I have a Lenovo ThinkCentre M73 as media centre, with beamer attached.
It played most movies well, but some stuttered. It turned out this box doesn’t have the oomph to play movies. Adding a graphics card would help that.
Today, I tried to add that graphics card, succeeded, and about 3 minutes afterwards, killed this pc.

I bought this Lenovo ThinkCentre M73 10B5 in 2015 for a whopping €321, new with employee discount from a friend who worked at Lenovo.
It is in a nice black case, ran OpenElec fine, but always seemed a little bit underpowered moviewise, with some movies not playing (particularly .mkv files, but some worked fine), and some movies playing for 20-30 seconds then stuttering to a halt while audio keeps playing.
It turns out this box lacks hardware graphics acceleration. I thought that was something for gamers, but apparently you need power for playing movies as well.
This got more apparent in a new version of libreElec, of which I have the idea that it is a bit heavier and performs worse at video playback. I did not test this objectively though.

I considered two update options: getting a graphics card or getting a Raspberry Pi 4. Both are about €35 for the cheapest model, but for the RPi4 you need to shell out a few euros extra, for a power supply, cooling, and case. As I pretend to be broke, I opted for the cheapest option: ask friends if they had a spare video card laying around that I could buy, Instead, I got a text:

Which is a Dutch portmanteau of gratis (free as in beer) and grafisch (graphics card). So I got a free graphics card.

The normal bracket card doesn’t fit my low profile pc

Small problem: I don’t have a low profile bracket for this graphics card. This problem was quickly dremeled away by using one of the pc’s existing brackets.

I took care the grindings didn’t go directly into the open PC case…

Some hacking later…

A low profile bracket has appeared!

Note that if you try this, the baselines of the normal and low-profile brackets do not align! There is a notch in both brackets (see arrow) which aligns. If you align the bottoms, the HDMI port is going to be obstructed by the top where the bracket folds over.

Booting up the PC, I got no video signal on the new graphics card. I still needed to change the graphics card in the BIOS.

  1. Enter the BIOS. I’m used to pressing DEL quickly after bootup, but with the Lenovo Thinkcentre you have to hold F1 before booting.
  2. In the BIOS, go to Video setup → Select Active Video → PEG (which stands for PCI-e Graphics, instead of IGD for Internal Graphics Device).
  3. After a save and exit (F10) the pc automatically reboots, but hotplugging the monitor over from it’s IGD to HDMI on the PEG didn’t give me an image (no signal detected!).

I had to power cycle (unplug power) the pc before I got an image.
But then it quickly booted into openElec. Near my media PC was a USB stick with two movies on them, which I remember not being able to play past the 30 seconds mark, then the movie would provide no further image (but sound would continue).
With the new graphics card, I was able to play the movie succesfully.

But then disaster (me) struck…

When I was busy working on the Lenovo, I decided to do a bios update as well – something I normally stay away from if nothing is broken, and which I will stay away from if nothing is broken from now on (spoiler: I will break unbroken things by updating BIOS or firmware in the future).

  1. Download the newest ISO image from Lenovo’s Bios update site. (I am surprised they do recent bios updates for a 5 year old model)
  2. Download the geteltorito script from https://userpages.uni-koblenz.de/~krienke/ftp/noarch/geteltorito/ and extract it, then extract the bootable image from the ISO
    ./geteltorito -o bios.img fcj995usa.iso
  3. Install Startup Disk Creator
    sudo apt install usb-creator-gtk
  4. Burn image to USB stick
  5. Insert USB stick into Lenovo, and reboot
  6. See message like “DOS Disk OS booting”, then hear two quick beeps and see the monitor go to standby.

Stupidly, I then rebooted my pc (thinking it was done). This bricked it. I have two flavours of brickedness:

  • The USB stick or the ISO DVD with the latest image is in the machine while booting:
    The pc starts up (I hear the fan) and after about 10 seconds I hear two beeps. The monitor doesn’t come on (no signal) – both on internal displayport and VGA and the external HDMI
  • The USB stick of ISO DVD is NOT in the machine while booting:
    Same as above, except that the 2 beeps repeat every 5 to 15 seconds (the time varies)

Searching the Lenovo forums, I came upon a promising thread, I think I tried every sensible option offered, but to no avail. I even completely dis-, then reassembled the motherboard (turns out a Lenovo ThinkCentre won’t power on if you forget to put the CPU back in there 😳)

I have no idea what to do now. I have a gut feeling something is wrong with the RAM, but I have no pc that has DDR3 to swap or donate a stick with. And the cheapest new ram is €29. At which point getting a Raspberry pi 4 might be more sensible.

P.S. Warranty expired 4 years ago.

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