... In Which It Is Revealed How An AHCI Bug Makes One's Insyde(s) Freeze

I found this code in Intel's AHCI Option ROM from the Insyde BIOS. It appears to be code to build the Translated Device Parameter Table (which is a slightly different1 implementation than the one documented in the Enhanced Working T13 Draft 1126DT).

Psuedo code  (version: Serial ATA AHCI BIOS, Version iSrc 1.20_E.0019 07092009):

Function Create TDPT for drive
    Read partition table with INT13 0x201
    If read fails, or 0xAA55 signature isn't present, goto Calculate
    Get head,sectors from FIRST Partition table entry, Ending CHS values
    heads = head+1  (because of 255 limit in partition table)
    For each partition entry
        If BOOTABLE (entry[0] == 0x80) goto UsePartition
    For each partition entry
        if (entry[0] == 0) and (entry[4] != 0) goto UsePartition

    Call CalculateCHS - using DPT and physical size
    if no need for translation, return GOOD
    Goto CreateTDPT with cylinders, heads, sectors

    Read first sector of partition with INT13 0x4200
    If the word at offset 0x1A is less than 0x100,
      and the word at offset 0x18 is less than 0x40
        set heads to the byte at offset 0x1A
        set sectors to the byte at offset 0x18
    tracksize = heads * sectors
    if tracksize == 0, Goto Calculate
    DWORD size = (DPT[heads]*DPT[sectors])*DPT[cylinders]
    WORD cylinders = size / tracksize <--- Bad!
    -- if the result is greater than 65536, a divide overflow occurs
    -- which isn't handled by the BIOSes
    if (cylinders > 1024) cylinders = 1024
    if ((heads == DPT[heads]) && (sectors == DPT[sectors])) return GOOD

    WORD at DPT[8]  = DPT[0] - Save original cylinders
    BYTE at DPT[10] = DPT[2] - Save original heads
    BYTE at DPT[7]  = DPT[3] - Save original sectors
    WORD at DPT[0]  = cylinders
    BYTE at DPT[2]  = heads
    BYTE at DPT[3]  = sectors
    BYTE at DPT[5]  = 8 if heads greater than 8, otherwise 0
    BYTE at DPT[4]  = 0xA0
    BYTE at DPT[15] = SUM( DPT[0] .. DPT[14] )

So, what goes wrong? When it breaks, it starts with bad values from the partition table, and tries to fix it with values from the boot parameter block, if it finds "valid" numbers there for heads and sectors (that is, less than or equal to 0xFF and 0x3F, respectively). When these values aren't right,  due to full disk encryption, an operating system other than Microsoft Windows, or malicious intent:
  • It uses the ending head/sector of the first partition to size the translation layer.
  • Windows 7 with 100MB partition results in unexpected values for INT13, FUNCTION=8 (eg, 0x13 heads).
  • It stores those values into the Translated Device Parameter Table..  and then some other code comes along and uses those values. While I can't find where those values are causing the exception, anything doing C/H/S translation will be unhappy.
Looking back at version Serial ATA AHCI BIOS, Version iSrc 1.20E (Gigabyte Desktop Motherboard), I found that it doesn't read from the BPB at all.  I speculate the extra read of the NTFS boot-sector was to workaround a problem on Insyde BIOS.   This version can be crashed if the two bytes in the partition table are small enough and will hang with error code 23. Award BIOS will function OK with the other unexpected values, but Insyde BIOS will still crash if it sees them.

Finally, one HP system with an Insyde BIOS has the latest(?) 'fixed' version (Serial ATA AHCI BIOS, Version iSrc 1.20_E.0024 12212009), which reads from both the partition table and the BPB, also adding  still more checks. Unfortunately, it seems as though someone messed up and added a further bug, as it doesn't actually use any of the values it reads, but rather discards them all.

New and improved UsePartition (Serial ATA AHCI BIOS, Version iSrc 1.20_E.0024 12212009):
Read first sector of partition with INT13 0x4200
if the word at offset 0x1FE is not equal 0xAA55
   and the byte at offset 0 is not equal 0xEB
   and the word at offset 0x1A is less than 0x100
    set heads to the byte at offset 0x1A
if (tracks == 0) or ((sectors & 0x3F) == 0) Goto Calculate
-- New bug: Since sectors can be at most 0x3F from partition table
-- the newer version ALWAYS goes off to Calculate the CHS
if (sectors & 0xC0) == 0)  Goto Calculate
tracksize = heads * sectors
if tracksize == 0, Goto Calculate
DWORD size = (DPT[heads]*DPT[sectors])*DPT[cylinders]
WORD cylinders = size / tracksize <-- Uber dangerous
-- if the result is greater than 65536, a divide overflow occurs
-- which isn't handled by the BIOSes.
if (cylinders > 1024) cylinders = 1024
if ((heads == DPT[heads]) && (sectors == DPT[sectors])) return GOOD
Goto CreateTDPT

A year later and neither Acer nor Gigabyte are providing fixed BIOSes.

