Hardware hacks – Dell PowerEdge 750 / PowerVault 745N

I picked up a board labeled “PowerEdge 750” for 99 cents because the seller “couldn’t get it to recognize any peripherals”. It turns out that it was the motherboard from a PowerVault 745N, which uses the same hardware, but a different BIOS that disables the floppy, CD-ROM, and onboard SATA ports.

I poked around in the BIOS flash utility and discovered it has a large number of undocumented command-line switches, one of which is /BRANDNAME, which brings up a menu where you can select whether the motherboard is for a PE750 or a PV745N.

After that, it was just a matter of finding a way to get the flash utility to run on that motherboard, which is difficult when none of the peripherals are enabled. I wound up installing an Adaptec 39160 SCSI card with an old 2GB drive on it, and copying the flash utility to that drive. The board is happy in its new life as a PE750.

Also, Dell’s “asset.com” utility has a number of additional functions which are not described in the online help. Here’s the complete list of what’s available:

ASSET — Version 2.09 (C) Copyright 1993-2004 Dell Inc.
Usage:
  ASSET new_asset_tag        Specify new asset tag
  ASSET /d                   Delete asset tag
  ASSET /o new_owner_tag     Specify new owner tag (if applicable)
  ASSET /o /d                Delete owner tag (if applicable)
  ASSET /?                   This help screen
  ASSET /s new_service_tag   Specify new service tag
  ASSET /s /d                Delete service tag
  ASSET /b                   Specify new system board tag
      system board tag must be “ssssssssssssssssssss-vvv-“, where
      s..s is the 20 digit system board Part number string,
      vvv is the 3 digit system board rev,
      – is a don’t care character, but must be present
  ASSET /b /d                Delete system board tag
  ASSET /k                   Fix 2000:0000 memory issue
  ASSET /f [other_options]   Force Affirmative response
  ASSET /x [other options]   eXtended display – displays all tags

Everything past the “This help screen” is undocumented.


14 Responses to “Hardware hacks – Dell PowerEdge 750 / PowerVault 745N

  • 1
    zagrot
    November 10th, 2008 00:08

    I was wondering if you would elaborate on which executable uses the /BRANDNAME switch. Thanks, Great site.

  • 2
    Terry Kennedy
    November 11th, 2008 05:27

    It is in the standard Dell firmware update utility for the PE750. I believe the latest version is PE750-BIOSA06.exe, available from Dell’s site at: ftp://ftp.us.dell.com/bios/PE750-BIOSA06.exe

  • 3
    froggyprince
    November 26th, 2008 11:16

    Terry,

    Do you know what the SATA drive size limitation is for the PowerEdge 745N? Dell says it is 250 GB, however I saw one for sale on eBay with 4 x 500 GB drives. I have upgraded ours to A06 in the BIOS and was going to upgrade the CERC drivers also. I was going to try 500 GB or 1 TB drive, and just wondered if you or someone here has any experience breaking the 250 GB limit Dell claims.

  • 4
    wrh.wrh
    January 28th, 2009 16:11

    Terry,

    Great info but I must be doing something wrong. I haev a poweredge 2950 with a custom BIOS that I’m trying to rid of. on a command prompt, I tried running PE2950-020500CBIOS.exe /BRANDNAME, which created the disk with no additional menus. It failed with I tried to boot with the disk.

    I also tried the BIOS you used with the switch but saw nothing different than without. I’m a bit confused so I wonder if you can kindly walk through the steps and commands you used?

    I appreciate great for any help you can offer.

  • 5
    wrh.wrh
    January 28th, 2009 16:15

    Never mind. Running the executable on the floppy with the switch /BRANDNAME

  • 6
    zagrot
    February 24th, 2009 16:38

    I just wanted to say thanks for the help, i was initially trying to use the BIOS flash utility for the PV745n, not the flash utility for the PE750. It worked perfectly; it is nice to have access to all of the onboard facilities.

    thanks again
    z

  • 7
    jake.v
    February 12th, 2010 10:14

    I spoke with Terry in the process of doing this (Thanks Terry, I appreciate your help). Here is what I figured out:

    This box will boot from USB on the front port, using a windows 2k3 server CD for example will BSOD however. I got the PE750 BIOS, and a MS-DOS boot disk. I opened the image with an ISO tool, added the PE750 BIOS, booted the disk. Ran the executable without the switch at first and was able to upgrade the 745N BIOS to A06 from A04. I re-read this thread and tried with the switch, it flashed to a PE750. This server is now happy with a new RAID 10 array @ 4 x 500gb. A normal OS on this thing is much better even with a P4. This thread helped me get here and I would recommend this route due to the fact the USB is easier to work with; the image can probably be put on a bootable USB flash drive, which will work as well.

    Dell effectively locked everything out but the USB port(s) and the PCI slots on the PV745n BIOS.

    Much better as a PE750, much better.

    The BIOS is mentioned above, you need a CD burner, a CD, this image (from http://www.bay-wolf.com/bootcd-bios.htm, please note this image leaves enough space for the BIOS to be added before the burn, some other MS-DOS bootable CD’s do not have the space to add the BIOS), something like PowerISO (download.com, to insert the PE750 BIOS) and a USB CD-rom.

