Spam (madbodger) wrote,

More yak shaving - now with TiVo!

Let's set the way-back machine1 2-3 years ago. I had two TiVo units (a Series 2 and a DVD recorder) that were starting to act up. From the symptoms, it was very likely the disk drives (these run 24/7 in TiVo service, are the only moving part, and by far the most likely item to fail in a TiVo). I looked up the part numbers on them (both were 80GB units), found the model with the lowest price online, and bought a pair of them.

When they showed up, I grabbed a pair of USB-PATA2 adapters, pulled the drive out of the Series 2, and hooked it and one of the new drives to the computer. I used the Unix "dd"3 command to just make a verbatim copy from the old drive to the new one. It didn't fit. It turns out that not all "80GB" drives are alike, and the one in the TiVo had a little more storage than the new one. Grump. So I pulled the drive out of the DVD recorder (which was the identical model drive), and copied that one instead. The copy completed without issues, I popped the new drive in, and it worked fine.

Shortly afterward, we moved house and I didn't need the additional TiVo, so I didn't bother to deal with it. This does mean I have a spare 80GB PATA drive, brand new in box. Anybody want it?

Fast forward to 2-3 weeks ago. The DVD recorder TiVo told me that my account was suspended and I had to reactivate it. I went to the TiVo website and discovered that I was set up for auto-pay from a card that had expired. Accordingly, I keyed in the info from the new card, told the TiVo to phone home, and went to work. A couple of days later, I remembered to check it, and it still said I had to reactivate it. So I went back to the TiVo site and investigated further. It had a link to reactivate that TiVo, but that link was disabled. Further research indicated that I had a past due balance on my ancient Series 1 TiVo that I hadn't used in years. Apparently TiVo had been charging me every month for service for it anyway! Grump. I also noticed that my Series 2 still had lifetime service. I thought I had transferred the lifetime service to the Series 3, but both of them have lifetime service. Hmmm. The Series 1 and the DVD recorder were paid monthly. So I manually paid that amount, whereupon I could reactivate the DVD recorder. I had it phone home again, and this time it came back with service.

All done, right?

Then I got a nastily worded letter in the mail from TiVo, saying I had a past due amount and I'd better pay it pronto! Seemed a little rude, since I'm a very long time customer, apparently paying for FOUR TiVos, and all I'd done was forget that I had auto-pay set from a credit card that happened to expire. Whatevs.

Then I got another letter, from a collection agency. Apparently the TiVo people automatically call a collection agency for a piddly $13 charge that's a few days late! Okay, now I'm mad. Not only am I going to write them a sternly worded letter on how to treat loyal customers, but I'm going to discontinue service on the two monthly TiVo units, and just use the lifetime service ones from here on out. Treat me like that, and kiss your $13/month goodbye! Hmph.

I go online and look for PATA drives that are more than 80GB. Such things are not really common these days, but I find a nice one at Best Buy for $60. It's a whopping 320GB, but the only smaller one available costs even more, so I elect to buy that one. There's an option to buy it online and pick it up at the store, but I demurr as it's snowing and I don't really want to commit myself. Since the online site showed it was in stock, I figured I'll drive down to the store and decide what to do next on-site. It's snowing, it's Sunday, it's the day after Christmas, I figured there wouldn't be a lot of folks buying things, but there may be some returning stuff.

When I get there, the lot is full and there are people everywhere. I hope the drive is still in stock, but I figure there aren't a lot of people out buying older technology drives. Sure enough, I find it on the shelf, but it's $70, not $60. I pull up the web site on my phone, verify that it's the same item, and it's $60 on the web. No matter, I'll just buy it online and pick it up in the store. During the checkout process, I see that it won't be available for pickup for 45 minutes. I don't really want to hang around for 45 minutes (while it's snowing, and it's starting to get dark out) just to save $10, do I? So I go to the customer service desk and ask them about it. They pull up the website, verify the price, and offer to print out the page, so I can take the printout to the register where they'll price-match it.

But their printer is broken.

After they get that sorted out, I get the printout, go collect the drive, and head to check out. The cashier eyeballs the drive and the printout very closely for a few minutes but eventually decides that they are the same item and keys it in as a price match and sells me the drive for $60.

