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HP Vectra VE / XM repair

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First post, by FAMICOMASTER

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Hello all.
I return again to ask for some help with two vintage machines I am restoring, both HP Vectras, one a VE Series 3 5/120 (D4065A) and the other an XM Series 4 5/150 (D3978A).

Here are both machines:
IMG_20210603_200729.jpg

The VE used to be my favorite vintage PC by far, just from the looks of it. It was a recycling yard rescue, and ever since I bought it back in 2017 it has been plagued by intermittent motherboard problems.
The machine has developed a disturbing personality over the years with various symptoms ranging from "I won't boot with a clock battery installed," to "I don't recognize optical drives," to "My diskette drive doesn't work even if it tests fine on other machines," and most shockingly "PCI Bus error with no devices installed on the bus."
The motherboard can be removed from the case, no devices connected and all BIOS devices disabled and it will still complain of PCI bus errors.

First time around I didn't really care and threw the motherboard and it's riser through a dishwasher cycle which made it happy for a few months. It then decided it had had enough and would not reboot if shut down. Perfectly stable in 98SE if you let it run for weeks at a time! But restart once and it no longer boots. Sometimes it would work after being left unplugged for several hours without it's clock battery to erase the CMOS.
After a while I finally tracked down a BIOS update and tried numerous times to install it with varying degrees of success, usually resulting in a red flashing "FLASH ERROR REBOOT WITH CRISIS DISKETTE."
One day it just... Worked. Update installed successfully. No rhyme or reason. The machine worked perfectly for another year before throwing a fit again and acting like it had no hard disk.
I parted the machine out and tossed it into storage for a while, but now that I've moved house I tried to get it going again.

To make a long story short: It's still acting up.


About a week ago, I was walking through my local electronics recycler and found another Vectra of the same case design! It's an XM Series 4 5/150.
This thing was no joke in it's day, I found it with 96MB of RAM, a 1.2GB Quantum hard disk (Bearings completely shot and click of death), the integrated network card, the optional 2MB VRAM upgrade, an Adaptec SCSI card and a 4.3GB Seagate Barracuda drive attached to it (Works). It had a CR-ROM drive as well.
It did include one rather interesting piece of hardware that immediately caught my eye: an HP IB interface board.
On the underside of the machine reads the following label:
IMG_20210603_221401.jpg

Yep, this was a Unix workstation that ran a chemical spectrometer! No wonder it had been so souped up!

This machine, despite it's awful appearance, does work almost flawlessly. It had a bad power supply at first but swapping the VE's in (with some careful sawing of the fan shroud) made it happy.
However, it will randomly decide "I don't have an optical drive anymore."
The drive I'm using is an HP CR-RW drive which I know is good. Some boots the XM will act like it's not there. It will work indefinitely if left on. This is fixed by leaving the computer unplugged without a clock battery to clear the CMOS settings. Sound familiar?

Does anyone have any ideas on why this might be causing these problems for these machines?
I am also trying to track down a BIOS update for the XM. All I have been able to find are updates for the series 3, but I have a series 4.
If anyone has any information on where I could find a VRM module for the XM as well that would be great, I would love to upgrade it to an MMX or maybe even a K6-2!

Reply 1 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Also, would anyone know where I could find a 512KB synchronous COAST module? The current 256KB one works fine but I'd always like to have more

Reply 2 of 26, by Brickpad

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I think I might have a COAST module or two. I have to stop by storage today to pick up a part for another Vogon-er, I can check my memory bin and see if I have one. Are you located in the US?

Reply 4 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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If anybody out there has a copy of the BIOS or any information on why these machines might be acting up in this manner, please let me know.
Also, if anyone has any idea on how I might get the HP-IB board running or what software would have originally been used with this machine when it was still in the Chemical department, please let me know!

Here is a picture of the configuration screen on the XM:
IMG_20210605_045222.jpg

And here are the insides of the fully assembled machine:
IMG_20210605_045527.jpg

Here is a picture of the Adaptec SCSI card and the HP-IB interface board:
IMG_20210605_045433.jpg

Reply 5 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Found a BIOS update on a sketchy Russian website, but I don't think it's the latest one. The update was virus free and flashed itself perfectly fine to the system, and did add a few things in Setup, but I see no other change yet.
I think there might be a later BIOS out there though, if anybody else has better luck that would be great.

