Question BIOS Question

Apr 4, 2022
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I was given a vintage 286 AT computer that has been in storage for over 12 years. It has a MoBo with PCC-77AT05 on it. It has a 1985 Phoenix 80286 ROM BIOS and a WDC 61000107 Controller with an ST-225 HD. It also has 5 1/4" and a 3 1/2" floppy drives both of which are in working condition. I have several older DOS disks and they load OK.
The problem is when I turn on the computer, the BIOS message describing it displays, but then the message "Internal PHD controller not installed or External PHD is not powered on" appears. Just what is not working? I have unable to find the right key strokes to get into the BIOS, but is that the problem? Would appreciate any thoughts on this. Thank you..... Bill
 
Generally it's been holding DEL or F2 while the computer is starting up. It may say such on the POST screen.

However, given how old it is, it may not have something like this since most computers at the time were configured with jumpers. The only thing you'd have to set was the RTC but I think that was something that could be handled in DOS.
 

Paperdoc

Polypheme
Ambassador
On accessing BIOS Setup, I agree with above. But to add: sometimes the instructions or prompts say "hit or tap the "Del" key" ( or another). I find it is best to HOLD THAT KEY DOWN until the Setup opening screen appears, just so the system does not miss seeing that keypress.

Is the HDD Controller a chip on the mobo, or is it a circuit board added to a slot? If it's an added board, maybe its contacts are poor. You could remove and re-install it a few times to clean contacts. Then check: does it need some power cable attached to it? Is THAT secure? What about power supply to the HDD itself? IF it has power you should be able to hear it make a small noise immediately on start-up for the initial Head Seek operation.

On many mobos of that era, the BIOS battery is quite different from now. We are used to having a disk the size of a quarter in a holder on the mobo, and that can be replaced if it dies. Before that, the battery actually was a small "stack " of several NiCd cells bound together with a plastic sleeve, and with wires sticking out from each end that were soldered into holes in the mobo. That battery may be dead now, OR just discharged. That battery type was supposed to be re-charged constantly when the system is plugged in, so IF it is OK you MAY be able to get it recharged by just leaving the system plugged in, not necessarily turned on. But if the battery is so "dead" it will not accept a charge, that can be trouble - hard to find a replacement unit.
 
Apr 4, 2022
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The batteries with this 286 were four AA Alkaline batteries and they were corroded. I snipped off the connecting wires and threw the batteries away. The problem I'm having is the same now as before I removed the batteries so I don't believe I've created the problem I'm having. I have been trying every key combination I have found on various sites, but still cannot get into the BIOS. So, I do not know for sure if this computer/BIOS has a keystroke entry or if it MUST have a setup disk.
I found I have a DOS setup disk, but when I ran it, it said it would not run on this computer. The disk appears to be an HP disk, but the Phoenix date on the shows a 1985-1987 date. One of the problems I now have is that both the drives on this computer are setup for the low density disks. I found and downloaded to my other computer, a DOS setup that appears like it might work. But of course my other computers have only a high density drives. So I am unable to try out the Setup that I downloaded. I wish I could find the information on the MoBo so that I could change Jumper Settings if that is what it would take to get into the BIOS.
I have a couple of 1986 DataTech 286 BIOS chips from another 286 (that I no longer have) that I am tempted to try, but I've read where that more cause me more problems than I already have.
Anyone have any other suggestions or ideas about what I might do or try? Thanks for any help....
 

Paperdoc

Polypheme
Ambassador
I hope you tried replacing the bad AA cells with new ones - not sure how the BIOS chip would behave with no battery power. I presume the keyboard plugs into a socket on the back panel - likely a 5-pin DIN, not the smaller PS/2. Any way to check whether the keyboard itself is working?
 
