Thursday, July 14, 2011

Any VME Experts Out Here?

Well, we're about 70 days from our Return To Flight, and I've been asked to assist with getting another computer system up and running again.
Geez, guys....I'm a RADIO guy, remember?
I just spent a week getting the Antenna Control Unit for our 6' fully steerable dish up and running, but we still have to check out and calibrate the telemetry receivers, and the rest of the RF system we use for the Telemetry and Command links we provide our customer.
The ACU had a myriad of problems, all of which were caused by leaving it out in the dome for two years with the air conditioning turned off. It's about the same things as storing your desktop PC out in your garden shed, and expecting it to come up and run!
I had to pull all the boards and clean the connectors where they plug into the backplane, and clean all the other connectors. I found RUST on a lot of the exposed metal parts, and had to clean that. Then I found the fan on the heatsink attached to the little Pentium 233MMX was was shot, so I brought in a fan from my "stock" here at home. It was thicker than the OEM fan, so I had to drill and tap the heatsink for longer screws. I was attaching it back on the CPU when POP! The fifteen year old plastic gave out.
Luckily I found a better unit up at Alltronics in Santa Clara, and had them here in a few days. They're a great place to find obscure parts for projects, and are VERY reasonably priced. I highly recommend them!

ANYWAY.....I was asked to help get our VME computers running again after one of our Technicians replaced the CMOS batteries on the motherboards, rendering them "unbootable". I trust the Tech that did it. He's an extremely talented guy, and in the seven years I've known him, I think he's maybe made one mistake.
His soldering job was impeccable, and we're both scratching our heads on this one.
The manuals that came with the system are useless for hardware repair, as they were written for programmers working with the system, and for any hardware problems you have, their solution is "Return To Vendor".
Great, except the company that originally made these systems, VMIC (VME Microsystems International), was bought by GE/FANUC, who deny ever hearing of these things. Their "Customer Service" is absolutely deplorable, and they hung up on one of our people yesterday.
These are basically 200MHz Pentium P54C, Intel Triton "FX" single-board computers with AMI BIOS and a Cirrus VGA chip in a Eurocard package running Windows NT. The scant information in the manual states that they're "A/T Compatible", and that they are, indeed, standard PC components.
And we're going NUTS trying to get them to boot after a simple CMOS battery change.

Like I said, any VME experts out there?


Well, it turns out the CPU boards are OK. I tried them in the "test" rack we have, and they ALL powered up just fine.
I had to reset the system clock, and redetect the hard-drives, but they're OK now.
Turns out there's a "gotcha" in the external hardware connected to the racks the VMEs are located in, and *I* didn't know about it, and the other guy had forgotten about it.
That kind of thing happens when you've been shut down for two years, or get tossed into it.
So thanks, everybody, for the suggestions and comments.
Were 62 days away from Return To Flight, and counting. We're going out for Sea Trials at the end of July, and the first launch will be towards the end of September.


  1. GE/FANUC killed a bunch of stuff after they bought them. That looks really familiar. Let me ask someone else about this and get back to you!

  2. Thanks, I appreciate it.
    My friend that was talking to them said it was the only time he'd ever gotten a "blank stare over the phone"!
    He said they had no idea even what TYPE of product he was talking about. The closest they could come was "embedded system", and the people they transferred him to were even more useless! They had no idea what a VME system was, and didn't want to be bothered with him, and hung up!

  3. I dunno about a VME system, but didn't a lot of those old MBs require that you pull or move a jumper to reset the board after changing the CMOS battery?

  4. Contact me at my email address (gm), need to learn more about the hardware config. DoD still has too much VME.


  5. Glad you got it up and running, I can only think of one old fart, and I 'think' he's still down in Brea...


Keep it civil, please....

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