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WorkPad z50 and CF cards

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ict Page Icon Posted 2019-12-09 7:16 PM
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Hi guys,

I recently picked up a WorkPad z50 that I am excited to add to my collection, it's a fascinating piece of history that I'm hoping to put to work for something a little more practical as well, but for the last few days it has been driving me insane; it just doesn't like CF cards.

Often when inserting a card - even when suspending the system first, the Storage Card directory will appear empty and never populate until one or more suspend/resume cycles. Even when I can eventually kick the card into gear, it seems to lose power after a few minutes regardless of use, and regardless of whether I'm using the CF slot or a PC card adapter. Usually, the card will still be recognized and I can still explore any directories I listed before the card lost power, but the contents will not be updated and files cannot be accessed. Applications using the card when it loses power usually show error code 20.

It doesn't seem to be related to the z50's hardware or the cards themselves; I've tried it on and off AC power and used different cards, including a Microdrive, all of which can be accessed fine on PCs and other devices. The z50 itself even seems absolutely fine for 15-30 minutes after a hard reset, I can usually successfully install my entire application stack and the problems seem to only begin after a soft reset (with or without a card inserted.)

I've also tried updating my system to SP1, formatting the cards with FAT32 and being as safe as I can think of when inserting/removing them, including closing all applications and suspending the system during swaps. Sometimes I've had to chkdsk /F volumes after using them in the z50, other times it will act up even when chkdsk shows no errors in the file system, or on a freshly prepared volume. It seems almost as if CE's power management or the ATAdisk driver is cutting power to the card at random.

Has anyone else had a similar experience with a z50? I appreciate any tips that might help me tame this thing. I've had a few HPCs before this but I'm definitely no expert, hopefully I'm just missing something.

Thank you for reading!
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Rich Hawley Page Icon Posted 2019-12-10 12:07 AM
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I used to own a Z50 and never had any troubles at all with CF cards, though they were only 64mb cards.
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ict Page Icon Posted 2019-12-10 4:18 AM
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I did wonder if it had to do with the card size, but after trying a 64 MB card when I got home it still has the same problems I noticed with the 96 MB SanDisk CF card and 340 MB Microdrive I tried. I could browse the contents of the card and access documents, but as soon as I tried to run a system backup it faltered and locked up, requiring a soft reset to bring it back. It seems to have the most difficulty with sustained file transfers like backups or software installation.
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C:Amie Page Icon Posted 2019-12-10 1:13 PM
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Failing capacitor on the motherboard gets my vote. Can you get a multimeter down onto the 5v pins and watch it for 20 minutes after a cold boot?
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ict Page Icon Posted 2019-12-10 3:57 PM
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Interesting idea, I might be able to give that a try at some point soon if my tools permit it. I would like to tear it down anyway and clean it as the styrofoam packing material practically dissolved in transit and got all over (and probably inside) the system, I wonder if that may be causing problems as well...
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C:Amie Page Icon Posted 2019-12-10 7:01 PM
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If it got inside and melted, possibly. Unlikely though I feel.
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Paianni Page Icon Posted 2019-12-10 8:39 PM
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Someone may have forced a card in the wrong way and bent or destroyed pins.
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ict Page Icon Posted 2019-12-11 5:39 AM
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The contacts seem fine in both the CF and PC card slots. Regarding the 5V line issue, is there a possibility this may occur in a way that propagates to both the CF and PC card slots while everything else seems perfectly functional?

It may take me a little while to get the testing setup figured out. I'm assuming I can hook the multimeter directly to the leads in the CF slot, is that correct?
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C:Amie Page Icon Posted 2019-12-11 8:13 AM
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If a capacitor can't cope, then everything downstream of that will experience a voltage drop. The more you push the card, the more power is needed, the more unstable it becomes until it crashes.

You'll need to get the CF/PC Card pinout - and be careful.
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ict Page Icon Posted 2019-12-12 2:15 AM
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Tonight I got home and partially disassembled the system to get to the board, rigged it up and tested a few accessible capacitors with my multimeter and everything seemed acceptable. After re-seating the ROM card, I booted the machine up and tried a spare 8 MB CF card in case the testing might damage it.

The system worked decently well after the boot-up, capacitors and the CF leads were all reading a perfect 3.3 V during operation and I was able to run a quick registry backup to test. I decided to try leaving it for a while to see how it was for 20 minutes, but before that point I decided to quickly soft-reset it to see if anything changed, the problem re-appeared immediately and I was unable to create a backup or properly access any existing files on the card. Checking the leads again during this process showed everything was operating at 3.3 V, though admittedly I was not able to safely keep the probes on the slot while actually accessing the card.

From inspecting the board, everything looks quite clean, there's no residue or suspicious markings on the underside, though I haven't completely disassembled the system to inspect the top. The shielding under the keyboard looks nearly spotless as well. I don't think I can entirely rule out hardware, but it's seeming increasingly unlikely.
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C:Amie Page Icon Posted 2019-12-12 7:48 AM
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I can't imagine that this issue is software.

If you hard reset, is it the case that it works until after a soft reset?
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ict Page Icon Posted 2019-12-12 6:36 PM
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C:Amie - 2019-12-12 7:48 AM

If you hard reset, is it the case that it works until after a soft reset?


Exactly! It's very strange.

Last night I re-assembled the machine, installed my entire stack (a few megabytes' worth of applications) from a microdrive and ran a backup successfully over AC power. This morning I finished tweaking settings at work and have been using the same microdrive with seemingly no issue on battery power, I even ran another full backup successfully.

I would try soft-resetting it right now to see if the behavior cropped back up again, but I don't want to touch it while it's still working, at least not until I get home. It definitely occurred after a soft-reset on the bench, though. It's as if CE just gives up on trying to access the card after a minute or so. It seems to still detect and power it to some degree, but the directories within do not update and any files not already cached by some open application are unreadable. My microdrive wouldn't even spin up when you accessed the directory in that state.

I can't think of anything that could cause a situation like this. Memory corruption during the reset? Faulty power management? It's driving me crazy.
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C:Amie Page Icon Posted 2019-12-13 9:13 AM
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Okay, so does it occur after a soft reset with AC connected, or just battery?

I think we're thinking the same thing.
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ict Page Icon Posted 2019-12-13 4:40 PM
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It definitely happens on AC power, and I'm quite sure it has occurred while on battery power as well - I can't remember at the moment if I had done any initial soft resets on batteries. I might give it another try later tonight, the system has been running well for the last 24+ hours since I have avoided soft resets, but I'd really like my fast task switcher back...
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ict Page Icon Posted 2019-12-19 4:10 AM
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Please excuse the double post, but I figured I'd provide an update:

On Monday, I experienced a lockup while attempting to run a backup, soft-reset the device while running on battery power and sure enough the problem re-surfaced after a weekend of functioning perfectly, though it was still at least reliable enough that I could still read some archived HTML files and save small documents on it. I decided it was time to clean house and tried another hard reset after I got tired of error 31s, 20s and CE dumping hundreds of *.CHK files into the microdrive root every other hour.

This time I decided to try testing the buggy/corrupt driver hypothesis by throwing Windows Media Player on the machine and seeing if its own updated (if unstable itself) ATADisk driver would change anything, but I got nothing. As soon as I tried to continue my software installation routine the CF card just quit reading in the midst of running the installer as before.

At this point, I'm thinking of picking myself up an MP 880 and trying NetBSD on this machine instead... any other last-ditch troubleshooting I could try? This behavior is just plain strange to me. Thanks for helping walk me through it thus far!
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