How To Unlock the MediaSmart Server EX485/EX487 BIOS

by Alex Kuretz on January 9, 2009 · 58 comments

in Guides

Note: Please be aware that even opening the case of your MediaSmart Server will void your warranty. It is my understanding that since HP has upgraded the amount of memory in the new MediaSmart Server, the warranty exemption for the EX470/EX475 for memory upgrades does not apply to the EX485/EX487.

When I first took apart the EX487 and saw that it had the same debug connector as the EX475 for video, keyboard, mouse, and serial input/output, I was excited to take a look at the BIOS to see what had changed and what possibilities existed for tweaking. I hooked up my cable for VGA output, connected a USB keyboard, and powered on the system (with a fan blowing across the motherboard since the server is only passively cooled). I saw the system POST with the memory count and other usual information, then pressed the DEL key as instructed to enter the BIOS setup. You can imagine my surprise and disappointment when the system reported that it was “Entering Setup”, paused for a moment, then started booting off the embedded USB bootflash that contains the Server Recovery boot image. There was also an option to enter the Boot Order Select menu, but it failed with the same behavior.

EX487 POST screen

EX487 POST screen

I pondered on this awhile, trying various key presses in the hope that a magic key sequence would gain me access, with no luck. I then decided to take apart my EX475 and do a little comparison, as I couldn’t imagine that HP would totally lock out all access to the server BIOS. The board layout is very similar, and I noticed a new jumper had been added next to the connector for the SATA backplane. The jumper was labeled “J”, and was staring back at me, daring me to close its circuit.

The two pins shown must be closed with a jumper to access the BIOS

The two pins shown must be closed with a jumper to access the BIOS

And of course I had to. I have to admit to some trepidation as I pressed the power button after applying a spare jumper from a donor piece of equipment to the “J” connection. The server powered on normally, I was presented with the POST screen, I pressed the DEL key on my USB keyboard, and finally reached the BIOS setup menu. Woohoo!

BIOS Main page

BIOS Main page

The first thing I did was navigate to the Hardware Health Status menu to make sure I had adequate cooling from the floor fan blowing across the heatsinks, and all appeared good as the CPU was reading 38C. The backplane was reading -128C since it was disconnected, and the voltage readings appeared normal. The most interesting part of this menu is the adjustments provided for controlling fan speed, ramp rate, and activation thresholds. It appears that the thermal policy is now fully implemented in the BIOS rather than partially in the operation system as it was in the EX475, which may mean that an Add-In such as MSS Fan Control may be more difficult or impossible, however futher investigation is definitely needed to be certain.

BIOS Fan speed settings

BIOS Fan speed settings


BIOS Health screen

BIOS Health screen

After being sure I wasn’t going to cause thermal damage to the system while it was running bare on my test bench, I took a more leisurely stroll through the settings tabs of the BIOS. The main page had shown the basic system overview with processor and memory information. Under the North Bridge section of the Chipset tab, I found some memory settings that indicate the system may be able to handle even faster 1067Mhz RAM for a slight performance increase.

BIOS RAM speed settings

BIOS RAM speed settings

Many users that performed the blind manual steps to enable automatic power on of the server after power loss will be happy to see that the BIOS now defaults to remember the last state the server was in when it lost power. This means that if your server is on when your power goes out, when the power comes back on the server will also automatically power on.

BIOS USB and Power-On settings

BIOS USB and Power-On settings

There is an HP tab that contains settings to Enable the onboard (Server Recovery) flash as well as define the “Initial PWM Duty Cycle”, which determines how fast the fans spin for the first 5 seconds of server power-on.

BIOS HP settings

BIOS HP settings

The Advanced tab contains many additional areas to explore, though none jumped out at me as being extremely exciting.

BIOS Advanced settings

BIOS Advanced settings

I was also able to access the Boot Select Menu, which listed both the onboard Server Recovery flash and the option for a PXE network boot. I have not yet investigated these options but will let you know what I uncover.

BIOS Boot Select Menu

BIOS Boot Select Menu

Unfortunately I did not find any “golden bullet” or “holy grail” that would enable the eSATA port to work with port multiplier external enclosures, but I will continue to investigate if any driver updates can help with this situation. Also, I have not captured photos of every single BIOS page, instead focusing on the ones I found to be of most interest. Let me know if there’s something you’d like to see and I’ll do my best to get a photo for you.

And remember, doing this will most likely void your warranty.





Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 58 comments }

Donavon West January 9, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Alex, you are my hero! I was minutes from exchanging my VGA cable for a PS/2 model after going through the same frustration back in December.

Alex Kuretz January 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Glad this helps you, Donavon. :) The PS2 keyboard wouldn’t have worked either, the block is for all keyboards not just USB.

Scott January 9, 2009 at 2:43 pm

I found some memory settings that indicate the system may be able to handle even faster 1067Mhz RAM for a slight performance increase.

Does the EX47x Have a setting like this also? if so what is the fastest memory it will hold?

The motherboards are the same so should the max memory right?

Alex Kuretz January 9, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Hi Scott, no, the EX47x uses an AMD chipset, and the board are BIOS are different in that respect. You can put faster memory into the EX470 but it will still run at only 667mhz.

ymboc January 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Can you share what options are available under Advanced / “CPU Configuration” ?

Alex Kuretz January 11, 2009 at 11:23 pm

ymboc, I’ll for sure get a picture of this for you the next time I have the case apart, it might take me a couple days though.

Ernie Tirado January 12, 2009 at 12:50 pm

If ever my HP MS system ever goes bad and I can not recover it thru the normal chanels can I send it to you for recovery? Think of it you have a business waiting for you.
Best of luck, we need people like you, best of wishes
Ernie

Alex Kuretz January 13, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Thanks Ernie, I’m happy to help people on the forums, not sure if I’m ready to set up a mail-order repair shop. :D

locker March 12, 2009 at 11:21 am

So, there is no way to install DDR2-800 memory in EX47x and to run it on the full speed?

Alex Kuretz March 12, 2009 at 12:58 pm

You can install DDR2-800 memory in the EX47x servers, however it will not perform at the higher speed due to chipset limitations.

Alex Kuretz March 16, 2009 at 9:44 pm

ymboc, so sorry for the massive delay. Here’s the screenshot you wanted for the Advanced->CPU Configuration screen, and I’m leaving the server open on my bench for a little while so let me know if you want to see something else.

Alex

ymboc March 17, 2009 at 5:07 am

Cool! Thanks! I don’t know what else there is to see… Off the top of my head I think I’d be curious to know what SuperIO chip HP is using in the new MSS. That and I guess anything else ‘juicy’ you might find.

Cheers

Dave April 10, 2009 at 2:28 am

Alex- thanks much for sharing your info and experience inside the MSS boxes. I just got a 470, and was going to upgrade the processor to the Orleans 2.6GHz 1MB L2 version. Do you know if there is any ability in the 470 bios to overclock at all? (Not that it will likely make a lot of difference … just curious.) Also planning on bumping the memory to 2GB.
Thanks for your help,
Dave

Alex Kuretz April 10, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Hi Dave,

I do not believe there is any capacity for overclocking within the BIOS of the EX47x servers. For all the dirt on how to upgrade your 470, including which processors work, which don’t, how to update the BIOS, etc, Ed Tittel wrote a great article that covers most of this. His article was based in large part on information gathered on this site, particularly this topic in the forums.

I hope this helps,
Alex

Marcos April 14, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Alex:
Great article! Have you considered upgrading the CPU to something like an Intel Dual Core E5200?
Do you know if the EX48x can handle it?

Alex Kuretz April 15, 2009 at 12:05 am

Hi Marcos,

I’ve definitely thought about it, but the concern is that there are very few Intel CPUs with a low enough TDP to imagine they would be able to function. There’s some discussion here of ideas people have about possible CPU upgrades in the EX48x servers.

Tomas June 15, 2009 at 6:02 pm

I have a new EX485 and want to up the amount of memory so some of my more heavy duty server apps can run.
To avoid cracking open my new box, how many slots are available for memory? It believe there are 4 slots but is memory limited by the bios?

DDR2, PC2-6400 (400 MHz), 2048 MBytes, Samsung

Alex Kuretz June 16, 2009 at 9:32 am

Hi Tomas,

There is a single DIMM slot on the motherboard, you’d need to replace the existing 2GB stick with a 4GB stick if you want an upgrade. This should work fine though I’ve not tried it.

Tomas June 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Thanks Alex,
It is kind of sad that they limit the memory on a server box, even one for the home.
Thanks again for your help,

Alex Kuretz June 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Have you taken a look at the server? There’s no room, this thing is pretty tiny!

