Reinstall.IT – Dell OptiPlex 980 Desktop

Recently a Dell OptiPlex 980 Desktop came in for me to look at. The hard disk had been formatted and the Dell Recovery CD was unavailable. The case had a Microsoft Windows 7 Professional sticker on it with the code still readable in spite of having “DEAD” written on it in Red texta.

This desktop has an Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB of ram, a fairly reasonable machine manufactured in 2010. I booted with a Ubuntu Linux CD and had a look at it first. I could see 4 partitions, one of which had been formatted with nothing on it – that would be the reason for booting up with an error about missing files. This also confirms that the desktop will boot and that the hardware is working.  It was time to ““.

I had on hand a Windows 7 Professional install DVD. I was interested in whether or not, I could use this to install – so the best way is to just jump right in.

Booting up with this 64-bit install DVD, you get a prompt to upgrade or perform a new install. I chose a new install, then when prompted on the destination, I clicked on Advanced and deleted all existing partitions first, then chose to continue. This then would set up the disk partition as Windows would like it, and without the Dell recovery partition. I let this continue until it was time to enter the activation key.

Drum roll, please! … Entering the key, I chose not to activate on connection to the network, and clicked Next. It accepted it, meaning that the key is a valid key and was good for the 64-bit Windows 7 Professional – fantastic. I choose not to active, because I prefer the customer to activate manually when they connect on their own internet connection. I don’t want too many Windows activations coming from my internet – call me paranoid, if you like.

Anyway, Windows was installed, and came up. I logged in and went to Device Manager, there were a few devices without drivers.

Ethernet controller, PCI Serial Port and PCI Simple Communications Controller. I noted down the hardware ID’s for each of these, as I use the ID to find the right drivers. The Ethernet controller was easy – just go to Dell’s website and enter the Dell Service Tag number, and you get to the support page for this machine. Choose Drivers & downloads, then the operating system, and go to Network. I chose the Intel 825xx Gigabit Platform LAN Network Device Driver. While I was there, I downloaded a few others including the video driver and importantly the latest BIOS update, which was A16 – the current BIOS was A04, quite old it seems.

The downloaded files were put onto a USB disk, and then transferred to the Dell. The BIOS update was run first, it wants to reboot, then do the BIOS upgrade and says that it could take 10 minutes – afterwards I came back to see a blank screen. I left it a bit longer, then it was still the same, so did the BIOS firmware update work or not. I then realized that I had left the USB disk plugged in – that one is not bootable, maybe that was it, so removed it and pressed Ctrl-Alt-Del, then screen blinked then Windows was booting. Feel free to breathe a sigh of relief – I did.

BIOS firmware updates these days should be fairly straight forward, but they did not use to be. Occasionally you end up with a brick, i.e. motherboard that will not boot any more, so manufacturers started coming up with ideas and technology to get around this, by having another boot environment in case of BIOS failure. I don’t think this particular Dell has this.

The PCI Serial Port and PCI Simple Communications Controller drivers was a bit harder to find. There was lots of queries on the internet for these drivers, that somehow could not be found. The hardware ID’s match the vendor 8086 to Intel. Then the Device ID 3B67 and 3B64 on google – told me that I need to find the Intel Active Management Technology driver and the Intel Management Engine driver to resolve these two devices. Fortunately, both searches on Intel actually link to the same download file.

After installation, no more unknown devices in Device Manager. This Dell OptiPlex 980 desktop has been reinstalled.

[NOTE] BIOS updates – you should keep up to date with the latest BIOS updates since this can fix performance and other problems. If a BIOS update goes wrong, i.e. worst case is that the machine no longer boots – there are ways to get around this. Most BIOS roms are stored in Serial EEProm on the motherboard – generally in a SOP8 package and it is possible to obtain in-circuit programmers for this. Other manufacturers have resorted to BIOS recovery mode, or to choose a failsafe BIOS that then allows the BIOS firmware upgrade to be retried.

[NOTE] On the use of USB disks. It is best not to have USB disks bootable in case of virus infection and spreading of viruses. However, a virus that affects the boot sector of a USB disk, will still be a hazard if the USB disk is bootable. I generally don’t make them bootable unless it is for the use of updating firmware or running specific utilities. I keep them separate to my other disks that are used for transferring files.


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