Saving a non-booting Asus UX31A laptop

I have just come back from a long(ish) trip through UK and US, and decided it’s time for me to go back to some simple OSS tasks, while I finally convince myself to talk about the doubts I’m having lately.

To start on that, I tried to turn on my laptop, the Asus UX31A I got three and a half years ago. It didn’t turn on. This happened before, so I just left it to charge and tried again. No luck.

Googling around I found a number of people with all kind of problems about it, and one of them is something getting stuck at the firmware level. Given how I had found a random problem with PCIE settings in my previous laptop, that would make it reboot every time I turned it off, but only if the power was still plugged in, I was not completely surprised. Unfortunately following the advice I read (take off the battery and power over AC) didn’t help.

I knew it was not the (otherwise common) problem with the power plug, because when I plugged the cable in, the Yubikey Neo-n would turn on, which means power arrived to the board fine.

Then I remembered two things: one of the advices was about the keyboard, and the keyboard itself has had problems before (the control key sometimes would stop working for half an hour at a time.) Indeed, once I re-seated the keyboards’ ribbon cable, it turned on again, yay!

But here’s the other problem: the laptop would turn on, the caps-lock LED on and stay there. And even letting the main battery run out would not be enough to return it to working conditions. What to do? Well, I got a hunch, and turned out to be right.

One of the things that I tried before was to remove the CMOS battery — either I kept it out not long enough to properly clear, or something else went wrong, but it turned out that removing the CMOS battery allowed the system to start up — but that would mean no RTC, which is not great, if you start the laptop without an Internet connection.

The way I solved it was as follows:

  • disconnect the CMOS battery;
  • start up the laptop;
  • enter “BIOS” (EFI) setup;
  • make any needed change (such as time);
  • “Save and exit”;
  • let the laptop boot up;
  • connect the CMOS battery.

Yes this does involve running the laptop without the lower plate for a while, be careful about it, but to the other hand, it did save my laptop from being stomped on, on the ground out of sheer rage.

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