Saturday, May 16, 2020

Fixing "error code: 1275" when using PHLASH to update BIOS on ancient laptops

If you happen to be turning old laptops into Chromebooks or something, and you're trying to flash the BIOS on an ancient laptop, and you can't do it from a DOS boot USB because it's a Windows-only flash utility, and you run into something like this:

Cannot load driver C:\dell\BIOS\WINPHLASH\PHLASHNT.SYS.
Please check your accounts, if you have no administrator privilege, please login again!
This driver has been blocked from loading
Error code: 1275

... then you're not alone

Here's what I tried that didn't work:
  • Booting from a Windows 7 universal install disc. Trying to run PHLASH threw the error "the subsystem needed to support the image type is not present". I suspect this is because the install disc is primarily 64-bit, but PHLASH is 32-bit, but that's just a guess.
  • Installing 64-bit Windows 7. The driver wouldn't load, throwing "Access is denied" in PHLASH.LOG, even when running as true Administrator. My theory is that this is because a newer kind of library or approach is needed by Windows 7 to write to the BIOS while Windows is loaded, and newer versions of the OS block the old method.
  • Installing Windows XP. I couldn't find a version that had a variant of the offline algorithm used to validate the license key that recognized the key that the laptop actually shipped with. If I'd figured out how to do this, I suspect that it might have worked.
What did work was to boot from a 32-bit Windows Vista install/rescue CD. PHLASH was able to successfully run from there. 

Digging up an ancient BartPE might also work.

Updating the BIOS didn't fix my actual problem (some of the Neverware CloudReady menus are entirely black, as if there's some kind of video-driver overlay problem). 

But at least this Inspiron 1501 now has a 2008 BIOS instead of a 2005 one. "I'm doing my part!"
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