Apr 4, 2022
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Thanks for your reply.... No I did not try to replace the batteries, the holder is all corroded from the leaky batteries and I did not want to touch it. I still have the holder with the bad batteries in it. I believe with a little effort I can replace these batteries and get them hooked up again. I'm willing to give that a try although it appears to me that the BIOS is working to some extent or I wouldn't be seeing the Phoenix BIOS information when I first turn on the computer. The KB is fine. Its working on another computer and it does let me update the date and time when asked. I'll get back on here once I am able to get the new batteries hooked up and tried.
Thanks again for your information.
Bill
 
Apr 4, 2022
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Well, I was able to put in a fresh set of batteries yesterday and did several starts and resets with them in place. I did not notice any difference in the way the computer reacted. I waited several hours and again attempted to get into the BIOS by hitting the keys I had tried earlier, still not able to find a way to get into the BIOS. I tried again today, same results. I saw no noticeable difference in the way the computer reacted once the new batteries were in place.
I did notice an inspection/testing sticker on the frame of the computer which said "AMAX". I believe I saw this name while searching for the maker of the MoBo that I have. I'm not sure if this is meaningful as to my attempts to get into the BIOS, but thought I should mention it here as I did not note it in my original computer description.
Thanks for any help you may be able to give me.
Bill
 

Paperdoc

Polypheme
Ambassador
My brief search shows that AMAX is a computer company established in California in 1979. In the mid-80s they were selling machines with 386 CPU's, so 286's earlier is reasonable. Today a company (same one??) with that name makes custom computer systems for data centres. I could not really find any records of a particular 286-based computer from the PCC-77AT05 model code.

In the 1980's, 286-based systems had no drive controllers on the mobo. Controllers for both HDD's and floppy drives normally were on a card in the AT bus mobo sockets. In fact, I'm intrigued that your system has a 3½" floppy - that puts it into the late 1908's. I expect both the floppy drives and the HDD are connected to such a card in the AT bus. That card MAY have failed. OR, it may simply have a poor connection. Check ALL the cables to it, and the other ends of those cables at the drives, and any power supply connections to the card and to the drives from the PSU. Also check the card's fit into the mobo socket. My easy technique is to disconnect, then re-connect each several times. This action MAY "scrub" any old oxidation film on the metal contacts clean and re-establish a clean connection. While doing that, inspect each connector for obvious signs of damage or corrosion.
 
Apr 4, 2022
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Hi, thanks again for your help. In looking over my previous messages, I see that I did not include the initial messages displayed on the screen when I startup the computer. Let me show you everything that I'm seeing when I start up the computer. These messages haven't changed since I started checking out this computer.
****

Phoenix 80286 ROM BIOS Version 3.07
Copyright (c) 1985,1986 Phoenix Technologies Ltd.
All Rights Reserved

AT Multiuser System

640k Base Memory, 00000k Extended
Invalid configuration information - please run SETUP program
Strike the F1 key to continue
(Here I hit the F1 key and continued)

Microsoft MS-DOS version 2.11
Copyright 1981,82,83 Microsoft Corp.

HDISK Version 2.05

Internal PHD Controller not installed or External PHD is not powered on.
Personal Hard Disk disabled.

Command v. 2.11

A>DATE
**

Perhaps this will give you a better idea of what is happening on my system. I have tried reseating the controller card and yesterday I reseated the cables on the HD. I have not replaced the ribbon cables yet, but will be trying that some time this week. I found an older 3 1/2" drive and connected it in hopes I could load the Hi Density Setup disk that I have. I found that the drive I connected is also a Low density drive. I'm not sure if this would solve the problem, but is something else that I'm trying.
I believe the controller board to be OK since the 2 floppy drives both attached to this card and they both are working just fine.
I did change the jumper settings on the HD. It had the jumper set on pins 13-14 which enables Drive Select 2. I changed this to have the jumpers set on pins 15-16 which enables Drive Select 1. I did not notice any difference in the startup afterward.
I did find a few more keystrokes to try in attempting to get into the CMOS, none of which worked of course.
Thanks for any more ideas you can give me on this problem.
Bill
 

Paperdoc

Polypheme
Ambassador
That HDD system is older than what I personally have experience with. I believe the ribbon cables from Controller card port to HDD were of the 40-wire type, and they MAY have had 2 or 3 connectors on them. ONE plugs into the Controller port. The one on the other END plugs into HDD #1. IF there is a middle-of-cable connector, it plugs into HDD #2. Considering that you have only one HDD unit, I suspect options for setting its jumpers to 3 or 4 are not to be used. I'm not even sure which positions are 3 or 4 - MAYBE the 1 amd 2 positions on a SECOND HDD Controller card port? In later systems, each HDD controller port and cable supported two HDD units identified as Master and Slave, and each port MUST have a unit jumpered as the MASTER, and may also have a second unit jumpered as Slave. In those systems, the MASTER unit on a ribbon cable really needs to be plugged into the connector on the END - Slave on the middle connector.

