TideLog Archive for the “Electronics” Category

This is another wear related symptom, and often occurs on power down of an old system after a power cut. It is again to do with the input regulation circuit (the main resistor, diodes, and rectifier transistors bolted to the keypad chassis). If your Optima starts OK on battery, but not on just the mains, the cause of this is the CPU isn’t getting enough power to start up from the AC to DC rectification stage. The start sequence goes visually like this:

  1. Power is applied, the regulators get up to working voltage, and start supplying power to the CPU.
  2. The LED’s all come on, briefly, as the CPU boots up, doing its self test of itself, and the NVRAM, containing your code and exit/entry timers.
  3. Within a few milliseconds of 2 above, once the CPU has started, the LED’s go out, and the alarm now goes into a full alarm condition, leaving just the Power LED on, and any open Zone LED’s. If no zones are open, just the power LED is on.

If the LED’s all stay on with no more activity or sound, the CPU isn’t starting correctly, because the voltage to it is insufficient coming from the AC to DC rectifier stage. Allowing the alarm to start here going into full alarm, would cause too much current inrush, and voltage drop to sustain keeping itself running, due to the strobe/bell and 13v PIR’s drawing power when there isn’t enough.

The transformer puts out 16.2v AC. If the voltage at your battery charge terminals with no battery connected is less than 14v, (the last one I did was 10v) the whole system is being starved of power. The two transistors that are bolted through the keypad chassis need to be replaced, the big three-legged things top right of this picture with the holes through the tags:

Optima-XM-board-faulty-regulators

I always replace both to make sure, as they can be quite stressed out at such an old age, and be breaking down under load, as does the 47 ohm battery resistor. I also check the capacitors accompanying them. The leftmost transistor is a Toshiba TA7805S Positive Voltage Regulator which seems to be the battery regulator, I’ve uploaded the datasheet to Tidelog HERE. The second (rightmost) transistor is an ST Microelectronics LT8I5CV, for which I cannot find a datasheet, and I assume is the AC rectifier stage’s main DC regulator.

I am attempting to find suitable modern equivalents for these regulators, so if any electronics guys out there can help, I’d be most grateful, as finding info on these 15+ year old components is tricky! I’m running out of working ones to cannibalize off old unrepairable Optima boards! A good alternative to the Toshiba TA7805S is the Panasonic AN7805F, the datasheet is on TideLog, HERE, for you to take a peek at, if you understand electronics 🙂

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I’ve had this problem a few times on my laptop. It occurs mostly when the power suddenly goes off and it switches to battery. You lose all capacity monitoring, and can’t tell how much is left. The system tray icon changes to this:

no battery detected

Microsoft’s forums are hilarious. Their “Most Valuable Professionals” give the funniest canned cut ‘n’ paste responses, from, “Your power driver is corrupt” to your “Windows needs reinstalling!”. I know exactly what causes it, and it ain’t anything to do with “power drivers” or corrupt Windows. It’s the little monitoring chip in the battery. Like a lot of integrated electronics, it sometimes gets confused. Sudden switchovers from mains to battery tend to cause it, especially if there’s any surges from the battery as it kicks in.

The age old advice of “Reboot!” is the wise advice. If that doesn’t cure it, turn your machine off, remove the mains and battery, and hold your power button down to discharge the circuitry in your device (apart from the RTC circuit, but this doesn’t matter), that should cure it. Removing the battery opens the circuit to the sensing system in the battery, and resets it.

Simples. I hate MVP’s, they go on a 5 day course and think that gives them a Professional title? I’ve done MVP courses, but have the skills and years of software and electrical experience to further and back them up

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I previously posted about the rise in the occurrence of the Optima XM series main regulator resistor blowing. I’ve since had a few boards sent to me for repair, and a few users have also asked me about the resistor colour band codes. Below is my image of what an Optima XM & XM6 resistor SHOULD look like, before it burns up and scorches the board:

OptimaXM-and-XM6-resistor-undamaged

For those who want to know the resistance, the colour bands are the following: Gold, Black, Purple and Yellow, with a space between the gold and black bands. Here’s a diagram I made that shows how to interpret them:

resistor-color-code-allWhen working out the resistance of a pass-through resistor, you start by having the closest-together bands on the left. The resistor in the Optima is a 4 band one, so the resistance is worked out like so:

1. The first band is the Yellow one, which is 4;

2. The 2nd band is Purple, which is 7;

3. The 3rd is the Multiplier, which is Black at 1. The multiplier simply tells you how to multiply the first two values. Any multiplier with a K next to it is kilo (thousands, and the ones with M are Mega. So if our value of 47 was to be multiplied by 1k, a thousand, the value would now be 47,000. The Optima’s is simply a 1 multiplier, so it stays at 47, as you can’t divide it by 1.

4. We jump straight to the Tolerance band, which is Gold, at ±5%. The Tolerance band simply denotes how precise the manufacturing process of the resistor was, they can be 5%, 10% or 20%

Your total resistance is 4 + 7 * 1 = 47 Ohms ± 5%. Do not confuse it with a 47K resistor, it is 47 ohms, not 47,000 ohms, a K after the value indicates thousands.

Note that surface mount resistors and fuses do not have bands, they have the values stamped directly on them. If you are replacing a burnt resistor, clean the board around it with vinegar or contact cleaner to remove the burn marks. 99% of the time I’ve never had any actual board or trace damage, they are just burn marks from the resistor coating. You can use the methodology above for all the other resistors on the board, too, as they are mostly 4 band ones. If you are in any doubt I can do your repair for you, as I can repair traces and board damage professionally, use my contact form on the left sidebar to get in touch with me.