1Expected Final TDPT Values from a 60GB SSD:
          WORD Logical Cylinders   0x400
    BYTE Heads               0xFF
    BYTE Sectors             0x3F
    BYTE Signature           0xA0
    BYTE HeadsAbove8Flag     0x08
    BYTE Ignored             0x00
    BYTE Physical Sectors    0x3F
    WORD Physical Cylinders  0x3FFF
    BYTE Physical Heads      0x10
    BYTE Ignored[4]          0x0
    BYTE Checksum            0x89


Acer 5810tz's "Secret" (Shhhhh!) BIOS Menu

As described in http://marcansoft.com/blog/2009/06/enabling-intel-vt-on-the-aspire-8930g/ and on NotebookReview's Forum, there are hidden menus in Insyde's Acer  BIOS.  Some folks modify their BIOSes to enable them; however,  on the Acer 5810, it's possible to enable some of these menus with just a setup change, which is, of course, safer than having to flash your whole BIOS just to modify a single boolean.

To do so, you need:
Copy the utilities to the usb disk and create a batchfile (ex. modify.bat) and add the following:
flashit Setup A04A27F4-DF00-4D42-B552-39511302113D /rb:setup
grdb setup
flashit Setup A04A27F4-DF00-4D42-B552-39511302113D /wb:setup
Reboot to DOS on the USB stick, run the batchfile and in GRDB type:
e 31a 1 

When you reboot, you should have an extra menu "Intel" below "D2D Recovery"

The "hidden setup" is usually located immediately after the "D2D recovery" variable.  If you wish to locate it on a different version of Acer Insyde bios, you can write out the setup variable ( the /RB command-line) with and without D2D recovery enabled.  The location one past that will be what you need. For example:
fc /b setup1 setup2
Comparing files SETUP1 and SETUP2
00000219: 00 01
Which is 21A (or 31a if you are using GRDB, because GRDB pretends it's a .COM file )

Although its unlikely that messing up the setup variables will cause the laptop to not boot, prudence would be to know how to use the FN-ESC "Crisis Recovery mode" and know what the filename is for your particular laptop.  (Mine is JM41X64.fd)
Possibly Useful Reference:
Post On Lenovo Forum With FlashIt Parameters

"Secret" menu available. 





The Byte That Bit Me Insyde

Since Insyde doesn't seem interested in patching its BIOS, I thought I'd share a neat way to make a laptop with an Insyde BIOS hang on boot by changing a single byte.

Caution: Back up any important data, if you're silly enough to do this on a live system; while this shouldn't mangle any of your bits, it's certainly possible it could.

Also, if you're not terribly fond of grasping naked sectors and pushing values into unfilled gaps, you might want to bail out now.

The Prerequisites:
  • Laptop with buggy Insyde EFI BIOS.
  • SSD or HDD (physical medium unimportant)
  • Two or more partitions (which is the default Windows 7 configuration, and tends to be the default Linux installation as well).
  • The SATA port configured as AHCI in BIOS.
My hardware configuration:
Acer 5810tz Timeline Notebook, with InsydeBIOS Release 1.35.

Now, with your personal favorite disk editor of choice (I'm using the very excellent, free and portable HxD):

HxD with Physical Disk 1

The Byte To Change
  • Select the first partition of your first physical disk (labelled Physical Drive 1 in HxD).
  • Go to sector 2048.    
  • Go to offset 0x19 (25 decimal) and change from 0 to any value.
  • Reboot
  • Watch your laptop with an Insyde BIOS freeze.

Don't panic!  Simply:

  •  disconnect the laptop drive,
  •  bop into BIOS (F2)
  •  change the SATA mode from AHCI to IDE.
  •  Reconnect your hard drive, and boot.  You'll hit the usual Windows BSOD complaining about you trying to boot with the wrong set of disk drivers; boot into the 32 bit recovery console (since many utilities don't yet have 64bit equivalents and the WOW64 subsystem probably won't be available (especially if you're booting a mini-xp environment off a thumb drive instead))
  •  Run your sector editor, and change byte at offset 0x19 back to 0.
  •  Reboot normally.

So, what's going on here?

Sector 2048's where Windows 7 puts the start of its first partition.  From the partition boot sector layout we can see the particular byte is part of the boot parameter block, specifically the high byte of the Sectors Per Track word, which happens to be ignored by Windows 7.

What's a BIOS doing, caring about this?

Near as I can tell, this could be an attempt at an AHCI optimization, and the BIOS code simply fails to do a sanity check on the range.

Q. Except for the occasional black hat looking for a chuckle, who'd want to hang their laptop?
A. Anyone installing Linux, BSD, or full disk encryption such as Truecrypt and PGPwde.

These, as part of their normal operation, can change that special byte, giving much excitement and hair pulling to the lucky person whose BIOS, in an effort to be a most helpful puppy, manages to decorate the newspaper with excrement after having a chew with it.

I'm so glad EFI has led us away from incompabitle, buggy BIOSes!

Tools mentioned:
HxD Hex Editor (used for sector editing)

Homepage of Insyde

Others probably running into this specific issue:
Seen on HPs, blamed on encryption
And Lenovos, blamed on Truecrypt.
Seen again, attributed to AHCI+Truecrypt conflict.
Even with BSD!