Tomas June 16, 2009 at 12:43 pm

True, but my laptop has 8 gig of RAM.

Jkasal September 24, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Has anyone had an issue with the keyboard still not working after setting the jumper? I have tried both a USB and PS2 and nothing. The first time I boot with a keyboard attached the num lock light flickers then disapears. I do a hard boot and the NUM lock light doesn’t even flicker.

Does the USB keyboard need to be in a specific port? Sounds stupid but so does the fact the the jumper doesn’t work.

I should add I tried 3 different jumpers just in case it was dusty, dirty, or something else. I have never heard of a jumper not working.

jbchow January 11, 2011 at 2:43 am

I found out that along with J2 you must also short pin 3 and pin 4 on CN9 connector. (hp MediaSmart server EX485) If pin 4 is not shorted to pin 3 the system will now allow access to the bios.

MSS October 4, 2011 at 9:55 pm

This is the answer that I have been looking for. I have been struggling to get into the BIOS of my EX485 and the secret is to short pins 3 & 4 also.
Thank you for this tip

tkris September 26, 2009 at 11:02 am

I’ve actually had that issue.. unfortunately I don’t have a resolution yet, it’s just nice to know it’s not just me.
http://www.mediasmarthome.com/forum/thread/11977/HP-EX-485-CPU-upgrade-sucessful/?page=7

I hope to be able to try some more permutations in the next day or so, I’ll post back if I figure anything out.

Alex Kuretz September 26, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I’ve had no issues entering the BIOS with either PS2 or USB keyboards. I presume you are trying to enter the BIOS, do you see any indication on-screen that the keyboard is detected?

tkris September 26, 2009 at 7:55 pm

In my case, we were getting a “Keyboard/Interface Error” flash and then the system wouldn’t load the BIOS, it would boot the OS.
We plugged in a PS/2 keyboard and the error went away, but we couldn’t interact with the system. We finally thought to leave the PS/2 keyboard in place to satisfy the ‘interface error’ issue and also plugged in a USB keyboard on the bottom port of the back and it allowed us in. We now both have working 485′s with E5200′s.

Thanks much for the information in this thread!

jkasal September 27, 2009 at 11:27 am

tkris, I have the exact same symptoms. I will try plugging in both Keyboards and see where that gets me. Thanks for posting back! I’ll post back my findings.

Jkasal October 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Still not working :(. I too left the PS/2 Keyboard plugged in (It did satisfy the keyboard error)and the lights on the PS/2 Keyboard flashed. I also had the USB keyboard plugged in however the USB interfaces don’t initialize until after the “Press Del for Setup”. Once the USB interfaces were up the USB keyboard lights flashed and I pressed “Del” and nothing. It continued to run through the POST and eventually WHS begain booting.

How did you get the USB interface working quicker? Did you press del after or before they were initialized?

Thanks

Jkasal October 3, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Okay, got it working now.

Apperantly the IDE Hardrive Jumpers (3 of them I tried) don’t work or the Jumper posts are screwy. I ended up using a jumper and also shorted out the soldered ends on the under side of the MOBO with a car key. I had the PS/2 Keyboard and the USB keyboard both plugged in. The USB Keyboard was on the Bottom USB port on the rear of the unit.

Now I just need to figure out where the speed steping option is… I don’t see it any where.

Donavon West October 5, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Guys,

With all due respect to Alex (who is clearly a very smart guy), it’s not called the “J” jumper, it’s called “JP2″ and is clearly maked as such in the photo (look to the right on the pins). The “J” is in an outlined box with various resistor and capacitor numbers (ex: C389, R437, etc). This is the “legend” to the capacitors and resistors that sit directly behind the CN9 connector. If you look, you can partialy see the matching “J” behind the two rightmost pins on CN9.

I couldn’t bite my tounge any longer. This misnaming of the jumper has gone on long enough. ;)

Donavon West
HomeServerHacks.com

tkris October 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm

On ours, the speed stepping option appeared in the bios after we changed the CPU over to the E5200 and went back in. I actually left speed stepping on – It seems to work correctly for me, I get 2.5GHz under load, and it drops back to 1.7 or 1.8GHz at idle. I don’t know that the stock CPU supports speed stepping, so the bios must be hiding it.