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Bad sectors are little clusters of data on your hard disk that cannot be read. More than that, though, they have the potential to cause real damage to your hard drive (catastrophic failure) if they build up over time, stressing your hard drive’s arm, which contains the read/write head, there are two for each platter, one for each side. Bad sectors are fairly common with normal computer use and the imperfections of the world we live in. Like chip fabrication and LCD panel manufacturing, HDD manufacture is a very critical, precise process, and like a TFT with bad pixels from the factory, you do get bad sectors with a HDD due to imperfections when it’s made. The manufacturers make legal allowances for a certain limit to these imperfections before warranty claims can be made, like the legal limit of 5 dead pixels on a TFT. However, there are several simple steps you can take to prevent HDD bad sectors and to repair any that you do have. Having bad sectors will slow down computer performance as well, as your drive takes time attempting to read them. Here is a step-by-step guide. The most common questions I get as a computer engineer are “What is a sector?”, and “How are HDD bad sectors created?”

A sector is simply a unit of information stored on your hard disk. Rather than being a mass of fluid information, your hard disk stores things neatly into “sectors”, a bit like us humans putting things into boxes, and the box only holds so much, and all boxes are the same size. The standard sector size is 512 bytes.

There are various problems that can cause HDD bad sectors:

  • Improper shutdown of Windows, especially power loss while the HDD is writing data;
  • Defects of the hard disk, including general surface wear, pollution of the air inside the unit due to a dirty or clogged air filter, or the head touching the surface of the disk;
  • Other poor quality or aging hardware, including dodgy data cables, an overheated hard drive, and even a power supply problem, if your drive’s power is erratic;
  • Malware.

Hard and soft bad sectors

There are two types of bad sectors – hard and soft.

Hard bad sectors are the ones that are physically damaged (that can happen because of a head crash if your drive is dropped while running and writing data), or in a fixed magnetic state. If your computer is bumped while the hard disk is writing data, is exposed to extreme heat, or simply has a faulty mechanical part that is allowing the head to contact the disk surface, a “hard bad sector” might be created. Hard bad sectors cannot be repaired, but they can be prevented. The heads of a hard drive float on the air cushion generated by the platters spinning, they fly less than the width of a human hair away from the platters, even a small speck of dust is like a mountain, so knocks are definitely to be avoided.

Soft bad sectors occur when an error correction code (ECC) found in the sector does not match the content of the sector. Whenever a file is written to a sector, the drive calculates a “checksum”, which is used to verify the data, if it doesn’t match upon read, the drive knows the sector is weak. A soft bad sector is sometimes explained as the “hard drive formatting wearing out”, in other words the magnetic field is weakening, like an old video cassette – they are logical errors, not physical damage ones. These are repairable by overwriting everything on the disk with zeros. Like tapes and CD’s, the magnetic surface on a hard disk is not infinite, it is affected by other magnetic fields around it, so data recovery guys like me recommend regularly imaging a drive directly to another, frequently, to keep the data fresh and readable.

Preventing bad sectors

You can help prevent bad sectors (always better than trying to repair them, as they say prevention is better than cure!) by paying attention to both the hardware and the software on your computer.

Preventing bad sectors caused by hardware:

  • Make sure your computer is kept cool and dust free;
  • Make sure you buy good quality hardware from respected brands. Cheap RAM and power supplies are my biggest culprits from experience;
  • Always move your computer carefully, and make sure it is TURNED OFF, not in Sleep mode, it can wake up while being moved, especially a laptop;
  • Keep your data cables as short as possible;
  • Always shut down your computer correctly – use an uninterrupted power supply if your house is prone to blackouts.

Preventing bad sectors using software

  • Use a quality disk defragmenter program with automated scheduling to help prevent head crashes (head crashes can create hard bad sectors). Disk defragmentation reduces hard drive wear and tear, thus prolonging its lifetime and preventing bad sectors;
  • Run a quality anti-virus and anti-malware software and keep the programs updated.

Monitoring bad sectors

If you use a tool like HD Sentinel, or CrystalDiskInfo, and you notice bad sectors on your drive, keep an eye on it. A few sectors bad is not normally a problem, as I mentioned at the start of the article, up to 5 bad pixels on a new TFT is allowed before it becomes a warranty claim, hard drives are allowed a few bad sectors due to the imperfections of their manufacturing process. They are manufactured with what are known as “reserved sectors”, a spare area of the disk only accessible by the controller board. If a sector is weak, the controller will attempt to move the data to the reserved area, if this is successful it then attempts a quick read/write test on the old sector (takes less than a few milliseconds), if it fails it marks it as bad in the sector map, also stored in the drive reserved area, along with drive firmware, so that it doesn’t attempt to use it again.

If the number of bad sectors starts increasing, or you start to experience other symptoms, such as the drive dropping out completely as if you unplugged it, or any clicking, and data taking longer to read or copy, this could indicate a fault with the read/write heads, or the control circuitry. Stop using it immediately and back up any important data to another drive. If the failing drive is under warranty, print a log off from HD Sentinel and take it along with you to return the drive, as evidence.

S.M.A.R.T Values to look for

When looking at S.M.A.R.T (Smart Monitoring And Reporting Tool) analysis, the two main areas to look out for are:

Reallocated Sector Count

This shows how many of the drive’s Reserved sectors have been used. If too many of these are used it generally indicates a problem with the disk surface.

