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  1. . So... Dell/Alienware managed to confuse a lot of users with their latest BIOS updates from last week. Version A08 of the M14x R2 as well as the M17x R4 and also A07 of the M18x R2 made a quick appearance on the Dell support site, only to vanish again shortly after - apparently to be replaced with A09 respectively A08. To make the confusion perfect, Dellienware once more decided not to publish any change log, not even a tiny bit of useful information. (I already bothered some Dell reps with this, but no success so far... they're always telling that my emails will be forwarded to the proper people...). Anyway, even though severe, I don't want to discuss the change log problem at this place. So what's up with those new BIOS? It's hard to miss that some numbers are missing between the last bios update and the current releases. Anyone who's slightly familiar with software updates and naming will realize that this is already and indication that quite some changes have been made - obvious, right? Huge parts of the firmware got revised and new modules were added as well. To keep it short, the bios (or UEFI to be more precise) is now officially Windows 8 ready. You may have already read that Microsoft requires the OEMs to have certain functions in the UEFI available (namely Secure Boot) in order get the systems 'Windows 8 certified'. Just to quickly clarify something, you don't need a 'Windows 8 certified' machine in order to run Windows 8, neither do you require Secure Boot, but the OEMs are pretty keen on this certificate as customers seem to prefer systems with certain stickers on them. What's this Secure Boot stuff? And how does this affect me? Secure boot is a protocol, a part of the UEFI, designed to ensure that a system gets booted in a so-called trusted state. This means a state that is known to be secure, that the firmware code has not been tampered with and is a direct copy which comes from a trusted source (e.g. the manufacturer of the used UEFI variation). Secure boot handles this with a system of different functions and interfaces as well as a key system. It makes sure that all external images have to pass a predefined authentication before they get executed. It is designed to prevent attacks which target the firmware to OS handoff. What secure boot won't do is protecting the firmware from direct attacks, e.g. manipulated bios updates and similar ... and this is where we come to secure firmware updating. Some of you may have noticed or read that coming from an 'old' bios version it is no longer possible aynmore to (easily) downgrade to an earlier version once you have flashed A08/A07 or later. This is because Dellienware decided to implement a way to verify firmware updates, in the case of the Insyde UEFI it is 'secure flash'. The UEFI image, the drivers which are required at boot etc. are all digitally signed. Now if you want to update your BIOS, this is what happens (simplified): - Flash utility checks the firmware image for integrity. - If ok, the image gets sent to the system - System reboots, starts the pre-uefi environment and starts the authentication process on the file which is to be flashed - If this check passes, and only then, the software environment for the flash gets launched, firmware gets updated. I have to admit that secure boot without implementing a method for secure firmware updating makes pretty much no sense at all, so it's obvious that this would come sooner or later, especially with Microsofts requirement for the Win8 certification. The consequence of this is that the user gets locked out of his own system. A (hobbyist like me) is no longer able to tweak the firmware of his system in order to use hardware the way he wants. Same goes for benchers, power users, hardware enthusiasts etc. who like to flash a modified bios in order to get access to disabled settings or activate certain CPU extensions which the system manufacturer locked out. The digital signing which gets used in UEFI is really sophisticated, so don't even ask about creating own signatures or revers engineering it. This is the end of bios modding (and especially easy flashing) as we know it. While I have hope that it will be able to find some workarounds for the current AW systems, I have reasons to believe that it will be much more difficult to achieve this with a system which comes with the secure boot function implemented by stock. One thing is for sure, if you intend to use a modified firmware, secure boot needs to be disabled ...but it is obvious that the issue with the secure firmware update (in our case 'secure flash') persists, even with secure boot turned off (for the reasons mentioned above). I don't want to read all this / To much technical details, what are the conclusions of all this for me? Do you use / want to use a modified bios on a current AW system (M14xR2, M17x R4, M18xR2)? If no - doesn't really matter for you, just go ahead and update to the latest bios which Dell provides for your system. If yes... - If you're still on an 'old' BIOS (pre-A08/A07 when looking at the official releases) then you can for example stay there and flash forth and back between a modified and stock bios, as long as the stuff you flashes predates A08 respectively A07 (again, I'm only talking about public, official releases). If you want to update to the latest version, keep in mind that you won't be able to easily downgrade anymore once you're on one of those new bios. You won't be able to easily flash a modified version either, unless you directly flash a modified when coming from an 'old' bios. In this case the mod will flash fine, but the consequences are the same, you won't be able to downgrade anymore easily, neither will you be able to just flash a newer modified bios. And if you already flashed a unmodified new bios and want to get a modified one... shit happens. Contact me in the corresponding thread of your model and we might be able figure out something. Let me know if you have any questions, some explanations might not be sufficient if you're not a bit familiar with all this stuff.
  2. Here are a few issue I ran into when installing a retail version of windows 8 on my Y500 after installing my mSATA as the boot drive. I believe most of us know that Lenovo was kind enough to give us a BASIC version of windows 8 with the key stored in the BIOS. This cause a few problems with my install. They are not that bad, and are pretty easy workarounds to get a 12 second boot time. 1. I was not able to boot to my install Thumbdrive. I have a Windows 8 retail (purchased from Microsoft) version that I put on a USB 3.0 thumb-drive for installing windows. I highly recommend this for an install because of how fast the USB 3.0 transfer speeds are. All I had to do was go into the BIOS and switch to legacy boot, then put the thumb-drive to the top priority for the boot order. This booted to the install media. 2. I was stuck at the product key invalid windows. Windows will not let you past this point because the retail version is not anything close (to microsoft) to the basic version. Windows 8 will not allow you to manually put in the key because of the key stored in the bios for the basic version. You cannot use the basic version of windows because the version (should you use it) is a full retail copy. Anyway, The fix for this is as follows: Boot to windows or use a separate computer for this: Before you try to install your full version of windows from the USB drive, put the thumb-drive into a computer so you can look for a file called PID.txt . This file will take priority over the BIOS key and allow the install to continue from the product key entry point, which you will never see due to this file being on your install drive. The file will be in the directory x:\sources . The x is obviously your drive letter that was assigned to the thumb-drive. In the sources folder on the thumb-drive, look for the PID.txt file. If it is not there, make it using notepad or a text editor. The contents of the file should be like the picture.. Save the file and boot to the thumb-drive. Windows should install all the way from this point. 3. The issue I had next was due to my installing windows on a old computer before the Y500. My activation was not working, so I called the phone activation number and was able to manually activate windows. If you do have windows installed on another computer with the same key, you CANNOT install it on your new computer. It has to be uninstalled or formatted due to legal issues. The phone activation will ask you how may computers have windows 8 and the license I had was for 1. So review your windows license before installing. 4. The other issue I had was that windows would not allow me to activate or even get to the phone activation. For some reason, even though I bought the retail copy of windows 8, it said it was only an upgrade version. Not Cool at all!! So after verifying my purchase and license agreement I did have an actual full install copy (always read the license agreement to verify your version and installation numbers) I had to edit a reg key. --- from Microsoft support forums----- Run the registry editor. press WIN+R then type regedit. Navigate to the following Key entery: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Setup\OOBE. Change the value for ‘MediaBootInstall‘ from 1 to 0. Open an elevated command prompt (administrator level command prompt) Run the command: slmgr -rearm. Reboot --- from Microsoft support forums----- @ Windows 8 Pro Upgrade Product Key can't be used to activate - Microsoft Community After this I installed all of the drivers and software I wanted. works like a champ!! Hopefully this helps anyone looking to do a fresh install of windows on their Y500
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