This is the second time I spent hours looking for this, so this time I'm writing it down.

My 10 year old Dell Inspiron 1420N, which is now my home server where I keep several useful online tools, has two problems: The keyboard and the LCD do not work. Well, the LCD works erratically, most of the times a couple of seconds after boot. The first problem can be fixed by attaching a USB keyboard, and the second by attaching an external screen.

Except that the machine does not enable the VGA output by default; but no problem, you just press Fn+F8 and voilĂ , external screen works. Except that external keyboards do not have the Fn key; but no problem, you can emulate it with Scroll Lock by just telling the BIOS to do so.

But you can't do it if you can't see anything on the screen. To do it blindly, you have to either know you BOIS by heart or find any reference online. I don't know that BIOS by heart, mainly because it's been a loooong while since I had to use it for anything, but also because I barely touch that machine anymore. And online references, well, there are none for models so old.

One of the possible solutions it occured to me that could help was to try to run a BIOS image, which you can still download from Dell's site (!), under qemu, but this tool cannot run arbitrary BIOSes. A pity, but understandable.

So without further ado, a schematic of the BIOS contents and how to fix this blindly:

- System
| System Info         <-- the cursor starts here
| Processor Info
| Memory Info
| Device Info
| Battery Info
| Battery Health
| Date/Time
| Boot Sequence
+ Onboard Devices
+ Video
+ Security
+ Performance
+ Power Management
+ Maintenance
- POST Behaviour      <-- 14 * <Down> + <Enter> and the following menu opens
| Adapter Warnings
| Fn Key Emulation    <-- 2 * <Down> + <Enter> and the setup screen opens
| Fast Boot
| Virtualization
| Keypad (embedded)
| Numlock LED
| USB Emulation
+ Wireless

The setup screen is quite simple, it has two options, Off and Scroll Lock, and you move with <Left> and <Right>. I'm not sure if it's needed, but pressing <Enter> to choose your option does not hurt. Then you press <Esc>, which gives you the Exit screen. This screen has three options: Remain in Setup (which is selected), Save/Exit and Discard/Exit. Guess which one you want :^) Just press <Right>, <Enter> and you're done! The machine reboots and now you can use <Scroll Lock>+<F8> in your external keyboard to activate the external screen.