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Geekology

How to upgrade the hard drive in your Fibe TV PVR

This blog post applies to the Bell Fibe TV PVR box VIP1216.  However, the VIP1232 is similar enough that the same procedure will likely work.  Any luck with this procedure on the VIP2262?  Say so in the comments.

I’ve been an early subscriber to Bell’s IPTV service; so early that it was under the Bell Entertainment Service umbrella before it got moved to FibeTV.  When the service got switched over to FibeTV, Bell gifted all the cable boxes to me, so I own them, and I’m fully privileged to open them up and muck about.  Obviously don’t try this with a rented box because they may bill you for it if you brick it.  Also, I understand that the hard drive size is sent upstream back to Bell, so they know if you have been tampering.

IMG_0130_crop

Understanding Your VIP1216

This section is going to be geeky and you can skip over this if you just want to get on with upgrading your box.  You only need to read this if you are doing the more complicated procedure.

The VIP1216 is manufactured by Motorola and runs the WinCE operating system.  The included hard drive is a 160 GB Seagate DB35.2 with IDE interface, part number ST3160212ACE.  The DB35.2 series was designed to be cool and quiet for home theater applications, but was mostly sold directly to OEMs and is difficult and expensive to purchase for your average consumer.  The HD uses standard partitioning and file system protocols, but it only appears to understand MBR partitions, and FAT16 and FAT32 file systems.

Sidebar: The ‘gigabyte’ used by hard drive manufacturers is usually defined as 1,000,000,000 bytes.  An actual gigabyte is 1,073,741,824 bytes.  So your 160 GB Seagate is actually 160,000,000,000 bytes = 149 actual gigabytes.  Unless otherwise specified, I will be referring to actual gigabytes whenever that word is referenced.

Sidebar: The ’16’ in VIP1216 means 160 GB hard drive.  Just as VIP1232 means 320 GB hard drive, and VIP1200 means there is no hard drive at all.

The HD itself is divided into 3 primary partitions (none of them are set to active).  The first is a FAT16 partition, 126 MB in size, and contains all the operating system files and preferences; we will call this the OS partition.  The second is a FAT32 partition, 148.9 GB in size, and contains all your recorded programs; we will call this the data partition and we’ll get back to this later.  The last partition is a 32 MB FAT16 partition and only contains status logs.

VIP1216-1

Back to the the data partition.  Under the drvvol subdirectory, there are exactly 128 files with .SLC extension, each of which is exactly 1 GB in size.  This tells me that under the FAT32 file system, the OS is using its own proprietary file system within that.  You won’t see any files pertaining to any recorded shows, just these 1 GB chunks.  Meta data and indexing information as well as the recorded data seems to be here, and encrypted as well.

Later on, when we get the PVR to prepare a new hard drive, it will always create a 126 MB OS partition at the top, a 32 MB status log partition at the bottom, and use the remaining space for the data partition in the middle.  Within the data partition, it will always leave around 22 GB blank, and create as many 1 GB .SLC files as it can to fill up the rest of the space.  However, if it tries to create more than 999 .SLC files, it will hang.  If it creates exactly 999 .SLC files, it won’t hang, but it will report zero space on your DVR.  So the maximum number of .SLC files that it can create and still function is 998 (which equals 998 GB of storage, or enough to record 351 hours of high def shows).  This is a software limitation of the OS, and it is unlikely this will ever be updated since this PVR is 2 generations outdated.  I do not know whether the VIP1232 has the same limitations, if you find out, please say so in the comments.

For the ultra geeky, there is an interesting tear down of the VIP1216 here.

What Hardware and Tools Do I Need?

  • A new, larger hard drive for the upgrade.  As of this writing a 1 TB Western Digital Green (SATA) is $65 CAD, but you can probably find it on sale for under $50.
  • If you have purchased a SATA hard drive, you also need a IDE to SATA adapter ($3).
  • If you have purchased a hard drive larger than 1 TB, then you will need:
    • a computer to connect the new hard drive to.
    • a IDE/SATA to USB adapter ($8) to connect the new hard drive to your computer.
    • partition management software that is capable of resizing partitions.  I used EaseUS Partition Master which is free for private use.
  • A Philips screw driver

Which Hard Drive Should I Purchase for the Upgrade?

Short answer: any hard drive that supports the older IDE interface (sometimes called PATA) and is less than 1019.5 GB (a 1 TB drive is 931.3 actual GB) in size.  Cool and quiet is preferred.

Long answer: pretty much any IDE or SATA hard drive will do.  If you are going to use a SATA drive , you need to purchase an extra IDE to SATA dongle.  If you are going to use a hard drive larger than 1019.5 GB, there is an extra step to resize the data partition.  It doesn’t need to be particularly fast since the original hard drive only had a sustained transfer rate of 83 MB/s (or 664 Mb/s), and IDE only supports a maximum throughput of 133 MB/s.  Cool and quiet is still preferred.

As of this writing, Western Digital still sells IDE hard drives under the Blue designation with a maximum size of 1 TB (which is 931.3 actual GB).  They also sell cool and quiet drives under the Green designation, but these are SATA only.  I used a 2 TB WD Green drive (because I didn’t know about the 1019.5 GB limitation when I first began this exercise), with this IDE to SATA dongle.