Jared January 4, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Hi Alex,

I have been reading through the related and threads and was wondering whether anyone has had any luck with the LX-195? I’d like to put Ubuntu Server on mine and am curious whether:
1) I can get away with using just the VGA cable (vice one with keyboard/mouse).
2) I can get BIOS access via the jumper like you mention above.
3) Whether I can boot from attached USB on an LX-195.

Thanks for enlightening all of us! :)
-Jared

Jason January 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm

@tkris (or anyone else)
Did you have to update bios to support that chip or was it a direct replacement? What is the temp like with that chip? Anything to be aware of if I wanted to try the same replacement?

James P. January 14, 2010 at 8:13 am

I was wondering if anyone had run into problems doing this on the EX-495? I’ve got the VGA+PS/2 KB+PS/2 Mouse cable, I’ve put the jumper on JP2, and I can’t get a keyboard to work. I’ve tried two different keyboards that both work on other systems. Is there something that I’m missing? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Dongers February 6, 2010 at 11:48 am

Is there any mention/option to enable hardware virtualisation (intel vt) in the bios?

Bill Z February 22, 2010 at 10:01 am

If you pull the power on my powered EX485 and then plug the AC back in, it will not turn on as mentioned in the original post. I want the HP to power up when the power is restored no matter what state it previously was in. Does anyone have the “in the blind” steps to change the BIOS power setting for the EX485 using just a USB keyboard? I prefer to not get into the connection of a monitor at the debugging port since I intend to do this only once. Occasionally, we get a power failure here which outlasts my backup power. I would like to be able to reboot remotely with a power module that I can access over the net thru a home automation system. I can do that with a generic WHS running on an old PC but not with the HP EX485.

Chris April 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm

I too was having problems with my keyboard not working. I tried PS/2 and USB. Using the bottom usb port on the rear of the server is the key, thanks to Jkasal post.

John Parker April 14, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I had an nc6220 shut itself down completely this morning, that is no power no lights, black screen. After 15 min or so I was able to start it again. I have deduced that it kicked out because of overheating (there was a little “overheated electrical part” smell). After starting I noted that the fan wasn’t operating and I was about to replace it. Then the next time started the fan was on for a brief period and then went off. First question – should it run all the time? I think maybe not. Went to the advanced setting menu and tried to set the “Fan always on when on AC power” to on. Now I’m confused does “Enable” mean it is actually enabled or does it mean it is disabled and I need to set it to Diasable if I want the fan always on?

Raul July 28, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I’m also interested in Dongers question about enabling virtualization (VT) settings. Anyone who has experimented with this, is it available in the BIOS?

James December 8, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Alex,
Where did you get the debug cable? My ex487 nic has been disabled (inadvertent error), so I need to enable by local login so I assume I need to open the ex487 up, get a debug cable, usb kbd, vga screen. Or, would the ex487 take a usb kbd into any of the avail usb ports and would a usb-vga adapter work? (startec makes one)

Alex Kuretz December 8, 2010 at 9:14 pm

The debug cables are available here:
http://www.mediasmartserver.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=8066

However we have a Wiki article on how to enable the NIC with just a USB keyboard: http://www.mediasmartserver.net/wiki/index.php/How_to_fix_a_disabled_network_interface

Let us know how this ends up working out for you!

Angel November 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Can I make my own debug video cable? I just need to see what the BIOS says and those front mounted lights are giving me different patterns each time my EX470 boots. Thanks!

Alex Kuretz November 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm
Angel December 13, 2011 at 5:49 am

Thanks! I found some instructions on “blindly” resetting the BIOS to factory defaults. Using keystrokes in a prescribed order. It worked but the EX was still not responding. So I checked each HDD and found system folders on drives 1 and 2. Drive 1 had fewer system files. It turns out #1 was damaged and the EX reinstalled the system on #2. I popped drive 2 on a regular PC… the first thing after boot-up? An activation screen! The reason the EX470 wasn’t working was because the headless server had no way of notifying me that I needed to activate the reinstalled copy of WHSv1. A call to India and the copy was operational. The EX470 has been resurrected. Note to next headless server maker: Add a Windows Sideshow 2″ LCD to the front of the box.

I have a new rackmount WHS 2011 machine now so the EX is being retasked as a personal cloud. I got a MS homeserver domain name for it. Where’s the best instructions for getting it viewable from the Internet? WHS Remote Access says it is but the browser say otherwise.