I take it home, go down to the basement where the Series 2 has been waiting since the move, and discover the drive is not in it. Right, I removed the drive a couple of years ago to copy it. Now, where did I put that drive? It would be near the old computer hardware stuff, which mostly lives in the office or back porch. No luck in the office, so I venture out to the back porch which is closed off for the winter, and it's COLD out there. Dark too, as there's no power back there either. I find a stack of likely looking drives, but which one? Luckily, the TiVo people rubberstamp their drives "TIVO" in red ink, which makes it easy enough to identify the drive, even in the poor light.

Armed with it and the new drive, I dig out the USB-PATA adapters, cable everything up, and light off the "dd" command. I remember the process takes quite a while, so I leave it be and go do other things for a while. That evening, I come back to it, and see that it's died with an I/O error after about 55GB. Might be good enough, maybe the OS stuff is at the beginning of the drive. So I unbolt the old drive from the sled, bolt the new drive on, put the sled into the TiVo, and button everything up. I bring it upstairs, cable it to the TV, and apply power. Nothing. The fan shudders a little, no lights, video, or any other signs of life.

Now what do I do?

Looks like a power supply problem. I take it back to the basement, open it up, and have a look around. Nothing obvious. Hooking it to power gets the fan turning feebly, but that's it. I know! I picked up a spare Series 2 TiVo at the rummage sale last year for $1! Maybe that one has a working power supply? So I round up that TiVo and hook it to the TV. Then I plug it in. It lights right up and I get the black-and-white "booting, please wait" screen. This persists for a while, and is then replaced with a fancy colour "just a few minutes more" screen, complete with TiVo logo. These things are little Linux boxen, and take their own sweet time booting up. It comes up successfully, shows the intro animation, and gives me the menu screen. A little snooping reveals the zip code of the previous owner, the fact that they watched DirecTV, and don't like the same shows I do.

It's tempting to just use that unit, but my old one is the one with the lifetime service, which is based on a serial number that's part of the CPU board. And I'm going to USE that lifetime service! Call a collection agency on ME, willya?

So I take the rummage sale TiVo to the basement and open it up. It's FILTHY inside. All the boards are covered with tan dust. Looks like it's been under (muddy) water. But I know it works, and the guts look compatible. So I remove both units' power supplies, noticing that the bottom of the dusty board is pristine, the layer of dust is only on top. I then put the rummage sale power supply into my box. A quick test reveals it powers up (lights come on, fan spins strongly, disk drive spins up) so back upstairs to give it a try.

I wait through the boot sequence, but no joy. After a while on the "just a few minutes more" screen, I'm treated to a black screen. Apparently my partial copy of the old drive just wasn't good enough.

Well, there are tools for this sort of thing. I download an ISO image of a bootable TiVo tools disk, burn it on a CD, hook the drives back up to the computer, and reboot from the CD. Doesn't look good. Apparently the old version of Linux on that disk doesn't grok USB-connected drives. Worse, it's convinced my keyboard is "jammed", and refuses to acknowledge anything I do.

A little web research reveals that the trick has been known to work using a different tools boot disk, and can even be run from under VMWare Fusion. So I download THAT disk image, and fire it up under Fusion. This is a much faster way to boot (and reboot) than using a real CD. I choose the "graphical" (default) boot, and am greeted with a Unix text prompt. No problem, I just need to look up how to properly copy TiVo drives using this toolset. Fortunately, there's a website that lets you choose your TiVo model, how your drives are connected, and what you want to do. I go there, select that I want to copy and expand from 80GB to 320GB. This is nice — I'll get to USE all that additional capacity I was unable to avoid buying! It gives me the command to use, and I key it in to the virtual machine. The program explains that it's scanning the source drive, and the source drive starts to make a cacophony of unhappy noises. Ticking, shuddering, squealing, screeching. [profile] fizzygeek shows up to find out what's going on, it's that noisy! After several minutes of this, I realize that drive has apparently gotten considerably less healthy while sitting around waiting for me to copy it.


