How To Unlock the MSS EX485/EX487 BIOS
Written by:Alex Kuretz
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.
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.
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 Status Menu
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 Ram Speeds
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.