Current Pending Sector

This shows how many bad sectors are currently pending a rewrite. A hard drive will always try to rewrite the sector, if it fails, the sector is reallocated into the reserved, the drive adds the sector on to the Reallocated Sector Count, and the original sector is then marked as unusable. If the rewrite is successful, the Pending Sector count will drop.

 

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Western Digital make really good hard drives, but where their Elements, Passport and MyBook drives are concerned, they’ve taken a wrong turn. The 2.5″ versions all have proprietary PCB’s on the drives themselves, so there’s no standard micro SATA data and power connectors like you’d expect. The USB connector and LED, plus the interface controller, are on the single board as well! This means you can’t just take the drive out and connect it to another USB to SATA enclosure.

A lot of very modern WD Elements, MyBook and Passport enclosures are now also encrypted, meaning the data can only be accessed when the control board is functioning correctly. In this article I’ll show you how to recover data from a WD Passport (laptop sized drive) enclosure, if the USB connector gets damaged.

1. Disassemble the enclosure, remove the drive, then remove the PCB from the bottom of the drive using a Torx screwdriver.

2. Flip the drive board over, you’ll see the following capacitors. Remove them using a soldering iron or a heatgun, being careful not to overheat or damage anything:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-capacitors

3. Next you need to take a standard SATA connector from another drive, or from a parts supplier (eBay has them in droves, search for COMAX SATA connector). Once you have it, take a look at it, you’ll see long pins and short pins. All the long ones are GROUND pins:

sata-connector-ground-pins

4. From the back side of the PCB (the componentless side which faces away from the drive when fitted), you will see pins E71, E72, E73 and E74, these belong to the SATA data pins. The other four pins marked with a red square belong to ground pins:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-E-pins

5. Now solder everything together, using this pinout:

E71 – Tx+
E72 – Tx-
E73 – Rx-
E74 – Rx+

The SATA standard uses two lines, a positive and negative, for Data TX (Transmit), and two for Data RX (Recieve), each having a separate ground on the ground lines. Use my picture below as a wiring reference:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-finished-wiring

Now all you need to do is use a standard USB cable to power the drive (if your connector is broken you can try soldering the power lines of a USB cable to the port power pins), connect via SATA to your PC, and it should work. NOTE: This WILL NOT work if your drive uses encryption, as that runs through the USB data lines, because we’re bypassing it, it won’t work.

You may get some “USB device not recognized” errors. Try connecting the SATA drive to a SATA hotplug port, connecting the data cable first, then the power, once Windows has started. Hotplug ports are usually purple or orange, it depends on the board manufacturer, Gigabytes are purple.

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UPDATE: All my development PS3’s have now died. I have become tired of keep reballing and soldering them, only for them to die again 6 months later. I have now given up on Sony altogether, and only focus on Xbox personally, so I can no longer assist with re-marry issues

This is something I’ve done about 4 times. If a PS3 stops reading discs, it’s either the laser head unit itself that’s failed (99%), the drive board has overheated and died (1%). If the drive board has failed, you can put another logic board of the same model drive on, but it won’t work straight off. Like the Xbox 360, the PS3’s drive is electronically “married” to the motherboard using software encryption. But, unlike the Xbox, you can’t just take the drive out of a PS3 and connect it to a SATA PC to dump the keys, as the PS3 has a non standard ribbon connection. There are also no solder methods for the PS3 that I’m aware of.

The PS3 Blu-Ray drive won’t work at all if straight swapped, it won’t read PS1/PS2 (on backwards-compatible consoles) or PS3 games, Blu-Ray movies, DVD discs, or even audio CD’s, whereas a straight-swapped Xbox drive will read DVD’s and audio CD’s until the drive key is flashed across via SATA. Fortunately the PS3 drive can be “married” to restore full functionality, but only under certain circumstances such as with supported firmware. Professional repair guys like me have a service mode “jig”, which is a special USB dongle that puts the console into Service mode, and automatically remarries the drive. You can do it with a PSP and a USB stick at home, here I’ll show you how:

NOTE: This does not work on Slim PS3’s. The Slim consoles have the drive control circuitry embedded into the main motherboard like the old PS2’s did, so if it stops reading discs and you’ve tried a new laser all to no avail, you’re out of luck, you’ll need a new whole motherboard.

1. Make sure your PS3 is on OFFICIAL Sony firmware v3.55. If you are on v3.56 DO NOT attempt the steps in my article, your console will BE STUCK in Service mode. The console doesn’t work very well in Service mode, games often lock and the console freezes running certain apps, if you get into Service Mode on v3.56 you CANNOT get out again.

2. Your PSP MUST be jailbroken, and running custom firmware. I have done it using v5.50-GEN-B and can confirm it works on both FAT and Slim PS3’s running v3.55 FW.

3. Download these files (they’re hosted on this blog so won’t expire):

a. PSPJig v1.00 – this file puts the console into factory mode.

b. PS3 OFW 3.55 – This is the official Sony V3.55 Firmware. Not added to blog yet as having trouble uploading it. Google for now 🙂

c. LV2Diag.self-get-out-factory-mode – This is the file we’ll use to get out of Factory Mode.

d. PS3 Remarry v3.55 – These are the files we’ll use to actually remarry the drive.

4. To keep this article short and to the point, I’ll assume you already have the correct firmwares on your PSP and PS3. To start off, take a blank FAT formatted USB pendrive (minimum 512MB), and extract the files from the remarry zip into the root of it. Then extract the v3.55 original firmware PUP file into the root as well. DON’T extract the firmware into a PS3/UPDATE structure like you would if you were updating the system software, it won’t work, the file needs to be in the root.

