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Post BIOS Upgrade Beeping Means Trouble

I’ve got half-a-dozen machines that I use to test Windows 10 Insider Previews. Just yesterday, I upgraded my Dell XPS 2720 (Haswell i7-4770S, 256 GB SSD, 16 GB RAM) to Build 18956. After an upgrade I always clean up the PC, update anything that needs it, then make a pristine image backup. One update item popped up from Dell’s SupportAssist application. I needed to update my BIOS from version A15 to A16. In running same, I noticed Dell uses the well-known WinFlash utility. You can launch the BIOS update process from inside the Windows OS. It then schedules a restart after which the heavy lifting is handled in the UEFI shell. So I fired it off, and it reported successful completion. After another reboot, however, the screen remained black and emitted a perpetual sequence of three short beeps followed by a pause. After messing with PCs since the 1980s, I know that post BIOS upgrade beeping means trouble.

If Post BIOS Upgrade Beeping Means Trouble, ‘Sup?

One thing worth noting is that beep codes are not standard, but vary from vendor to vendor (system or motherboard maker). At the Dell site, I quickly learned that even their PC families have unique beep code tables. I did, however, find the XPS beep codes for XPS desktops pretty easily. (The XPS 2720 is an All-in-One and though it’s built like a laptop it’s still classed as a desktop.) Here’s what that table looks like:

Post BIOS Upgrade Beeping Means Trouble.table

Read the 3 entry to see what’s up this time.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

When something like this happens, the first thing is to avoid panic. Second, because you won’t know if the problem is transient or real until you try to reboot again, press and hold down the power button to turn the machine off. When a PC’s BIOS is beeping, you must press and hold that button until the PC turns completely off. Then, after crossing your fingers, press the power button (briefly) to start the PC up again. In this case, the error was transient because the PC booted all the way into Windows 10 without further issues.

Afterward, a quick check of the BIOS in Speccy shows the right date and version number (A16).

Post BIOS Upgrade Beeping Means Trouble.BIOScheck

A quick check in Speccy shows the BIOS update “took” to Version A16. Whew! What a relief . . .

What If a Reboot Produces More of the Same Beeps?

In my case, code 3 means possible problems with one of the chipsets on the motherboard. For Intel mobos that means potential issues with NorthBridge or SouthBridge chips. If indeed the problem had persisted, a motherboard swap would have been necessary. That’s because these chips are invariably soldered, rather than socketed. Thus, replacing just the chip — and not the whole motherboard — isn’t really an option. It could be done in the right repair facility, but would undoubtedly cost more than a new mobo (I see prices online from $159 to $300 as typical).

On the other hand, it might just be the BIOS itself that’s misbehaving. So before you start buying motherboards, disassembling your PC, and replacing old with new, there’s another thing to try. Motherboards generally include a coin battery. (It’s usually called the CMOS battery, because it keeps the BIOS configuration intact with just a trickle of current.) Sometimes, that battery dies. They only cost $2-3 each, so it’s a worthwhile repair step. Even should a motherboard replacement actually prove necessary, it won’t set your budget back very far to do this first. And who knows? It might fix the problem and put your PC back to work for only minimal cost and effort.

Is a Motherboard Replacement Worth Doing?

When a motherboard replacement really is called for, it’s also time to do some “economic analysis.” If you can do the repair work yourself, it may be worth trying. But if you have to take into the shop and let a professional do the work, your costs will probably be $600 or higher. You can buy a new Dell Inspiron 7000 27″ All-in-One for $800. Rather than spending $600 to bring a 5+-year-old PC back to life, I’d rather spend a couple hundred dollars more to get a new one with roughly the same specs (I’d probably upgrade the RAM and add an SSD myself, though).

That’s what I’d do. Should you ever find yourself in this boat, you’ll have to make that call for yourself. If so, my condolences: it’s never easy to lose a PC, or to have to fork over noticeable amounts of cash to repair them. But so it goes, sometimes, in Windows World.

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