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Thread: FDISK showing "No fixed disks present" on Compudyne 386 laptop

  1. #1
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    Question FDISK showing "No fixed disks present" on Compudyne 386 laptop

    Let me start off by saying I just recently discovered this site and am a newbie here, so apologies if I posted this in the wrong category or something.

    Anyways, I recently acquired an old Compudyne N386 SXE laptop on eBay for around $53. It does have a few issues including one of the screen hinges being broken, but is in overall acceptable condition (fortunately the screen itself works fine.)
    I'm looking to install Windows 3.1 or 3.11 on this machine but am running into a few issues. I'm running the computer on an MS-DOS 6.22 bootdisk and trying to create a new partition to install Windows. Unfortunately when I try to run FDISK, I simply get the message "No fixed disks present." Typing "C:" at the DOS prompt only gives the message "Invalid drive specification".
    I went into the BIOS on the laptop and it does actually detect a Type 2 IDE device for Hard Disk 1:

    20200106_094955-800x600.jpg

    One more note. When the laptop is booting both the HDD and FDD access lights turn on, but I can only boot from a floppy disk.

    Based on the symptoms described, is the hard drive likely just dead? If the HDD is dead, would the BIOS still detect it? I should also mention that the CMOS battery is dead. Could that have something to do with my DOS bootdisk not finding any hard drive, or is there some other issue?

    Any help is appreciated!

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    I suspect that the hard drive is "pinin" for the fjords", misquoting a Python sketch. If you can boot MSDOS, you may be able to run the SeaTools legacy CLI tool here and see if it tells you anything.

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    Did the bios detect it? Or is it just set for that value? Is there any auto option if you scroll past 47?

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by TH2002 View Post
    I went into the BIOS on the laptop and it does actually detect a Type 2 IDE device for Hard Disk 1:

    20200106_094955-800x600.jpg


    Based on the symptoms described, is the hard drive likely just dead? If the HDD is dead, would the BIOS still detect it?
    The BIOS didn't detect that entry -- it's manually inserted. You can put any of the available drive selections in there.

    The drive could be dead or it might just need a Low Level Format for Fdisk to see it.
    PM me if you're looking for 3" or 5" floppy disks. EMail For everything else, Take Another Step

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    Quote Originally Posted by jafir View Post
    Did the bios detect it? Or is it just set for that value? Is there any auto option if you scroll past 47?
    I realized there are 49 different HDD types to scroll through by pressing the spacebar. There is no auto option. Type 2 was already selected when I got the computer, and from what I can tell that's not a default.

    Another error message: sometimes when I try to boot up the computer, it hangs for about a minute before presenting me with "Fixed disk controller failure". After pressing F1 to continue, I can boot from a floppy disk like normal but still no luck with the hard drive. Could this mean that the IDE controller itself has failed?

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    What model of hard drive is installed? Do the "type 2" parameters match the parameters for that model?

    Typically, if you can save the CMOS settings, and then if it does not complain about invalid CMOS when rebooting, then the configuration should remain OK until it is powered off. Although ocasionally some machines won't be happy until the CMOS battery is replaced.

    You might try the MAXLLF utility: https://winworldpc.com/product/maxto...mat-utility/11

    This tool bypasses DOS and BIOS, talking directly to the IDE, in order to zero the drive (not really LLF). If there is a problem with the drive, it may at least give a more detailed error.

    If MAXLLF claims to work, but DOS FDISK still says no drives, then try The Norton Utilities (I'd recommend 4.5). It can view the sector contents of a BIOS recognized disk, even if there is no partition or file system. Errors reading the first sector or issues with the assigned bios drive number can cause FDISK to fail, but are easier to see with Norton.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by SomeGuy View Post
    You might try the MAXLLF utility: https://winworldpc.com/product/maxto...mat-utility/11

    This tool bypasses DOS and BIOS, talking directly to the IDE, in order to zero the drive (not really LLF). If there is a problem with the drive, it may at least give a more detailed error.
    I don't see how MAXLLF can do anything with a 20MB MFM drive which is what he has in this machine.

    He needs to perform a real LLF on this MFM drive.
    PM me if you're looking for 3" or 5" floppy disks. EMail For everything else, Take Another Step

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    I have some updates I would like to share:
    *When turning on the computer, it now hangs for about a minute or so then gives a "Fixed disk controller failure" error. I can still boot from floppy by pressing F1 to continue, but no luck with the hard disk.
    *I've done some reading online, and found out the hard disk controller may need the CMOS battery to operate correctly. Not sure about my specific machine though, so this is unconfirmed.
    *FDISK always gives me a different error now - "Error reading fixed disk."

    Much thanks to SomeGuy - I ran MAXLLF (mainly to see if it detects the drive) - and it does indeed. According to the program, the computer has a Conner Peripherals CP2064 hard disk with a capacity of 63MB. It doesn't give any additional information however, so I didn't try to lowlevel format the drive right then and there.
    Also thanks to Stone for suggesting to properly LLF the drive - How do I accomplish this?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stone View Post
    I don't see how MAXLLF can do anything with a 20MB MFM drive which is what he has in this machine.

    He needs to perform a real LLF on this MFM drive.
    He said it was IDE, but if you found detailed specs for this model of laptop then please post them. Of course, if it is not IDE then SpeedStor, a BIOS formatter, or possibly the vendors proprietary formatting tool might be required.

    Posting the hard drive model would clarify that.

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    The CP2064 is an early IDE, so no LLF, sorry.

    Why?

    1. Conner never made an MFM/RLL ST506 interface drive. Their contribution was the first Integrated Drive Electronics.
    2. ST506 drives are dumb as doorknobs have no means by which one can directly ascertain their identity.
    3. The only other possibility is SCSI or ESDI. The latter didn't usually occur in laptop machines. If it was a SCSI drive, then the signon would have indicated the drive SCSI ID.

    So, MAXLLF probably did little more than issue an IDENTIFY IDE command and report the results. Your BIOS did the same thing to get the drive type and capacity.

    It tells you nothing about the actual operability of the drive. I'm sticking with the fjords here. I very much doubt that the drive will accept and act on a low-level IDE FORMAT command. You can try to see if you can issue one; you've got nothing to lose if the drive gets bricked.

    A word about "low level format". In the MFM/ST506 and ESDI days, this meant something akin to formatting floppy disks--that is, writing out tracks with address and data marks--you could, for example, LLF an ST506 drive to use 256 or 1024 byte sectors.

    With IDE (PATA/SATA/ATA) drives "low level format" has taken on a distinct meaning: essentially to write every sector on a factory-formatted drive, usually with zeros, but anything will do. In Linux terms, it's a "dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda" kind of thing. You can no more low-level format an ATA/IDE drive than you can an SD or CF card, at least in the ST506 or floppy sense.

    On the other hand, the thing could just be stuck, as often happens with old drives and stiction. A couple of smart blows on the HDA with the handle of a large screwdriver might free things up a bit.
    Last edited by Chuck(G); January 6th, 2020 at 08:05 PM.

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