The structure of your pendrive should look like this:

  • Lv2diag.self
  • manufacturing_updater_for_reset.self
  • fdm_spu_module.self
  • PS3UPDAT.PUP
  • cfg/standalone.cfg (A folder named cfg with a standalone.cfg file inside it)
5. Then install PS3Jig onto your jailbroken PSP by copying the PS3Jig folder out of the zip into your PSP/GAME folder. Start your PSP and check that there’s a PS3Jig icon under the Games menu on the PSP XMB, it will be a PS3 icon as below:
ps3jig_1
Don’t run it, as you can’t exit out of it without pulling your battery, this will reset your PSP’s clock and date!
6. Next, connect your PSP to your PSP’s first left USB port, start PS3Jig on your PSP. DO NOT connect your USB drive with the remarry files yet. You will see a screen similar to this:
ps3jig_2
Note that you’ll only see the above message up to “USB Driver Started”. You won’t see the rest until you start your PS3 up.
7. Plug your PS3 into power, and switch on the rear switch so the power light is red.
8. Now switch on your PS3 using the touch sensitive power strip, then immediately afterwards press EJECT. Your PS3 will sit there for a few seconds, and then shut down. You’ll now see the rest of the above screenshot following the “USB Driver Started” section.
9. Now, switch on your PS3 using the power button. It will now boot to the XMB, and you should see “FACTORY SERVICE MODE” written in a red box at the bottom right of the screen. If you see this, you can switch off again.If not, repeat the process. It isn’t time sensitive, apart from pressing Power and Eject.
.
PS3-Factory-Service-Mode-screenshot
Your PS3 will stay in service mode as long as you want, even after turning the power off fully so don’t worry about it coming out, we need to manually force it out, which we’ll do later. Remove the USB lead of your PSP, and pull its battery to power off, we don’t need it again. You need to pull the battery as holding the power switch won’t switch off, it simply sleeps and comes back to PS3Jig.
10. Now, connect your USB remarry drive that we created in Step 4 to the FURTHEST RIGHT USB port, and power your PS3 back on. You’ll come to a screen similar to this:
Photo-0004
I recommend sticking a BD Movie disc in before you turn back on, as this will restore BD DRL license files, essentially they authorize the drive to the motherboard that it can play Blu Ray movies. There’s a BIG note here that I need you to read, see below:
a. If the ==DRIVE INIT== section at the top is GREEN, but all other sections are RED, the re-marry was SUCCESSFUL, but only the game disc, DVD and CD reads will work. Some people have reported that sticking a Blu Ray movie disc in DOES restore BD movie playback, but it still comes up NG and FAIL on the second section. You just need to play about. Boot back into the XMB still in Service mode, and see if a movie disc will play.
b. If you don’t put a BD disc in whilst doing this, don’t worry, you can do it again any time. The tool is a bit iffy on the success feedback, but you can’t do any damage, I tried different methods when I was learning the non-dongle way of doing remarries and never bricked anything.
c. The ==INSTALL SYSTEM SOFT== section will always be red, this is because the tool is set not to reinstall firmware. Some people use this method on downgraded consoles and end up with YLOD because of incorrect syscon hashes, so it is left off.
11. Finally, once you’re happy that everything works, turn everything off. In Service Mode, games won’t play very well, they often freeze, don’t worry about this, they’ll work in Normal mode, which we’re about to get the console back into. Delete everything off the USB drive, and put the LV2Diag.self file from the Exit-Service-Mode.zip into the root of it.
12. Connect it to the furthest right port of the PS3, power on, and it’ll do the power-on-beep-shutdown process again. Remove the USB drive, and power her on, you should now be back in Normal mode again, with drive functionality restored! Congratulations! Go get yourself a beer, enjoy those feelings of having achieved something brilliant, because it is great even after doing it for the 100th time for me!

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As it is when shipped retail, this drive is terrible. The drive constantly tries to park its heads, lagging the system, even during copy and move operations. With it being a top end 7200RPM drive, this is unacceptable, especially if like my Clevo, it is installed in a gaming machine. It is the power saving “features” of the firmware that cause it. The drive also exhibits “beeping” symptoms where the voice coils of the arm recieve a high current to wake it up and seek track, the high current effectively turns the coil into a speaker, and it makes a beeping sound. The drive constantly seems to miss beats because of the parking issue, causing the arm to miss and have to be shocked back into place by the controller.

Using tools like HDDScan to disable the APM (Advanced Power Management) and AAM (Advanced Acoustics Management) features aren’t permanent, once the drives are power cycled the issue starts all over again. The drive refuses any permanent disable ATA control commands.

There is a Dell firmware that will get rid of the issue, and take the firmware up to 05SDM1. My Clevo’s laptop’s drive started out with 2SDM1 firmware. The new FW makes the drive visibly quicker. The auto flasher doesn’t work, instead we need to manually force it, I’ll show you how.

1. Download the Seagate Update Utility ISO image, hosted on TideLog, this very blog, by clicking HERE. Extract the ZIP file, you’ll find an ISO file called Seagate Utility.iso.

2. Burn the extracted ISO to a CD-RW or DVD-RW, and restart your computer. When your computer restarts, enter your BIOS and make sure the computer is set to boot from CD.

3. The updater will start on its own, but it will actually fail even though a green screen is shown, you will need to manually force it. It will dump you back at a command prompt, so type:

FDLH -m HOLLIDAY -f 0005SDM1.LOD -i ST9500420AS -b -v

Essentially this line forces the detection of Seagate ST9500420AS drives, and force flashes it, even if the BIOS doesn’t have the Dell asset tag embedded.