Just updated from GW.07.05 (C) 1995 to GW.07.12B (C) 1997.

Reply 6 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Alright, I've got the computer to a state where it will reliably POST properly (No strange errors, all devices detected. It still takes abnormally long to detect the optical drive but it works fine.)
After that, I installed Windows 2000 which worked perfectly well, if extremely sluggish (Pentium 150 + 128MB RAM and only a 256K COAST module really don't help anything). It was very stable and I was actually able to browse a little bit of the web in Internet Explorer and listen to music CDs no problem.
For kicks, I threw Windows XP on it for a minute and exactly as expected it was bordering on unusably slow and was missing most of the drivers. It was quickly removed.

Now, I tried to get Windows 98SE on it. It put up a huge fight trying to install and I had to start over several times, with the installer hanging occasionally. Eventually it got to working though.
Troubles not over, though, for these HPs are not to be beaten!

This machine is extremely unstable in 98SE, it will randomly hang for no apparent reason (Idling on desktop, idling in resource monitor, playing music CD, running DOS program) and a large number of times it will even hang during boot.
There doesn't appear to be a pattern to it's behavior. If I boot from my DOS 6.22 utilities diskette it will run Lotus III for hours totally stable, and if I swap to another hard drive and throw Windows 2000 on it like I had before it will be perfectly stable.

Why does 98SE hang during boots 9 times out of 10 and why does it randomly hang during operation? Sometimes the computer will work fine for hours and sometimes it will hang within a few seconds of reaching the desktop. Sometimes it will hang once the cursor appears. (See picture below)
Safe mode appears to work reliably, I've not seen it hang there yet, though I stand to be corrected.

Booting with logged mode and then returning to Safe Mode when it inevitably fails gives me one long file of working properly... Until it gets to fonts. The last two fonts failed to load with Failure Code is 0016.
Quick Google search told me "Load last known good Registry" (This is the first registry it's had, the install was only done 2 days ago at this point) and "Run Scandisk to check for and repair all errors."
I left the computer in safe mode running Scandisk for 6 hours before it finally finished. Certainly took it's time. Scandisk reported finding errors but repairing all successfully.
Try to boot again... Same thing! This time, almost every TrueType Font fails to load according to the log, with "Failure code is 0016."
Sometimes it will hang in different places, as well.

The bottom of the current boot log is shown in the second picture.

I'm still fairly frustrated with this machine, does anybody have any clue what could possibly be going on or how I would fix this? Any and all suggestions are welcomed and I will try whatever I can. The last Vectra I had, the VE I showed before, never had stability issues in Windows, it only ever had POST problems from a sickly motherboard.

IMG_20210610_215359.jpg
IMG_20210610_220721.jpg

Reply 7 of 26, by Grem Five

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Are you sure the cache module is working good? I had alot of the same random strange errors like you are reporting on my Vectra VL/5 and they all go away and the system works perfectly stable when I remove the cache module.

Reply 8 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Grem Five wrote on 2021-06-11, 20:55:

Are you sure the cache module is working good? I had alot of the same random strange errors like you are reporting on my Vectra VL/5 and they all go away and the system works perfectly stable when I remove the cache module.

I will try this tonight and report back. I have 2 more COAST modules I can throw in if need be, and I'm looking at getting the upgrade 512K module eventually anyways.

Would a cache problem not also affect Windows 2000/XP?
The BIOS shows it checks good but I'm not sure how thorough that test is.

Reply 9 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Grem Five wrote on 2021-06-11, 20:55:

Are you sure the cache module is working good? I had alot of the same random strange errors like you are reporting on my Vectra VL/5 and they all go away and the system works perfectly stable when I remove the cache module.

Wow, one hell of a guess because with the cache module out it seems to work considerably better. Haven't done too much testing yet but it's getting all the way to the desktop again. I suppose I'll just have to replace it sooner.

