that?

We just bought some off-lease Dell servers locally and I’m tasked with getting them set up and installed at the data center.  It’s not my favorite part of my work.  I’m at heart a programmer, and fiddling with hardware always manages to frustrate me.  Today’s encounter is particularly maddening.

We want to outfit these new servers with 32 GB of RAM each.  Since the machines only have eight RAM slots, we need 4 GB DIMMs.  I’ve mentioned before that quad-rank RAM is much cheaper than dual-rank RAM, so we go for the quad-rank parts whenever we can.  And our experience with these servers is that we can.

So I loaded one machine with 32 GB of RAM, turned it on, and it reported “No Memory.”  It turns out that these machines will support quad-rank RAM only if you have a later BIOS.  The BIOS on the machines we recently obtained is more than two years old.  But, hey, I’m okay with fiddling around a bit in order to save some money.

Now, Dell is great about making updates available on their support site, and within minutes I had downloaded the BIOS update on my workstation.  But installing the update turns out to be something of a problem.  You see, the BIOS update distribution creates a bootable FreeDOS diskette that contains the new BIOS image and the program to install it.

A diskette?  This is 2009!  Nobody even buys a server with a diskette anymore.  Hell, the Poweredge servers we bought don’t even have a place for a diskette drive!  How the hell am I supposed to install this BIOS update?  Would it be so hard for Dell to spend a little time making a bootable FreeDOS CD image that I can download?

There is another way to install the BIOS update, by the way.  Dell has Windows and Linux executable programs that will update the BIOS.  Of course, those require that your machine is running a version of Linux or Windows that Dell supports.  I find it irrational in the extreme that I have to install Windows just to update the BIOS on these machines.  If I’m really lucky, I won’t run into issues running Windows Server 2008 on a machine with an older BIOS.

I did briefly explore the idea of creating my own bootable FreeDOS CD with the required files on it.  There’s a program called FDOEMCD (FreeDOS OEM CD-ROM disc builder assistant) that supposedly will do that.  However, part of the build process is a 16-bit DOS program, which won’t run on my 64-bit Windows box.  I suppose I could put together a 32-bit XP system or a Virtual PC image, but doing that will take as much time as installing Windows.  Still, I’d sure like to explore that option one of these days when I don’t have anything more pressing to do like write rants.

And, no, I haven’t forgotten that I need to install Windows on these machines anyway in order to get everything running.  It’s just that having to install Windows first before doing the BIOS upgrade makes things a bit more inconvenient.

By the way, since I wasn’t looking forward to installing Windows five times, I’m taking a look at Clonezilla.  The idea is to install Windows once and then clone the drive image.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

5 comments to A diskette? What’s that?

  • Steven Karp

    When I have a similar issue — most recently with a Dell workstation, coincidentally — I use a USB floppy drive. I had more trouble finding a functional *disk* for the drive. Once I did, though, it worked like a charm.

  • Ricky C

    You can try just using one of the many Linux bootable CDs? Or you can make a UBCD4Win cd, which is probably a good idea anyway (a bootable XP disc basically). I keep a copy of UBCD4Win in my cd case all the time, in case issues like this arise.

  • Jim

    Ricky, trust me when I say that it isn’t quite that simple. I wish it were. I finally solved the problem by buying an external USB diskette drive and booting from that.

  • Roy Harvey

    At least the USB drive will work with (more or less) any system. Many cases no longer come with any place to even put a diskette drive except in a 5 1/4″ external bay using an adapter.

  • […] and running at the colocation facility.  After obtaining a USB diskette drive so that I could install BIOS updates, I ran into a problem where the BIOS update program wouldn’t work.  It took a while, but I […]

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