4. This works on any machine, including Dell Studio, Asus, my Clevo M571TU, and the M570. Any machine with a Seagate ST9500420AS drive should work fine. Any drives with “GAS” on the end are the same drive but with G-Shock protection.

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In the form of a Clevo M571TU. This thing is awesome! Greg bought it me as a Christmas present after I rebuilt a Toshiba Satellite A200 for him to replace his old Pentium 3 Inspiron. It’s a Core 2 Quad Q9000 mobile chip running at 2GHz, giving a total clock of 8GHz, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 4B Intel Turbo Memory card, 500GB Seagate (GRRRR!) hard drive that has power save clicking and lag issues. The PCI-E graphics card is a nVidia GTX280M 1GB, to finish off there’s a Blu-Ray ROM & DVD-RW drive.

All that for the knockdown pure burglary price of £390 excluding shipping, used on eBay! This monster will run rings round High Street laptops in the £0 to £900 bracket for the next 6 years. PC World can keep their £300 dual core i3 and i5 laptops.

I just hope the graphics card holds out. It is a 55nm chip and also a standard MXM 2.1 PCI-E card, so is easier to replace than the old Uniwill I used to have. It runs really cool at idle, here’s a HWMonitor screenshot of all the voltages and temps with the system warmed up to idle temperatures:

Midori (Clevo M571TU) Idle Temps & Voltages

The graphics card only seems to get as hot as 64 degrees so it’s quite cool. The cooling system is massive, the CPU and GPU have their own fans and heatsinks, unlike the Uniwill P55IM that had a shared heatsink and single fan. The M571 GPU block is huge, it covers the whole of the top of the card and has twin heatpipes so I’m hoping it’ll be fine. nVidia eventually owned up, and this G92b chip is one of the late 2009 revised ones, so I’m not too worried.

Heat stress happens with BGA technology anyway, the heating and cooling is just the way science works, doesn’t matter whether it’s AMD/ATi or nVidia, it will eventually fail due to BGA technology’s flaws, the solder balls will break. If the industry actually socketed their GPU’s we wouldn’t see issues. I have never in my 17 years of computers seen a pass-through soldered CPU socket actually fail and come off a board, even though the board warps.

I don’t like the Seagate drive on this. It’s a ST9500420AS and is a piece of crap. It’s a 7200RPM one but it constantly tries to park its heads every few seconds even under load, causing clicking and lag as it unparks and starts waiting for requested sectors to come round. Forums are full of complaints about it, and now I hate Seagate even more. The drive refuses any permanent power management turn off commands using HDDScan, and if you temporarily disable it it comes back on when the drive is powered off and on again!

Other than that this system is solid. 17″ screen that does native 1920×1200, solid built body, solid keyboard (same as the one in my old Clevo M670SU that I loved) and equally solid performance. Clevo know how to build a high end notebook, and I still can’t believe I got a 2 year old gaming laptop for £390 which was £1,400 brand new!

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I’m in the middle of very slowly recovering data from Midori’s 250GB Fujitsu hard drive. Over the last 6 months the problems started out innocently, as if there was a bad sector. The drive would freeze with the HDD indicator solid, then after 2 mins it would recover. Running a full HDD Regenerator scan revealed no bad sectors, but still it happened, albeit not very often.

Then suddenly it has got worse, doing it every 2 minutes, blue screening the laptop. Putting the drive in my USB caddy the drive actually freezes and then completely disconnects itself from the USB bus if I attempt to write to it or cut and paste from it, as if I’ve used Safely Remove Hardware and turned it off. It will read data from itself, but very very weakly and slowly, starting at 800KB/sec, creeping up to a max of 8.56MB/sec after 5 minutes, when it should be at over 15MB/sec, normally starting out at 24MB easing to between 11 and 15MB.

It seems the MCU (Micro Control Unit, Main Control Unit, or Micro Code Unit) is failing, or there’s a voltage regulation issue between that and the heads. Modern hard drives only have three main chips as well as resistors, diodes and capacitors on their PCB”s. You have the MCU (main processor), the Cache memory chip, and the motor driver chip, often a SMOOTH chip, that spins the drive up using high current, then tapers off keeping it steady once it’s spun up to full revs. Remember when HDD’s had massive boards with lots of chips and electrical gubbins? That single MCU does the work of most of those, an awesome example of modern integrated electronics!

While we’re on the subject of Fujitsu, let me tell you a little bit of my data recovery background involving them…

Hard disk drive faults can occur for any number of reasons, sometimes wear and tear on the mechanical parts of the drive’s internals can lead to a drive failure, in other cases electronic faults on the drive’s PCB can lead to the failure of the drive, or even a mixture of both. Even a drive that is mechanically and electronically sound can fail, often leading to confusion in determining exactly what the cause of the failure is. The answer lies with the software that controls the hardware, that is stored on the platters, in the MCU, or both.

Quite a few years ago, when the data recovery industry was really taking off, new failures started cropping up, drives would spin up, make sounds as if initialising, and then…? …Nothing.

But what could be the cause? There was a very well known failure that appeared around the same era that data recovery companies started to appear like they were being mass produced from a factory! This failure was found in a popular brand of consumer desktop hard disk drives manufactured by (of all guys, Fujitsu!). These series all had model numbers beginning with either MPF or MPG. Before long the following drive models started failing, going into failure territory like no drive had been known to before:

  • MPF3102AT
  • MPF3102AH
  • MPF3153AT
  • MPF3153AH
  • MPF3204AT
  • MPF3204AH
  • MPG3102AT
  • MPG3102AH
  • MPG3204AT
  • MPG3204AH
  • MPG3307AT
  • MPG3307AH
  • MPG3409AT
  • MPG3409AH

These drives weren’t of the modern simple three chip design, they had big PCB’s with lots of circuitry. Once failed the Fujitsu hard disks behaved normally, spinning, apparently initializing, but not becoming ready. Whilst common in all drives of the above series the problem was particularly common in the MPG family, especially the 40GB and 20GB models, MPG3409AH, MPG3409AT, MPG3204AT, MPG3204AH.