Reply 10 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Would anyone happen to have the driver for the modem in this thing? It's a Boca Research 33.6K ACF ISA PnP modem, no version of Windows I've tried has the drivers by default and the only website which listed having the drivers (modem-drivers.com) has been taken over by lame scam tools and was never backed up on Archive.org.

Vogonsdrivers does not appear to have this driver either.

Reply 11 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Nope, spoke too soon. Machine still hangs on boot at random, regardless of which of my 4 cache modules I try or whether or not there even is one installed.

Boot log shows these are the last two items:
[00027AD3] INITCOMPLETE = SBEMUL
[00027AD4] INITCOMPLETESUCCESS = SBEMUL

Any other thoughts? It is still very stable when in Safe Mode.

The freeze does not always occur in the same place every time and that is upsetting me. Sometimes it will freeze on a black screen with a flashing cursor, sometimes it will freeze as it's loading the Windows desktop, sometimes it will freeze during the initial ScanDisk screen, sometimes it will freeze during the Windows logon noise, sometimes it will freeze about 30 seconds after getting to the desktop, and once in a while it will run for 2+ hours before randomly freezing while idle.

The only other thing I can think this might be are motherboard issues or a failing hard disk. I will grab a suitable replacement drive out of my stache and image this disk onto it. If nothing comes from that I will end up parting this machine out... Again.

Reply 12 of 26, by Deksor

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I actually backed up these sites, though they're incomplete. Have a look here https://archive.org/details/xxxxxxx-drivers.com

Would you like to take pictures of the motherboards and share your bioses for uh19 ?

Trying to identify old hardware ? Visit Ultimate Hardware 2019 - Project's thread The Ultimate Hardware 2019 (UH19) project- a stason.org/TH99
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Reply 13 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Deksor wrote on 2021-06-15, 14:21:

I actually backed up these sites, though they're incomplete. Have a look here https://archive.org/details/xxxxxxx-drivers.com

Would you like to take pictures of the motherboards and share your bioses for uh19 ?

Can't share the BIOSes until the computer is actually working. It freezes randomly, not stable enough to image the BIOS. I can give you the BIOS update diskette images for the VE and XM, though.

Motherboard pictures would be better off getting from the HP Technical Reference manual you can find on Google.

Thanks for the backup, I'll have a look through it this afternoon.

Reply 14 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Alright, the problem has moved again. Following failure to load several fonts with "Failure code is 0016," the bottom of BOOTLOG.TXT now says:

LoadSuccess = USER.EXE
LoadStart = MSGSRV32.EXE
LoadSuccess = MSGSRV32.EXE
Init = Final USER
InitDone = Final USER
Init = Installable Drivers
InitDone = Installable Drivers
Init = TSRQuery
InitDone = TSRQuery
[0016CF78] Starting UNKNOWN (HTREE\RESERVED\0)
[0016CF78] Started UNKNOWN (HTREE\RESERVED\0)
[0016CF7A] Enumerating UNKNOWN (HTREE\RESERVED\0)
[0016CF7A] Enumerated UNKNOWN (HTREE\RESERVED\0)

And that is the end of the file. Does anybody have a clue what Windows is going here? Why does Windows 2000 work fine (albeit slowly) when Windows 98SE is struggling so much?

Reply 15 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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It has now developed a new and interesting failure, it will freeze but the mouse will still be active, update very choppily despite nothing else working, and lots of clicking from the system beeper when you do.

Is this board also dying?

Reply 16 of 26, by Deksor

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I do have that manual (I think?) But there were no photographs in there.

With a photo maybe someone could notice a problem with your board too (or maybe not, but it's worth a try !)

And yes the update disks are interesting (actually I'm also interested by the source)

Your glitch sounds like an interrupt conflict or something. I have had a problem like this but I don't remember how exactly, I think it was a system crash going really wrong. But the hardware was fine

Trying to identify old hardware ? Visit Ultimate Hardware 2019 - Project's thread The Ultimate Hardware 2019 (UH19) project- a stason.org/TH99
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Reply 17 of 26, by FAMICOMASTER

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Hmm. I hope it's not an interrupt conflict because that will definitely point me to the motherboard again.
It will do it regardless of whether or not there are any expansion cards, memory configuration, cache modules, different CPUs, two different power supplies, VRAM expansion in or out, any given CPU or bus speeds, either PCI clock setting, with or without CMOS battery, with or without optical drive, floppy drive, secondary hard disk, regardless of BIOS port status.
The machine can just be a board sitting by itself with no riser with a PSU plugged in, a monitor, keyboard, and it's primary hard disk and it will still do it randomly.