Regarding the floppy drives, I doubt a Low-Density drive can read a High-Density disk. My recollection is that the original Low-Density 3½ floppies had 360 KB on one side, and the High-Density ones had 720 KB one side. Then came the 1.44 KB diskettes that basically were 2-sided High Density. I could be wrong there - not really sure the 3½" floppies ever had a 360 KB one-side version, so MAYBE the 720 KB single-sided ones were Low Density.

I found this old set of spec for the Seagate ST225 HDD

https://stason.org/TULARC/pc/hard-drives-hdd/seagate/ST225-21MB-5-25-HH-MFM-ST412.html

In those early days of HDD use there were a limited number of layouts, and you had to tell your BIOS exactly which your HDD used. There were two ways to do this. At first, the only way was to enter specific info in BIOS for the items (values for this HDD shown below):
Cylinders 615
Heads 4
Sectors 17
Precompensation 300
Landing Zone 670
Bytes / Sector 512
 
Apr 4, 2022
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Hi, well I appreciate the ST-225 spec information. Using it I saw where I needed the jumpers set on 13-14 instead of 15-16 where I had moved it. I also saw that the factory setting for Recovery was to have jumpers 7-8 set, so I put in that jumper setting. As usual, no change in my startup. I changed out the ribbon cable, reset the cables on the drive and on the controller board. No change. I then removed the controller board and put in the board I pulled from a 386. No change. The new board is a WD 1003v-MM2, It seems like it should work OK on my 286. I brought up the specs on this controller board and made sure the settings were correct (jumpers and connectors). All appears OK. When I turn on the computer I get the same messages. I would think something would change after using a different controller card. Before switching controllers, I tried putting in a different set of BIOS chips (DTK 286 chips), but when I turned on the computer, nothing displays. I put the DTK chips in where I removed the original chips (ROM slots 2 and 4). I switched back when I got no response.
Could a bad HD be the problem here? I'm not sure if the CMOS settings are the cause. I think I have ruled out having a bad controller card. Thoughts on what else to try? I'm going to try to get a disk with the SETUP on it, but this may take a while as they are hard to find.
Thanks for your help, I do appreciate it.
Bill
 
Apr 4, 2022
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One more day another test.... I tested both the 20 pin and 34 pin ribbon cables and found them both good. I watched the HD as I turned the computer on and the green activity light comes on for a few seconds at power up, then goes dark and stays dark, not even a blip as the computer loads from the DOS disk. I do not hear the hard drive spinning up. I tried to do a "CHKDSK C:" and got the msg. "Invalid Drive Specification". Could the HD be bad or is this just part of the CMOS needing to be fixed?
Thanks
Bill
 

ex_bubblehead

Champion
Moderator
Machines from that era do not have anything resembling the BIOS of today. They were extremely primitive in that you could set the floppy parameters to match the actual hardware attached (360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M), Hard drive parameters in CHS (Cylinders, Heads, Sectors), which has to be correct for the drive or it won't work. And the RTC (clock) could be set. Maybe some memory parameters as well but that varied from machine to machine back then. Many machines of that era relied on DIP switches or jumpers on the MB for everything else.

Without an actual make/model there's no way to know how to access those settings as some machines required a bootable diskette to get there, as CMOS was just a place to store system settings and there was no user interface in there. Without that you don't do anything. That battery pack is absolutely essential as that's what keeps the CMOS (and clock) alive. You also have to ensure that you're using the correct controller for the drive. That ST225 drive is an MFM drive and will not play well with an RLL controller most of the time. And, a hard drive of that type, and that old, may be well and truly dead.
 

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