To repair these drives access to the micro-program that starts and controls the drive (the firmware) was required. Once access to the drive had been gained via the manufacturer’s own unpublished ATA command-set the job of checking each of the firmware modules began. In most cases a temporary repair of the drive in order to extract a full clone onto a working device could be performed, involving repairing certain logs in the drive’s own firmware by replacing the contents with those from a known working drive of the same firmware revision. Results were often instant and long-lasting, but, once a drive had failed once there was only a finite length of time before it would fail again.

A good few years after the first problems Fujitsu finally admitted there were issue with the hard drives, cowardly blaming component manufacturers for the fault. The MPF and MPG series of drives showed excellent promise, with good performance, low price point and good build quality to boot, they should have really cemented Fujitsu’s foundations in the consumer desktop hard disk drive business, though it lead to Fujitsu calling it a day on further desktop hard drives instead concentrating on notebook and Enterprise class devices.

Even today they are still utter crap. They use the same Marvell processors that a lot of Samsung and Western Digital drives do, but WD and Sammy drives seem much more reliable. Samsung and WD boards that match failed ones are also easier to source as you don’t need to match serial numbers (embedded in ROM and on the platters on Fujitsu’s) because WD’s firmware and serial are just stored on the platters, as I think Samsung’s still are.

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This is the testing I perform to check if an Optima XM alarm panel is defective, or if it is the wiring. This article is very similar to my earlier Optima XM – Constant Tamper article, but I’ve simplified it. This article is generally the same for most panels, but I get a lot of readers asking about Optima panels, the XM & XM6. If your panel seems to be misbehaving, follow these steps: NOTE: The terminal numbers here are for the XM 4 zone panel, they will NOT match for the XM6.

1. Power down the panel by isolating the mains. Normally there is a fused spur (there should be if the engineer that fitted it really knew what he was doing), so just pull the fuse holder out. If the battery is connected and good, the Power LED will go out, but Day will still be illuminated. If the battery is completely dead and/or needs replacing, the Day LED will go out. If unsure, the 2nd step below will definitely confirm, as you might get a rude awakening!

2. Remove the screw securing the panel cover. Now, if your battery is good, the alarm will now go into a full blown alarm condition, as you’ve opened the panel tamper connection by removing the cover. Silence it by entering your code. The Tamper LED will be lit. This is normal. If the system does nothing, your battery is shot, and now would be a good time to replace it while you’re on the job!

3. Make a note of what each Zone is what (Zone 1 front door contact, Zone 2 Living Rom PIR etc) and using the wiring diagram I’ve provided below, disconnect the following sets of cables from the terminal block, and place a wire link across each of the Zones, PA, and Tampers:

A) The 4 Zone cables (6 if you have an Optima XM6, it is a 6 Zone panel, the XM is 4), terminals 1 to 8. Jumper each zone with a wire link.

B) The PA cables (Personal Attack, they’re panic buttons) if fitted, from terminals 9 to 10. Place a wire link (jumper) across the terminals. If the PA terminals are unused, they will already be jumpered with a factory link. They MUST be jumpered if not fitted with panic buttons, otherwise a Tamper fault will result as it is open.

C) The Tamper cables (the tampers from PIR’s, door/window magnets, impact sensors etc will be wired in series to the two wires connected here, usually with a terminal block), from terminals 11 to 12. Screw in a wire link across the terminals.

D) The Extension Speaker and Strobe terminals (13 to 16) can be left alone, there may not be a strobe fitted to the bell box depending on your setup. The Extension Speaker is the speaker in the panel case, we need it connected to hear keypad and exit/entry tones from the panel. DO NOT JUMPER the Strobe terminals if no strobe is fitted or you remove the cables, you’ll cause a short, the Strobe line is a voltage rail not pulse!! The Bell & Strobe fuse (in the diagram below) will blow if the Bell or Strobe terminals are shorted, so, don’t do it!!

E) Disconnect the Tamper Return and 0 Volts terminals from terminals 17 to 18 (T & A), and screw in a wire jumper across them. These are the terminals for the bell box tamper switch. It may not be fitted and may already be jumpered, but it NEEDS to be jumpered if not fitted or the wires removed, otherwise constant Tamper will result, as with the two Tamper terminals earlier.

4. All other cables can be left as they are. The 12v +ve & Trigger -ve terminals (19 & 20) are for the Bell, this can be left connected. The +13v & -Output terminals (21 & 22) are the power rail supplying PIR’s, normally your PIR’s power lines are connected to this, and their Zone wires connected to Zone terminals.

5. Having done this, make sure the appropriate terminals are jumpered correctly (triple check and double check!!), close the panel cover (to close the panel tamper switch), replacing the screw, then POWER up! You can use either battery or mains, it’s up to you, it doesn’t matter. The alarm will start going off, inputting your code should bring you to Day mode. If not, re-check your jumper links.

6. If you’re in Day mode, now you can start re-wiring the system one zone at a time until the problem reappears. When the problem re-appears, if it does, check zone wiring and any PIR/magnet tampers, the biggest causes.