It dual boots Windows 98SE and Windows 2000, and 2000 just bluescreened copying files over USB. On restart it did come back and it was able to do the copy fine on a second try, but I don't get why it happened at all.

If it is the board I'm just going to set fire to the machine, this will be the third motherboard it's asked for in the 4 years I've had it. I'll forgive the first one being a recycling yard find but this one came out of a high-dollar lab computer! You'd think they'd hold up better...
Please don't make me take this entire stupid computer apart again for a picture of the motherboard. It's such a pain to do, even with mostly tooless entry! The service manual has one large detailed picture of the motherboard, the user's manual has two (one is the same), and the Familiarization Guide has several pictures of different sections. The service manual even gives pinouts for several of the connectors and lists all switch settings.


When you say the source, do you mean where I got the diskettes from? I got them both from various sketchy Russian websites. Nobody can ever come up with them when I ask, and HP decided it would be nice to take down all their old stuff a while back, and The Web Archive never seemed to get this deep into their site. I can't even get to the "Vectra" general landing page on archive.org. Same as last time, I got this one after about a week of scrolling through every page of Google. They actually come as packed EXE files, but I've since lost the one for the VE and only have the diskette I wrote.

Reply 18 of 26, by PC Hoarder Patrol

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Deksor wrote on 2021-06-16, 05:55:
I do have that manual (I think?) But there were no photographs in there. […]
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I do have that manual (I think?) But there were no photographs in there.

With a photo maybe someone could notice a problem with your board too (or maybe not, but it's worth a try !)

And yes the update disks are interesting (actually I'm also interested by the source)

Your glitch sounds like an interrupt conflict or something. I have had a problem like this but I don't remember how exactly, I think it was a system crash going really wrong. But the hardware was fine

The latest (?) BIOS downloads for both machines are still up on the HP ftp network...

Rev GX.07.15 for the HP Vectra VE 5/xxx Series 3 - ftp://ftp.hp.com/pub/softlib/software1/vc2009 … en/vub5l1us.exe

Rev GW.07.12 (B) for the HP Vectra XM 5/XXX Series 4 - ftp://ftp.hp.com/pub/softlib/software1/vc2050 … en/vqb1z1us.exe

Reply 19 of 26, by Grem Five

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FAMICOMASTER wrote on 2021-06-15, 07:39:
Nope, spoke too soon. Machine still hangs on boot at random, regardless of which of my 4 cache modules I try or whether or not t […]
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Nope, spoke too soon. Machine still hangs on boot at random, regardless of which of my 4 cache modules I try or whether or not there even is one installed.

Boot log shows these are the last two items:
[00027AD3] INITCOMPLETE = SBEMUL
[00027AD4] INITCOMPLETESUCCESS = SBEMUL

Any other thoughts? It is still very stable when in Safe Mode.

The freeze does not always occur in the same place every time and that is upsetting me. Sometimes it will freeze on a black screen with a flashing cursor, sometimes it will freeze as it's loading the Windows desktop, sometimes it will freeze during the initial ScanDisk screen, sometimes it will freeze during the Windows logon noise, sometimes it will freeze about 30 seconds after getting to the desktop, and once in a while it will run for 2+ hours before randomly freezing while idle.

The only other thing I can think this might be are motherboard issues or a failing hard disk. I will grab a suitable replacement drive out of my stache and image this disk onto it. If nothing comes from that I will end up parting this machine out... Again.

Well sorry it didnt help I just know old cache cards tend to go bad and cause probs. Mine wasnt actually a bad cache board it was a dirty cache socket/slot and after cleaning it and the pins on the card it started working just fine.

I got no clue what is causing problems in your machine, when I have machines that have weird errors my 1st suspect is a flaky power supply but everything you have described I have no suggestions..... sorry.