  • 8
    jake@voipcitadel.com
    September 4th, 2010 18:11

    I spoke with Terry in the process of doing this (Thanks Terry, I appreciate your help). Here is what I figured out:

    This box will boot from USB on the front port, using a windows 2k3 server CD for example will BSOD however. I got the PE750 BIOS, and a MS-DOS boot disk. I opened the image with an ISO tool, added the PE750 BIOS, booted the disk. Ran the executable without the switch at first and was able to upgrade the 745N BIOS to A06 from A04. I re-read this thread and tried with the switch, it flashed to a PE750. This server is now happy with a new RAID 10 array @ 4 x 500gb. A normal OS on this thing is much better even with a P4. This thread helped me get here and I would recommend this route due to the fact the USB is easier to work with; the image can probably be put on a bootable USB flash drive, which will work as well.

    Dell effectively locked everything out but the USB port(s) and the PCI slots on the PV745n BIOS.

    Much better as a PE750, much better.

    The BIOS is mentioned above, you need a CD burner, a CD, this image (from http://www.bay-wolf.com/bootcd-bios.htm, please note this image leaves enough space for the BIOS to be added before the burn, some other MS-DOS bootable CD’s do not have the space to add the BIOS), something like PowerISO (download.com, to insert the PE750 BIOS) and a USB CD-rom.

  • 9
    tycoon112
    December 20th, 2010 23:14

    I need some help flashing my Powervault 745n to Poweredge 750.
    I have access to Scsi and USB as boot devices.

    is there a step by step guide that i can follow to flash the bios?

    HELP PLEASE

  • 10
    Terry Kennedy
    December 21st, 2010 04:42

    @tycoon112 – Some of the other comments here should explain it. You need to make a bootable MS-DOS media, using either SCSI or USB (USB should be a lot easier, particularly if this will work from a USB memory stick – which I haven’t tested). On a different system (with a floppy drive), run the Dell PE750 (not 745) BIOS that you downloaded from the Dell site. That executable will create a bootable floppy with a bunch of files on it. Copy the BIOS file from the floppy (it is named something like seq-a06C.exe) to the USB or SCSI media you plan to use on the 745. Now, bring that media to the 745 and boot from it. That should give you a MS-DOS environment running on the 745. Then execute the update utility with the /BRANDNAME switch. For example: seq-a06C.exe /BRANDNAME

  • 11
    Martijn
    January 13th, 2012 06:28

    Terry,

    GREAT, it works, alldough it took me some time to flash the Powervault (f*cking USB stick).
    Now happy with my new Poweredge 750.

    Anyone having difficulties making a bootable USB stick, I can recommend you the HP tools hpflash2.zip AND HP Drive Key Boot Utility Version 7.41 (available via: http://www.bootdisk.com/pendrive.htm)
    These will do the job making a DOS bootable USB stick.

  • 12
    datapharmer
    March 22nd, 2012 10:32

    has anyone tried just flashing from windows? There is a windows flash utility for the 750 available here: http://www.dell.com/support/drivers/us/en/04/DriverDetails?DriverId=KHF02&FileId=2731090417&DriverName=Dell%20Server%20System%20BIOS%2C%20A06&productCode=poweredge-750&urlProductCode=False

  • 13
    Terry Kennedy
    April 2nd, 2012 23:33

    @datapharmer – That would probably work if you weren’t trying to crossflash from PV745N to PE750. I’m not sure how you’d be able to specify the /BRANDNAME option (if the Windows version even supports it).

  • 14
    acam
    August 29th, 2012 11:22

    You can also use the PowerVault 745 Resource CD that comes with the box to upgrade the BIOS, even if you don’t have a USB floppy drive nor the PowerVault 745N Reinstallation “Windows Server” disks.

    You need:
    1. The Dell USB Reinstallation Key Creation Utility, the latest version supports USB drives larger than 128MB, you can download from the Dell support pages
    2. PowerVault 745 Resource CD (just that 1st CD, the rest are not necessary for this procedure, I used v3.9.4.2).
    3. BIOS update (downloadable from above)
    4. A computer on the same network as the PV745N
    5. A computer with a 1.44 floppy (can be the same computer used in #4 or not)

    Install the Reinstallation Key Creation Utility on the box with the 1.44 floppy and create the USB key. Then run the BIOS update mentioned in #3 and it creates a bootable 1.44 floppy, which is useless for the 745 unless you happen to have an external USB 1.44 floppy drive. FYI, the utility that I had would not run unless it saw the floppy; it would not run to a USB stick, HDD, nor CD. Then just copy the BIOS update .exe file from floppy to USB stick. I used an XP box with floppy for all of it.

    On the computer on the same network as the PV745, run the PowerVault 745 Resource CD to install the remote console. This is necessary as the USB stick boots from this across the network. Run the remote console, select the HDD and get to the screen where it asks for the Reinstall CD1 (i.e., Windows Storage Server 2003) and just hold there, the console is still running even though the OS install disks were not available.

    Take the USB key to the PV745. Follow the procedures for reinstalling the OS outlined in “Reinstalling the Operating System on the Dell PowerVault 745N-PV745TS.pdf” which is available on the Dell support pages. Boot off the USB key and a menu comes up. My menu had 3 choices and one was “Boot to DOS”. It may be that other versions don’t have this choice but you can control-C out of the menu utility and it will dump you to c:\, which is the USB key. Type “dir” to see the list of what is on it. Type the name of the BIOS update .exe file that you copied from the floppy and add ” /BRANDNAME” after it. Voila.

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