Remember that Zone 1 is Timed, which starts the entry tone. Normally the main premises entrance door magnets are wired here. Zone 2 is a Time Inhibit zone, which means if you come in through the front door, and have to go through another zone like a PIR to get to the panel, the PIR would be wired to Zone 2 and held off from causing an alarm, so the entry tone carries on. Otherwise the PIR in the living room would trigger the alarm immediately not giving you time to get to the panel! All other Zones are Immediate zones, which trigger the alarm immediately.

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I’ve been using my PS3 for the last few days, on two different full HD TV’s, one, Greg’s TV, a 32″ LCD Full HD Sony Bravia, and Kassie’s Samsung 50″ Full HD TV, and I’m far from impressed. GTA4 on PS3 is supposed to (according to the box) be able to do either 720p, or 1080i/p. It never did 1080, except at the XMB, on both TV’s, whereas the 360 does full 1080p straight away!

The aliasing on the PS3 was terrible, on all the games I tried (FIFA 09/10, Stuntman, GTA4) and they all only hit 720. I’ve now decided to sell the PS3, and stick with my 360. I repaired a Slim yesterday, and the fan in that is the nastiest thing I’ve seen since a laptop:

The fan is all plastic, tacky, and typical of Sony downgrading. The PS3 has gone downhill ever since its release, and here’s my full list of faults:

1. Features have been removed (cardreader, PS1/PS2 compatibility, Other OS) that made it better than the Xbox in terms of utilities.

2. The games don’t run at full 1080 when they are supposedly supposed to, and they look aliased and god awful.

3. The PS3 FAT had just as many faults, if not more than the original 360 (discs not reading, video not working, YLOD, RLOD , total failure of the PSU because it got too hot). The 360 has only ever suffered mainly RRoD faults, and the occasional DVD read error. Playstations have had laser failures since the brick Playstation 1, they still haven’t learnt how to manufacture a laser correctly. I’ve never once had to fix a 360 with failed PSU or no video without reason (E74)

4. The Slim PS3 is junk, the components are shrunk, the fan is noisy and cheap, and the games STILL DO NOT run at full 1080. The only thing that makes the PS3 somewhat if at all better than the 360 is that it has a BluRay drive, which is a con anyway, as the same games on 360 fit on DVD, nd they’re better quality!!

5. Firmware “updates” break features. Take for example a FW upgrade that caused people’s BD drives to not read discs? And the recent 3.5 update where 3D discs are choppy and out of sync? Yeah, nice, Sony. Not. They’re acting like they created 3D, which they did not.

I’m normally unbiased in my repair work, but here is my conclusion: Sony is JUNK, JUNK, JUUUUUUNNNNNKKKKK!!!! I’m so glad I gave up on them after my 3rd PS3 laser replacement. They’re still as damn bad, if not worse. An insult to the Japanese, and I love the Japs, as my lil lady is a Jap, and proud of it, Sony just mar their electronics industry. At least Microsoft offered a 5 year warranty, and the new 360 Slim is superior to the older consoles, and all the shite Sony have ever put out. My 8 year old Xbox 1 is still strong, modded, but with all original parts except HDD, so go figure….

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The new fan arrived this morning, and I fitted it. It’s all working as it should, and I’ve been out and bought a wireless controller and GTA:IV so I can roadtest it doing some Serbian terrorism!

I might replace the power supply, as the one that’s fitted is one that gets quite hot. There’s a cool running one available, so I’ll give it a try to keep the system heat level down. The Other OS feature has been removed, someone’s already updated it to 3.30, which was a FW with it deactivated. Oh well, at least everything else works, DVD & Blu-Ray and PS1/PS2/PS3 games all work fine, so I’m happy!

Refurbishment and repair is what I love, and am good at it, I’ve made a lot of profit from electronics repair!

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It arrived yesterday, and I stripped it today. The fan was jammed, it seems to be badly out of shape, the metal frame is bent and the fan coil assembly itself is slanted. It’s a 19 blade, so not one of the rubbish 15 blade ones Sony decided strangely to replace them with. The seller has used a hairdryer/heatgun in the vents to fix a previous YLOD, so the casing and heatsink plastic surround are warped.

Other than that, it powers, runs the XMB, and plays PS1 & BluRay games, and the hard drive works. I’m gonna get a new complete casing and a new fan is on its way via Special Delivery Next Day as I type, so it should be running again in no time! Here’s my total cost of ownership calculation for the stuff it needs:

Console from eBay with faulty fan and possible risk of YLOD = £69 inc £14 P&P

New complete casing to replace the heat warped one from the amateur hairdryer YLOD “fix” job of the old owner = £16

Used working 19 blade cooling fan = £16.98 inc P&P

Future BGA re-ball if it ever YLOD’s on me = £0 as I’m doing it myself

Possible future 120GB HDD upgrade = £30

Total = £138.98

So, still cheaper than buying a used fully working one, or a featureless Slim new. This 60GB FAT has the cardreader, PS1/PS2 backwards compatibility, and the Other OS feature. The Slim costs £229 without all that!!

Damaged repairable is the way to go if you have the skills and experience, which I have. I also don’t use towel, reflow or hairdryer tricks, only professional BGA re-ball, so I’m a winner!

Reflow must not be confused with re-ball. Re-flow is simply heating the component up to re-melt and bond broken solder, whereas re-balling involves renewing the solder balls completely and re-soldering with a hot air rework machine using more heat to ensure higher melting point. This reduces the risk of the solder melting at the console’s normal temperature.

