Shop Till repair!

After repairing someone’s laptop I was asked if I repaired electronic “tills”, I said I hadn’t before  but I’m always willing to give something a shot! After having it dropped off to me it definitely  looked like I could help, the till was essentially just a computer running Windows XP with a  touchscreen display and a printer attached.

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The company that provided the till claimed it was the hard-drive that was at fault, were reluctant to  fix it and simply wanted to sell a new one.

It didn’t boot at all at first, it just got to the bios screen and said it couldn’t find an  operating system. I rebooted, entered the bios and fiddled around with some of the settings, changing  the boot order round so the hard-drive boots up first. The till booted and the Point of Sale software  came up, thinking I’d fixed the problem I gave the customer a ring and asked them for a Sales ID code  (so I could log in and give it a go). As soon as I tried to log in, the machine blue screen’d and I  was left staring at an error code and the hard-drive started ticking most unhealthily.

Out came my trusty screwdriver set and off came the back of the till. The insides were very similar  to a standard computer though it was customised to an extent. The hard-drive wasn’t  located in the back of the till but was  instead behind the screen. A thin custom  ribbon cable connected it to the motherboard from the front to back.

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I removed the touch screen and delved inside to find the hard-drive and cd-rom buried there.  After much unscrewing I discovered that there was a quick release port for the hard-drive on the side of the till and you  could actually take it out without dismantling the whole thing. Probably would have been an idea to  check for that before opening it up. Oh well, in my defence it wasn’t labelled and was very well camouflaged!

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On the plus side taking it apart showed me how it worked and that it wasn’t so different from a  normal pc (in fact, it was functionally identical). This proved positive, if all else failed I should be able to  install a copy of Windows XP on to a new drive (the licence key was on the side) and just put the  software on.

I plugged the existing drive (a 15gb, 2.5″ IDE laptop drive) in to an external harddrive caddy and plugged it in to my main pc. It coughed and spluttered and was finally recognised by Windows. I had a quick browse, aware it likely wouldn’t last long, and managed to copy off some of the Point of Sale software, not really enough though.

I asked the customer if they had any CDs that came with the Till, apparently everything was just provided on the hard-drive and a new hard-drive would cost hundreds of pounds as they’d be charged for the software again (which seems extortionate for a 15gb drive and software they already have a licence for!). So re-installing windows on a new drive wasn’t an option. There’d be no way for me to get the original software and I imagine finding the drivers for the till, printer and LCD price display would be next to impossible.

Hard drive recovery seemed to be the way, unfortunately it was utterly dead. I tried the old trick of freezing the drive overnight, after doing this it clicked in to life and windows recognised it, however it was horrendously slow. A windows disk scan helped it identify and mark up the bad sectors on the disk, but it wasn’t helping with the slow and sporradic reading (a mechanical failure, given away by the painful sounding ‘ticking’).

Time for some recovery software. I tend to stick to @ctive products, they’re usually reliable and able to recover from the most horrendously damaged of drives. I hooked up the drive and set the @ctive software on it’s way making a disk image, and then I waited.

Two days.

After this time the backup finally completed and I was left with a 14gb image. There were lots of reports of unreadable sectors, largely at the start of the disc and these seemed to be windows system files but nothing essential, or at least nothing that wasn’t replaceable.

I’d already grabbed a ‘new’ 15gb IDE drive from ebay, so I cloned the data across, which fortunately took just 20minutes!

I dug out an old retail copy of Windows XP I had, plugged the harddrive in to the till and booted it. It had some issues booting due to the odd missing dll, as I thought it would. Booting from the XP disc and choosing to repair worked a treat though, and the till came back to life EXACTLY as it was prior to the hard-drive failing.

Fantastic, I felt really good about the repair, it’s the first time I’d attempted a system such as this one (a till/pos system) and it was a pleasant learning experience, I’d be more than happy to take on other such jobs in the future.

Parts: £9.50
My Fee: Free, I wanted the experience (though they paid me £20)

Total: £29.50

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