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When I turn on my Windows 10 desktop (a Dell XPS 8920 Desktop), and after the latest Windows Update I get a black screen. There is no splash logo or anything - the screen is completely black at all times. When powered on the computer starts up, then I can hear after 17 seconds (I timed it) that it reboots, and the process repeats endlessly.

I've discovered that I can get into the BIOS screen if I press F12 as the computer's restarting. I can't see that I'm in BIOS because the screen stays black but it seems clear to me that I am, because I get predictable outcomes by pressing certain keys (e.g. If I press F10 to save and exit the BIOS, I can hear the computer make a restarting noise). However, restoring the BIOS to factory defaults doesn't fix anything.

After I called out a repairman in relation to the problem, the repairman has suggested to me that the problem was caused by a power outage during a Windows Update, which has then corrupted the motherboard, and that the solution is therefore to replace the motherboard.

The motherboard is being replaced at no charge to me as the machine is under warranty, so the claim isn't a self-interested one.

But still I wonder if this is plausible.

The power outage was caused by a tradesman turning off the power at the mains when the computer was being updated. I am also using a surge protected powerboard so I doubt that a power surge is the issue. I also have now seen that the computers fails a POST test even with the GPU replaced, and it also did not beep when the CMOS battery was removed and put back in place.

Update: After the motherboard was replaced the screen started working, although now the system does not seem to recognize Windows anymore. The current plan is that I'll be given a replacement SSD (as with all the service and parts so far, I'm not being charged for this) and instructed just to install Windows again.

  • On my computer, I only can see the bios on the internal graphics, and not on the video card. This could cause your screen problems – Ferrybig Oct 6 '19 at 10:02
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    Did you consider using a Linux USB key to find out at least if you can boot from it? E.g. boot with Debian buster netinst ISO – Basile Starynkevitch Oct 7 '19 at 4:36
  • I ultimately didn't end up trying that, but after the replacement motherboard I find that I can run a Windows USB. So I can install Windows again. – user1205901 - Reinstate Monica Oct 7 '19 at 5:50
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(The answers given by others are, I think, wrong).

Although somewhat unlikely this is possible. Manufacturers can indeed get Windows to update firmware and UEFI during a Windows update, and if this process is interrupted you could indeed hose a motherboard.

See https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-hardware/drivers/install/updating-device-firmware-using-windows-update to read it "from the horses mouth"

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  • This is especially true when considering that some devices have been known to "update" by deleting the original firmware and then writing the new firmware, which leaves an extremely vulnerable (albeit small) window where the device has incomplete (or no) firmware. – Justin Time - Reinstate Monica Oct 6 '19 at 20:22
  • @JustinTime Last I checked, that's how most devices do it. Some "gaming" motherboards and some servers have "dual BIOS" so that if you corrupt one you can switch back to the other to fix it, but that's not so common in the consumer device market. – Moshe Katz Oct 7 '19 at 17:13
  • That's... honestly kinda alarming, @MosheKatz, I thought most mobos had a backup they could fall back on if an update failed. – Justin Time - Reinstate Monica Oct 7 '19 at 17:36
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    @JustinTime Why would a manufacturer do this when by not doing it they get a double win of planned obsolescence and lower design and manufacture cost. The "race to the bottom" sucks. – davidgo Oct 7 '19 at 18:32
  • Might want to mention that there is probably a recovery firmware, but much smaller and less capable of the main firmware. E.g., the recovery firmware may be limited to "look for a firmware image file with a special name on a FAT-formatted USB stick and flash it". E.g., dell.com/support/article/us/en/04/sln300716/… – derobert Oct 9 '19 at 22:00
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The most common way of updating motherboard firmware is known as "UEFI Capsule". This method is supported by Windows update, fwupd and many manufacturer applications.

UEFI Capsule firmware updates work by copying the new version of the firmware into a specified location on the EFI partition. Applying this update is NOT immediate, as UEFI becomes read-only when control is handed over to an OS. Instead, upon each boot UEFI verifies if there is an update Capsule in the specified location, validates it's signature(which would have prevented the update from being applied if the file was corrupt), and applies the update.

Based on the UEFI specification, corrupting the motherboard firmware from a running OS shouldn't be possible. However, if your motherboard is old enough to use BIOS instead, it might be possible.

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I would say no, that a Windows Update will not break a motherboard. However if you had a power outage (not entirely clear), then the surge from a power failure could indeed damage the motherboard. I think that it was doing Windows Update was incidental to the damage caused by power failure.

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    This is a good point; in response to it I've clarified the OP to provide some more reasons why I think that although there was a power outage there was not a power surge that affected the computer. – user1205901 - Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '19 at 2:22
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I am adding this as a supplement to the other answers because I feel it addresses an issue not touched on.

In general, as mentioned in previous answers and comments, a Windows update should not trash hardware. In most cases, and in my own experience, a hardware failure will be the cause of an update failure, not vice-versa. I would not have any confidence in a technician that would throw hardware at a software problem.

Since the original poster does not provide any geographical identification, I would first suggest that they research a power conditioner (not surge protectors) appropriate to their region. I live in the American South. My local power utility provides what can be best described as ‘dirty power.’

My Own Electronics: TV, stereo amplifier, DVD and CD players, 2 computers, wireless routers had all been routinely trashed until I spent over $300 in power conditioners to which my electronics are now connected. This is only about 10% of the cost of the equipment which I have had to replace. All equipment that relies upon micro-electronics is susceptible to damage from fluctuations in voltage and current. Start there.

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    UPSs are the only way to fly for computers (which includes routers, modems, and media players). – RonJohn Oct 5 '19 at 2:56

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