10 December 2007

The Geek vs. The Black Screen

I love my Thinkpad - it's been the best computer I've ever owned. I've tricked it out so that it looks and feels sufficiently cool, and configured it so that It Just Works - yes, with Windows XP. Switching over to Mac seems to be the hip thing to do these days, and fellow geeks who have ponied up the money and made the switch claim that it's so much better, easier and, you know, hipper, than Windows. But I hate learning curves, so I'm quite happy where I am. I'll take John Hodgeman over Justin Long in this case.

I keep my system up to date with the latest patches for both my hardware and software. So when Lenovo recommended some patches to both wired and wireless networking, the video driver, and power manager, and Microsoft did their regular "Patch Tuesday" trick, I was right there. And then... nothing. Screen was black (although the fluorescent tube was lit). My WiFi was more like Why? and Fie! And connecting via Ethernet didn't. I figured it was something with the drivers, so I tried hooking up an external monitor, and it sort of worked for a while. I tried rolling back the network drivers (system hung). I tried manually ripping them out and letting the system find the "new hardware" - which worked until I had to reboot, at which point the network connections stopped again.

I took off my critical data and rolled the system back to a previous backup (of course none of the system restore points worked). That allowed me to get the network connections back, but still the Thinkpad screen was black. A variety of posts online more or less left me with two options: wipe the hard disk and start from scratch, or lose my system for a couple of weeks taking it in for service.

I was reluctant to wipe the hard disk, since the screen was black from the get-go - not even the power on logo showed up. And I was equally reluctant to take the machine for service since it didn't feel like a hardware problem (I ran all the hardware diagnostics from the service partition - yes, I am a geek when I want to be). Almost in desperation, and after two days of struggling with this problem, I thought to take a wander through the BIOS. And there it was.

There is a BIOS parameter to specify Boot Display Device. In my case it was set to Analog VGA, with other choices being Thinkpad Internal, and Both. I set the parameter to Both, reboot the system, hit the toggle display control, and voila! I had a screen image! Three cheers and a tiger for me!

The only question that remains: How did the BIOS parameter get changed? (And while I'm asking questions, why were both the Broadcom Ethernet controller and the Intel WiFi drivers bad?)

Update (30 Dec 2007): Nope, I was wrong. Turns out it was a broken main board, as the problem got worse, and eventually, became no screen display at all, under any circumstances. Probably had something to do with a fall on the ice while carrying my computer bag just before this all started.

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Aaron said...

Macs don't have a BIOS. :)

Anonymous said...

Mark, I think the Lenovo updater isn't very reliable - it often gives me updates that aren't even for my laptop (new firmware for my optical drive? I don't have an optical drive!). Because Thinkpads come in seven thousand different variations, you have to be very careful about which ones you include.

Anonymous said...

How is this better than a learning curve????