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How to downgrade a Dell Axim X50v the hard way

Dell Axim X50v WM06Last week we let you know about an amazing hack that brings Windows Mobile 6 to the Dell Axim X50v. What makes this hack so amazing is the fact that Dell has no plans that we're aware of to offer Windows Mobile 6 for this discontinued PDA. In fact, Dell's Windows Mobile 5.0 "upgrade" for the X50v was pretty widely panned for being buggy and slow.

Windows Mobile 6 runs better than Windows Mobile 5.0 on the X50v. But there are still some problems. After a week of playing with Windows Mobile 6 on our crash test unit, we got tired of occasional slow downs and the constant need to reinstall programs that had mysteriously stopped working. So we decided to downgrade to Windows Mobile 2003SE, the operating system that originally shipped with the Axim X50v, which runs like a dream.

Here's how it's supposed to work. First, you reinstall Windows Mobile 5.0 using a Dell utility. Then you use another Dell utility to reinstall Windows Mobile 2003SE. If only it were so simple. After the jump we'll tell you about some of the hurdles we faced and how we overcame them.
First up, neither Dell utility works with Windows Vista. You'll need a Windows XP machine around to switch from Windows Mobile 2003SE to Windows Mobile 5.0 or vice versa if you want to use the Dell utility. Or in a pinch, you can use a virtual machine running Windows XP.

OK, so we switched computers and managed to downgrade from Windows Mobile 6 to Windows Mobile 5.0. But when after following the same steps to downgraded to Windows Mobile 2003SE, our device locked up and refused to go past the boot screen. That means you can't plug the PDA into your computer to try again, because it doesn't boot far enough to synchronize with your PC.

No problem we figured. There's a secret way to load operating systems into memory on the Dell Axim X5x series. You push the wireless key, the power key, and the reset key all at the same time. This takes a bit of contortion, since one key is on the side of the unit, another is on the front, while the third is an indent in the back that you have to press with your stylus. Here's the best way to get the bootloader to pop up: press the wireless and power key for 1-2 seconds, then hit the reset button and let go of it while still holding the wireless and power keys.

All of this is useless, however if you don't have a ROM on your flash card. So here's what you need to know. First up, you need an SD card. CompactFlash cards won't work. MMC cards won't work. Second, it needs to be formatted using the FAT32 file system.

Now comes the tricky part. Windows Mobile 5.0/6 uses a different bootloader than Windows Mobile 2003SE. So if you've downloaded the ROM to your SD card for switching from Windows Mobile 5.0 to Windows Mobile 6, that's no use if you've got an unbootable Windows Mobile 2003SE device.

In other words, we were stuck in a position where we had no way to go back to Windows Mobile 5.0 or 6, and we weren't able to boot into Windows Mobile 2003SE. There was no helpful information at the XDA-Developers forum. And Aximsite, the best source of most Dell Axim information has a tutorial, but it's inaccessible to non-members, and for some reason, to some members as well. Fortunately, several pages of the tutorial are readable using Google's cache. Not the first page with the clear instructions, but we're finally getting somewhere.

So here are the exact files you need if you've got a WM2003SE bootloader and you're trying to install WM2003SE on a Dell Axim X50v. We know this covers a very small portion of PDA users, but this set of instructions could come in handy as an insurance policy if you want to take the risk of "upgrading" your device to Windows Mobile 6.
  • DiMa_B_A05_X50v_WM2k3_ENG.nb0
  • DiMa_B_A05_X50v_WM2k3_ENG_nb0.crc
  • DiMa_K_A05_X50v_WM2k3_ENG.nb0
  • DiMa_K_A05_X50v_WM2k3_ENG_nb0.crc
You can obtain these files by following a link from this forum thread. Now here are the steps to follow:
  1. Load the bootloader by pressing the wireless, power, and reset buttons.
  2. You should see a mostly white screen. If not, try again.
  3. After a moment, you should see two files. Click on the one that begins DiMa_B first.
  4. In a few seconds, you'll be prompted to do a hard reset by pressing the power and reset buttons simultaneously. Ignore this message. What you want to do is hit the power, wireless, and reset buttons again.
  5. This time select the file that begins DiMa_K
  6. Now Windows Mobile 2003SE A05 will be loaded onto your PDA. This will take at least a few minutes, and possibly as many as 10 to 15. There should be a progress bar that you can watch if you get tired of looking out the window and watching paint grow.
  7. When the OS is done loading, you'll be prompted with a message to do a hard reset. This time do it.
  8. Time to wait again. This time there's no progress bar. You just get to look at a blue Dell logo for a while, completely unsure of whether things worked. Go for a walk and come back in 5-10 minutes.
  9. If all is well, you'll be greeted with a "tap screen to begin setup" type message.
A note of caution

This is not a foolproof method for recovering an unbootable PDA. It's possible that you could end up with an entirely unbootable system if you make a wrong move or two. Please do not try changing the OS on your PDA unless you're either pretty sure you know what you're doing or willing to deal with the consequences if you're not. Even if your PDA is under warranty, good luck trying to explain to Dell why you were trying to install Windows Mobile 6 on it in the first place. We're sure they'll ship you a replacement unit right away.

Tags: AximX50v_WM2k3_A05_EN, bootloader, dell, dell axim x50v, DellAximX50v, osupdates, windows mobile 2003se, windows mobile 5.0, WindowsMobile2003se, WindowsMobile5.0, wm2003se, wm5.0, wm6, x50v