Peter May 2, 2011 at 12:23 am

Hello.
Please allow one newbie question. Could an applied jumper result in problems to restore the homeserver with factory disc over LAN cable?
Any tip appreciated. Thanks, Peter

Alex Kuretz May 2, 2011 at 10:56 am

Yes, I recall not being able to enter Server Recovery mode when the jumper was in place, try removing it if you are having issues.

jbchow May 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Make sure the embedded flash drive is enabled and set to the primary boot device. If you disabled this device from the boot menu you will have this exact problem regardless of any jumper setting.

Peter May 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Thanks @all :-)
I will replace the jumper with an external switch. I have set the bios to default and to failsafe values before but will double check the flashdrive settings manually.

Jordan October 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I as so new to posting questions that I’m not sure how to ask … but here goes.
I have read most everything about CU upgrades for ex475s. So I recently purchased an LE-1640 … the one that’s most reported as being a good candidate, w/o a bios mod.
I cannot get the server to boot. I even went the extra step and modified the bios per articles read … 2 utilities, 2 donor bios’, 2 extracts, then 2 inserts, then Flash using Winflash, etc.
But still no boot … it powers up, normal lights flash, then the network light on front panel blinks, then … power down.
Do I have a bad CPU? Do some ex475s just not accept the LE-1640s? Is there something else I can try? And finally, according to one article, it’s likely not worth the trouble cause benchmarking results show little gain … so is the reward now just the fun, and not significant performance improvement?
Thanks all for any help …

ymboc October 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Jordan,

There were two releases of the LE-1640. While the earlier release worked for many (read: not everyone), there tended to be more problems getting the second, higher-clocked version to work reliably.

Your symptoms are typical of a CPU that’s asking too much of the MSS.

Aside: Bios mods aren’t required to run the LE-1640 series CPUs. The modifications you describe were to enable dual-core support.

PS: This topic is about the EX48x… your post & my reply concern the EX47x only. You’ll probably have more success following up in the EX47x hardware section of the forums.

Jordan October 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Appreciate (extremely) quick response. And thanks for reminding me about this thread being for the ex48X. But pls permit me one more volley.
I read about what you say, that more than one version of the CPU were produced. I think I worked to avoid that trap after reading many articles. I purchased the (ADH1640IAA5DH) ‘Orleans’ LE1640 running at 2.6Ghz, not the other (ADH1640IAA4DP) LE 1640 clocked at 2.7Ghz.
Understood about the bios upgrade not needed, was just desperate.
Now I’m just stuck. There is either some other difference in my server build (from different production runs (?), or I have a bad CPU, or something else that I’ve yet to read about.
Thanks again for helping a rookie … as dissapointing as it’s been, I am enjoying the heck out of reading your journey to discover the right acpitbl.bin file that finally worked for you.
Wish I could produce a “Eureka” moment as you did.

Jordan October 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Can you direct me to the EX47x hardware section of the forums? How do I get there?

ymboc October 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm

At the top of the page, click forums…. there you will find the “EX470/EX475 Hardware” section.

Angel December 13, 2011 at 6:02 am

Note to all: sometimes an unresponsive EX470 might be caused by its hard drives and not its BIOS. Remove each drive and connect to another PC using a SATA to USB connector of some sort. (You should include one in your toolbox.)

Separate the drives that contain system folders. Test each of those drives by booting up on a regular PC to see which boots Windows Home Server. Possible outcomes include: faulty HDD, faulty WHS installation, WHS installation requires activation, etc. If there’s no problems the EX unit may have other issues mentioned in this forum thread.

Jim Turner September 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Great article. Unfortunately, with or without the jumper, my EX495 never offers up the DEL for setup option — only the F11 for BBS POPUP. Any ideas? Anyone know what form of witchcraft is required to access the BIOS on an EX495?

Brian October 27, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I have an HP EX490 that stopped working. I connected the VGA debug board (and jumper), but all I see is the “Windows Home Server” splash screen and repeating progress bar. I had heard that sometimes the system ran a chkdsk, which could take a while, so I left it in this state for 2 days. Nothing changes. Cycling the power, it went into a cycle of startup, followed by reboot. I’ve now tried enabling the onboard flash in the hopes that that would get things booted up, but still nothing.
Any ideas how to just get booted up so I can check available disk space…EventLogs…etc?

Alex Kuretz October 28, 2012 at 10:07 am

You are much more likely to get help by posting in the Troubleshooting forum rather than in a blog post that isn’t related to your issue.

Comments are closed, visit the forums to continue the discussion.

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