Maybe I can download a TiVo drive image somewhere. Nope, it appears that the TiVo lawyers shut down sites with drive images, as it's their copyrighted software. I know, I'll suck the OS off the rummage sale TiVo! My searches for drive images yielded the useful information that the images are broadly portable across similar models, and that OS should work fine in my unit. So I go pull the drive from the rummage sale unit, bring it upstairs, and cable it up. Restarting the virtual machine yields a string of USB resets and no interactivity. On a hunch, I unplug and replug the USB adapters, and then they synch up properly and work. I issue the copy/expand command and it slings 800MB of data from drive to drive. MUCH faster than copying all 80GB. I won't get the recordings, but my old ones died with the drive they were on, and these aren't shows I care about anyway.

After it finishes, I unplug everything, put the new drive back in my TiVo, haul it over to the TV, hook it up, and apply power.

It manages to boot, but greets me with a screen stating that it has discovered a hardware problem, I won't be able to record or play back any shows, and it needs me to restart it. It also says to use the channel up/down keys to navigate on the message. But those keys don't work. In fact, none of the keys work. I figure I'll try restarting it with a power cycle. I wait through the "just a few minutes more" boot screens yet again, only to get the "hardware problem" message, and the remote still doesn't work.

Time for more research. I determine that there are two things wrong at this point. The hardware error screen is due to using a drive image from a foreign TiVo. Apparently the recordings are encrypted for the particular box that made them, and (to protect the copyright owners or somesuch) they can't be accessed by another box. This is curable by running a "clear and delete all" procedure, which essentially resets everything back to the factory-new state. This is said to take several hours on a box with a big drive. I don't have a problem with this, other than I can't do it (or much of anything else) if the remote doesn't work.

That problem, it turns out, is due to a nasty design quirk in the Series 2 TiVos. If you power one on with the front panel cable unplugged, a short circuit is formed that BURNS OUT one of the components on the CPU board. Sure enough, all my meddling with the drive and knocked the front panel cable askew. I was about to give up at that point, having cooked the only remaining original hardware in the box, the hardware that holds the keys to my lifetime service. But the TiVo people had gotten my dander up, and I wasn't going to give up without a fight.

Reading more on the issue revealed that the component the dies is near the front panel cable connector. Apparently a little diode that, in some cases, burns itself out with incandescent fury. I eyeballed the board closely, but while there are several diode patterns nearby, none of them are populated. I go to read more and find that no, it's not a diode, it's an inductor, part of the power supply wiring for the remote IR sensor. L30 or perhaps L31. I'd seen L30 when looking for the "diode", it's a teeny little surface mount part right next to the connector.

I hauled it down to the basement and measured L30 (apparently the most likely culprit) with an ohmmeter. Open circuit. Yep, that inductor is dead. The folks online had gone to great trouble to unsolder this thing and tack some wire wrap wire in its place. I'm a little lazier than that. I fired up the precision soldering iron and the bright light, put the TiVo under the microscope, and neatly shorted out the dead inductor with a blob of solder. If I thought the inductance was really important, I could have removed L30 from the rummage sale box and transferred it to mine, but I really doubt it's important. If I get curious later, I can measure the one in the rummage sale TiVo and see how much inductance is in that teensy part.

So I hauled it back upstairs, hooked it up again, rebooted it again, and got the "hardware problem" message. But this time, the remote worked, so I was able to navigate to the "clear and delete all" procedure and light it off. I watched it for a few minutes, it just sat there blinking the red light occasionally, so I went to bed, since it was reputed to take several hours to complete.

When I woke up this morning, it had completed, I was able to go through the setup procedure, and the TiVo acknowledged that I have lifetime service.

Yet again, sheer dogged persistence (and the internet, and a hoard of STUFF, and quality tools) pays off. Victory is mine!

1[profile] fizzygeek and I just re-watched my old laserdisc copy of the original Tron movie tonight. And it struck me that I'd just used that phrase from the film (I wrote that text earlier today). Hee-hee!
2PATA: Parallel ATA, as opposed to the more current SATA (serial ATA) drives. Also known as IDE or EIDE.
3The "dd" command is the "convert and copy" command. But since the C compiler was already called "cc", it got called "dd", in typical Unix harebrained naming style. Originally posted at comment count unavailable comments

Tags: electronics, tivo

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  • Fixing a Kodak Carousel slide projector

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