Having bought a few of these cracking little laptops off eBay recently, fully functional but with slightly annoying BIOS passwords, I thought i’d take a look at unlocking them.

HP support are somewhat helpful, in that you can simply open a support case and they will generate an SMC.BIN file. You will need to provide them the laptop serial and UUID (both can be found by pressing escape when powering on the laptop and then pressing F1 for system information at the boot menu.

The SMC.bin file will in theory, when placed in the root of a FAT32 formatted USB drive, inserted into the laptop and powered on whilst holding winkey + up arrow + down arrow gain access to the BIOS without the password. This worked on some of the laptops but the next step is to reset security settings to factory defaults which immediately prompts for the BIOS password- doh!

Anyway, after lots of scratching, I had the idea to try flashing the latest BIOS. Initially this seemed like a no go; when trying from windows you are prompted for the BIOS password, when trying from the boot menu you are prompted for the BIOS password. Eventually, I found there is a BIOS update option within the BIOS. So, here we go again… this time armed with a FAT32 USB stick with my SMC.BIN and N78_0127.bin (latest firmware v01.27);

  • boot the laptop holding winkey, up and down
  • SMC message confirms successful execution
  • access BIOS with F10 (no prompt for password)
  • select update BIOS
  • reboot and confirm BIOS showing correct revision
  • power down
  • boot the laptop again, holding winkey + up + down arrows
  • SMC message confirms successful execution
  • access BIOS with F10 (no prompt for password)
  • select reset security to factory defaults (bingo! no password prompt)
  • laptop reboots once and asks to press F1 to confirm reset
  • laptop reboots a second time and asks to press F1 to confirm reset
  • laptop reboots a third time and now has the latest BIOS with no password

The above process worked on a few of the laptops, but then I hit a snag where the SMC.BIN initially worked, the BIOS update was successful but I could no longer execute the SMC.BIN to access the BIOS and reset the security settings (it seemed like it wasn’t seeing the USB device or file). I suspect this may be because of a BIOS setting like; USB disabled, UEFI or secure boot perhaps, i’m still not entirely sure.

I was able to get back into the BIOS by placing the SMC.BIN file into the root of a SATA disk (using another computer to load the file on). A few more down!

I’m now stuck with a few more stubborn laptops which I’ve yet to get to detect/execute the SMC.bin. I suspect it may be a specific version of the firmware which has a bug (again perhaps coinciding with another setup like UEFI/secure boot or disabled USB)- the problematic machines seem to be running N78 v01.12.

I have been trying to build bootable recover/upgrade USB keys and using winkey + b whilst powering on, but I get a variety of beeps, flashing caps lock etc but no sign of the BIOS being upgraded. I suspect winkey + b doesn’t allow you to circumvent a BIOS password.

I still have a few tricks to try- fingers crossed. Watch this space!

It’s important to note HP didn’t supply any of the above instructions and had told me if the SMC.BIN didn’t work out of the box I would need a replacement motherboard for roughly £350.