You see? I’m not a bedroom enthusiast, like some of the “been in the console repair business 4 years” people that claim they can do it all because they’ve taken one console apart and watched YouTube. I’m a pro, I’ve been doing it since the Amstrad 464, before the Web or YouTube really existed!

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Often found in PC’s, VCR’s, and other electrical devices that require different voltages, and really clean smooth power, switchmode supplies are also known as switching power supplies and sometimes chopper controlled power supplies, SMPSs use high frequency (relative to 50/60 Hz) switching devices such as Bipolar Junction Transistors (BJTs), MOSFETs, Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors (IGBTs), or Thyristors (SCRs or triacs) to take directly rectified line voltage and convert it to a pulsed waveform.

Most small SMPSs use BJTs or MOSFETs. IGBTs may be found in large systems and SCRs or triacs are used where their advantages (latching in the on state and high power capability) outweigh the increased complexity of the circuitry to assure that they turn off properly (since except for special Gate Turn Off (GTO) thyristors, the gate input is pretty much ignored once the device is triggered and the current must go to zero to reset it to the off state.)

The input to the switches is usually either 150-160 VDC after rectification of 115 VAC, or 300-320 VDC after doubling of 115 VAC or rectification of 220-240 VAC. Up to this point, there is no line isolation as there is no line connected (large, bulky, heavy) power transformer.

A relatively small high frequency transformer converts the pulsed waveform into one or more output voltages which are then rectified and filtered using electrolytic capacitors and small inductors in a ‘pi’ configuration C-L-C, or for outputs that are less critical, just a capacitor.

This high frequency transformer provides the isolation barrier and the conversion to generate the multiple voltages often provided by a SMPS.

Feedback is accomplished across the isolation barrier by either a small pulse transformer or opto-isolator. The feedback controls the pulse width or pulse frequency of the switching devices to maintain the output constant. Since the feedback is usually only from the “primary” output, regulation of the other outputs, if any, is usually worse than for the primary output. Also, because of the nature of the switching designs, the regulation even of the primary output is usually not nearly as good both statically and dynamically as a decent linear supply.

DC-DC converters are switchmode power supplies without the line input rectification and filtering. They are commonly found in battery operated equipment like CD players and laptop computers. They have similar advantages to SMPSs in being compact, light weight, and highly efficient.

Where are SMPS’s used?

Switch mode power supplies are commonly used in computer and other digital systems as well as consumer electronics – particularly TVs and newer VCRs though audio equipment will tend to use linear power supplies due to noise considerations. You will find SMPSs in:

  • PCs, workstations, minicomputers, large computers.
  • Laptop and notebook computers, PDAs – both internal DC-DC converters and their AC power packs.
  • Printers, fax machines, copiers.
  • Peripheral and expansion boxes
  • X-terminals and video terminals, Electronic Point Of Sale systems (EPOS).
  • TVs, computer and video monitors.
  • Many VCRs.
  • Camcorder AC adapters.

In additional, you will find DC-DC converters which are SMPSs without the AC line connection, internally in an increasing number of consumer and industrial applications including things like portable CD players.

The up side is that they are usually quite reliable, efficient, and cool running.

The down side is that when a failure occurs, it may take out many parts in the supply, though not usually the equipment being powered unless the feedback circuitry screws up and there is no overvoltage protection.

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I’ve just refurbished a Thomson Lyra PDP2842. Replaced the HDD, dumped and modified the NAND firmware to iron a few “HDD Access Error” bugs out, and replaced the casing. It now seems to run OK, but hasn’t got the latest firmware yet, 3.03. I have it, but not yet installed it.

The firmware is in two parts. The NAND firmware on a chip on the board that controls the VFD LCD, bootloader, power and USB functions, and the HDD user-upgradeable software, which controls MP3, WAV, WMA playback, playlists, profiling, and radio play/record and tuner. The Hitachi hard drive firmware is separate completely from the player, and can be upgraded, but there’s no need to.

I connected the player to my Windows 7 machine, and the thing doesn’t work as a USB HDD. The computer makes the “do-dum” sound, and then pops up the dreaded “A device attached to this computer has malfunctioned, and Windows does not recognise it” message about six seconds later. THIS IS NOT A FAULT. Not an intentional one, anyhow. The USB function does work under XP and Vista. It’s happening because the motherboard of the player isn’t identifying itself and the HDD fast enough for ol’ Seven to think it’s responding. The board of the player is a bridge between the computer and the HDD, so it identifies itself as an IDE controller bridge, and then passes communication to the HDD, which the computer then detects, and installs, letting you use the HDD.

If this process doesn’t happen in a certain time, Windows 7 thinks there’s a fault, and ceases communication to prevent damage. My modifying of the NAND dump didn’t cause it, it happened before so I thought I’d see if I could fix it. My old one does the same.

I’ve had two of these blasted things. Poor firmware, poor design, and crap customer support saw an early death by Thomson and RCA of its own product. I sent bug report after bug report back in ’05, only to have them read the same tripe off a script to me in emails. I got fed up, and got Kassie to hex edit the lot. We recently figured how to dump the NAND contents using a probe, so I grabbed another Lyra and gave it another go. I sent my knackered Lyra to Her Ladyship in Tokyo (the HDD ribbon tore, making it damn more useless than ever!) and she played about with her probes, dumpers and chip programmers.

NEVER, EVER buy Thomson or RCA intentionally! Only if you wanna smash the shit up! Having said that, the Lyra Kassie has just helped me fix is almost brand new, and runs better than damn Thomson ever made it do. The software is smooth as oil! Oh, and I got rid of the stupid EU volume limit, because they said they had, and buggered the Equaliser up!

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