Nicolet 660

Kenneth L. Marshall kmar at
Wed Feb 11 12:45:12 CST 2009

On Feb 11, 2009, at 1:16 PM, Mr Ian Primus wrote:

> --- On Wed, 2/11/09, John Floren <slawmaster at> wrote:
>> The disk has either 8" or 9" platters; the
>> original drive (which was
>> replaced year back) was a Priam so the new one may be the
>> same or it
>> might possibly be a CDC.
>> It's not totally clear whether the problem is in the
>> drive or the
>> controller. The drive spins up, but the disk diagnostic
>> test fails.


Greetings- I am the person that has the NIcolet 660 in my lab. John is  
working with me to get the system back up and eventually get it  

With John's permission, I'm going to answer some of these questions  
directly, since I guess I have the most first-hand knowledge of what  
the current state of the system is.

> The disk diagnostic on the computer, or on the drive?

The diagnostic on the computer as run from a floppy, There are several  
diagnostic programs on a separate 3.5" disk. System can be booted  
either from a floppy or from the SMD disk.

> The newer CDC Sabre drives have built-in diagnostics. If you pop the  
> center panel off the front, it reveals a hex keypad and an LCD  
> display. Older CDC drives will have an LED hex display and a couple  
> buttons. (Of course, not all of them have this, it was an option...).

The SMD drive was replaced in 1988, the system was delivered and set  
up in 1986. So it's a fairly old drive. The whole unit was in working  
condition up to about 2 years ago, when the SMD boot-up problem  
> Does the disk come ready, or does the fault light come on after it  
> spins up? Can you bring the disk online, and hear the heads load?

Can't say at this point- the disk is enclosed in a rack-mounted case  
and it's fairly difficult to get the rack out to get physical access  
to the disk. I do remember when I looked at it last that the disk  
appeared to be spinning up (it gives that characteristic "whine" of  
the platters spinning up), but the unit is in an area where there is a  
large amount of air flow ( a chem lab) and it's difficult to make out  
any other sounds. I never did look at the diagnostic led's on the  
drive itself- maybe they were buried toward the back of the rack  unit  
and hard to see- I don't remember for sure.
> If you find out what model drive it is, you can get the manual  
> (Bitsavers has a fair number of CDC manuals), and find the  
> diagnostic commands for it. You should be able to unhook the drive  
> from the computer, and power just the drive, and run tests right on  
> the disk. If it seeks OK and spins, then you might have a bad  
> interface board on the drive, or on the computer, a bad cable,  
> improper termination (ensure the terminator's ground lead is  
> connected!), or maybe just a corrupt filesystem, or possibly still  
> bad blocks/tracks/surfaces on the disk. I don't remember if there  
> are any on-disk read/write tests or not, but you wouldn't want to  
> corrupt the system software anyway.
> Can you boot the computer off floppy disk/tape/whatever?

Yes, I was able to boot from the Nicolet Operating System (NICOS)  
floppy disk and run  tests from the diagnostics floppy, but as I  
remember the disk diagnostic program (SMDBUSTER) returns a NIcolet  
error code (which I don't have any documentation on) and a text error  
message which says "disk not accessible" (or something like that).

With John's help, we will try to open the unit up later in the week to  
get more details and see if we can find those drive status lights-  
maybe they will give more of a clue.


Ken Marshall

> -Ian

Kenneth L. Marshall
Research Engineer, Optical Materials
Laboratory for Laser Energetics
University of Rochester
250 East River Rd
Rochester, NY 14623
Phone: (585)-275-8247
Fax: (585)-275-5960

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