Dell BIOS update killed existing Qubes installation

Quick heads up since I’m putting out many fires today:

The latest Dell Inspiron BIOS update (version 1.11) has rendered an existing installation of Qubes OS inoperable. The disk password screen no longer shows up after initialization proceeds as normal, so now there’s just a blank screen. Unsure whether this is specific to Dell Inspiron 5593 or whether this is a wider issue.

Either way, the Dell 5593 has severe keyboard problems that seem common, according to forums–the keys on the lower two rows of the keyboard turn unreliable less than six months after purchase and with light use. Though the laptop was relatively easy to install Qubes on, I’d recommend avoiding this laptop.

Edit: It turns out this specific patch was supposed to have fixed one thing: “Reduced the event where the system displays a black screen.”

Edit 2: The Qubes Installation ISO no longer boots–black screen shows after initialization.

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This deserves an additional bump and a separate comment because of how critical it is to Qubes users:

You cannot downgrade from 1.11–it is blocked due to updates to Intel ME contained within. If you own a Dell Inspiron 5593, updating to BIOS 1.11 will lock you out of Qubes until a newer version of the OS is released, assuming it fixes whatever’s causing the screen to blank after initialization, as both the existing installation and the installation will boot to black screens and you will not be allowed to downgrade. (I’m not an expert so maybe there’s a kernel/boot config that will fix all of this, but for now this looks severe)

This may also apply to BIOS upgrades for other Dell models.

This is a bummer since I bought this laptop just for Qubes. Does anyone have suggestions of high-security OSes I should try out?



1C1slUD_d - Edited

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Thanks for the warning. I have an Inspiron as well, although it doesn’t look like this update applies to me.

Oh, the irony.

Have you tried the UEFI troubleshooting guide?

You could try installing the a newer kernel (e.g. ‘kernel-latest’ from ‘unstable’ repo) by chrooting into Qubes from another OS. If this update was recently released though, it probably won’t trickle all the way down to Qubes for some time.

None of these are suggestions per se, just things that come to mind.

  • Tails
  • Subgraph OS
  • Kicksecure
  • HardenedBSD
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Due to limited resources I had to scrub my existing Qubes installation to install Windows so I could attempt to downgrade the BIOS (spoiler: it was all for naught). The good news is I had to backup files for a milder emergency, so the data loss was minimal. Not that it would’ve mattered anyways–as a non-technical person, I don’t even know what chrooting is. The word just reminds me of a bird sounds.

Extra info: the Qubes USB installer no longer initializes (i.e. unlike the existing installation and the disk installer, it doesn’t show a blank screen after relinquishing VGA to dom0). The USB installer config had nouveau.modeset=0 and commented out noexitboot=1 and mapbs=1

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An update: Qubes 4.1 (ver 2020.09.14) installs without modification (no need for nouveau.modeset=0 despite nVidia GPU) and seems to run fine with the latest Dell BIOS. As I’ve only just started toying around with 4.1, I don’t have much to report.