Boot Failures with Single Board PCs

Vega / Vega86-6270
September 30, 2009 at 10:54:12
Specs: Windows XP

Brief background - I'm an electronic engineer and I work for an elevator component company. I've been landed with a problematic bunch of elevator indicators to fix that are abroad. They are in fact mini PCs running Windows XP mounted behind a small TFT screen. They were designed specifically for this particular site two years ago (not by myself, I've only been with the company 12 months!) and they've been faulty since they were installed. I'm flying over to the site on Monday to try and diagnose and hopefully fix them.

They're reportedly not always booting up when they're powered on - sometimes showing a black screen with "Boot Failure. Insert BOOT diskette in A:". There is no A: drive - there's physically no floppy drive connected, and the A: drive is disabled in BIOS. There's only a mini IDE hard drive which contains the Windows XP installation.

Now, they sent back 4 of them for us to fix. When we got hold of them, they worked absolutely fine in the lab. We tried all sorts to recreate the problem but to no avail. We sent them back and they didn't work again! So we suspected the power supplies on site. They've been replaced with different models twice. They currently have supplies rated at 8A, and from my tests they consume 3.3A peak when they initially power up.

We have one spare unit that I've been running tests on - tested various power supplies, and choked the current of the supply. The only faults I can produce which are similar all involve preventing the hard drive from working (unplugging it, limiting the current so it wont spin up, pressure on the back of the drive so it cant spin, etc, etc). If the hard drive doesnt work, the unit shows the error "Boot Failure. Reboot and Select proper Boot device or Insert Boot Media in selected Boot device". Otherwise, they've been totally reliable in the lab.

So my question is, if there's no floppy drive, why would a computer not boot up with the error "Boot Failure. Insert BOOT diskette in A:", considering any type of hard drive failure seems to show a different message. Personally, I'm wondering if it's a noisy environment or mains that's causing corruption somewhere, but I'm just not sure - I'm not really a total computer pro! Since I'm flying over there, I want to be ready to try as many things as possible - hence my asking for suggestions before I go.

For reference, the mini PC is a Vega86-6270 with AMI BIOS, and it has "VIA Mark CoreFusion 533MHz 0518 0.90V EFT60 F0567G E5" printed on it. We've tried for months to get support from the company that supplied us with them, and they're just fobbing us off basically. We've had a little support from the manufacturer in Taiwan, but they seem to be saying it's a hard drive problem (despite the fact that hard drive problems dont show this error, and they worked when I tried them in the lab). The hard drives are 40GB Seagate Momentus 5400 with "ST940815A" printed on them. The indicators are mounted in holes in walls, but the faceplates have vents next to the screens with fans behind them to keep them cool.

I'd be hugely grateful for any suggestions on this - its had me scratching my head for a while now.

Thanks in advance!

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September 30, 2009 at 12:02:34
I'd suspect power supply.

What country? Western Europe, I'd expect to be ok. Eastern
Europe, not so good, Asia?

South America, Africa, wouldn't trust the supply. Take a
scope to check the ripple. Is something else dragging the
supply down?

Perhaps one of the lift motors is worn, & drawing more

As you have checked these things, I'd suspect an external

UK MP's are thieving scumbags.
EU members are worse.

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September 30, 2009 at 12:21:00
If the power supplies have a 115/230 voltage switch make sure they have it in the correct position for their locality.

Is the hard drive the only drive on the data cable--no cdrom?

If the bios has something like a 'hard disk pre delay' set that for 6 seconds or so. That gives the hard drive more time to spin up and be recognized.

Also try altering the boot order in cmos/bios setup.

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September 30, 2009 at 12:21:31
I would suggest taking along (or purchasing there) an uninterruptible power supply with a good size battery.

(edit) And the delay suggestion by Dave sounds good to me. I think I would also try telling the bios that there is a floppy, and setting it first in the boot order. Something to delay the boot some more.

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September 30, 2009 at 13:27:11
Thanks for the responses guys!

The current power supplies are 230V AC to 5V DC (8A) mounted in PVC boxes with ventilation holes (although I need to absolutely confirm this for myself!), and they're running off a separate supply from the elevator itself. We’ve sent these particular ones out all over the world and they’ve been reliable. We’ve already confirmed that the voltage selector switch is in the correct position. Elevators are indeed extremely noisy environments and we designed our equipment with this in mind – but this PC board is something that was just “bought in” so may be susceptible to noise.

Most notably, however, there is already a UPS powering one of the indicators (the one in the elevator car). As far as we’re aware, this one is failing too! But again, I can only confirm this myself when I’m on site.

They only have the one hard drive connected to the IDE cable. The cable only has one socket on it, and is quite short so it’s hopefully not picking up noise.

The delay idea sounds good – don’t think there were any options for that in the BIOS though (I’ll check later), and when I enable a floppy drive, it doesn’t give me the option of selecting it as a boot device (maybe it has to actually see it first?). I only have the option of setting the first and second boot devices to either nothing or the hard drive.
I could take a separate full size IDE drive that I can hook up to a separate power supply – plug it in in place of the mini IDE drive, and see if it boots then.

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