Seagate no longer sells IDE drives, and does not specifically market any consumer drives as cool and quiet.  A quick check from their respective web sites shows a 1 TB Barracuda drive consumes 6.19 W of power, while a 1 TB WD Green drive consumes 3.3 W of power (IDE to SATA adapter power consumption is unknown but probably small), and a 1 TB WD Blue drive consumes 6.8 W of power.  So the WD Green with IDE to SATA adapter is probably the best choice, but the WD Blue would be the easiest since you won’t have to purchase any extra adapters.  The Blue will run a bit noisier and a bit hotter, so make sure you provide proper ventilation.

Hybrid and SSD drives should also work, but as I said, it doesn’t need to be fast since you will be bottlenecked by IDE bandwidth anyways.

Can I Migrate All My Old Recordings to the New Hard Drive?

Short Answer: No

Long Answer: You can copy all the .SLC files from your old hard drive to your new hard drive, but when you do that it also adopts the old hard drive size.  So you can get all your recordings to the new hardware, but it will only ever use 128 GB of your spanking new 1 TB drive, and you’re no better off than before.  Since all the drive volume meta data appears to be encrypted, I could not find a way to change that.

Quick and Dirty Procedure

Use this procedure if you are using a hard drive smaller than 1019.5 GB.  If you are recycling an old drive, make sure it doesn’t have any existing partition data on it just like a brand new drive.

1) Power off and unplug all your connectors at the back.  Using a Philips screwdriver, open up the case and remove the old hard drive.  Careful to use anti-static precautions.

2) Install your new hard drive.  If you are using a SATA drive, you will need to connect the IDE to SATA dongle.  Reassemble everything, and connect your TV, your signal source (coax or CAT5, but not both), and power cable last.  Very Important: Your cable box gets its signal from either the coax cable or the ethernet port.  Reconnect the signal cable, do not connect both.

Sidebar: Interested in what you can do with the ethernet port?  See what I did here.

2a) On your TV: at first you will see a single gear and progress bar at the bottom.  At this stage it is partitioning and formatting your drive, and downloading firmware from your cable provider.  Had you had both ethernet port and coax connected, it may try to download firmware from the wrong source and hang when it could not find it.

2b) Once the progress bar reaches the end, a new screen will come up with 2 gears and a progress bar.  At this stage it is installing the firmware on your OS partition.

2c) After the 2 gear screen, you will see 3 dots.  This means that the cable box is booting up.  However, its proprietary file system is incomplete so it will not complete booting up just yet.  Instead it will turn itself off.

2d) Your TV will display no signal from the cable box, but the power light will flash on and off.  At this point it is scanning its internal file system, and will attempt any repairs if it finds anything wrong.  Since there was no internal file system, it will create all those .SLC files now.  Don’t panic, this should take no longer than 10 minutes (I timed it as 6 minutes).  Had you attempted to use a drive larger than 1019.5 GB, then at this point the cable box will hang.

Sidebar: To force a fresh firmware download and install, unplug and replug the power cord to your cable box when you see the 3 dots come up, and do it 3 consecutive times.

3) When it’s done, a blue screen will appear.  If your cable box power light is not on, power it up now.  Hit the Menu button -> Settings -> System Information -> System Information -> System Resources.  You should see PVR space as 100%.  Had you skipped this step, your will get an error when checking your PVR space next.  Next hit the Recordings button and select Check PVR Space, and revel in your glory.  For each 2.84 GB of hard drive space, you should see 1 hour of high def recording capacity.

4) Set up your AV preferences again since these will have been lost.  All your future record settings and favourite channel lists are kept on the central server and should have been preserved.

The More Complicated Procedure

Use this procedure if you are using a hard drive larger than 1019.5 GB.

1) Complete steps 1 and 2 in the Q&D procedure.  Go all the way to stage 2d and let it hang (wait for at least 10 minutes with the power light flashing on an off).

2) Unplug the cable box and all the other connectors.  Remove the new hard drive.

3) Bring the new HD to your computer and connect it up.  You computer needs an extra SATA or IDE port as appropriate.  If your computer isn’t old enough to have an IDE port, you can get an IDE/SATA to USB adapter here for $8.  A SATA hard drive dock works great too.  In the worst case, you need to power down your computer, connect the drive internally and power back up.

4) Find the data partition on the new drive and delete all the .SLC files.  If your computer OS tries to create a recycle bin on this partition, delete that too.

5) Using partition management software (I used EaseUS Partition Master Free):

5a) Delete the status log partition

5b) Resize the data partition to be 1019.5 GB in size or smaller.

6) Eject the new drive from your computer and reinstall it back into your cable box.

7) Repeat step 2 from the Q&D procedure.  You will see it go through stages 2c and 2d.

8) Do steps 3 and 4 from the Q&D procedure.  You’re done!

PVRSpace

Update 2/2/2015: Successfully underwent a regularly scheduled firmware update.  It failed with a big red X when trying to do it automatically, but I did a hard boot and then it updated correctly.  Have also noticed when doing a reboot of any kind, it takes longer to do because it has to scan a much bigger file system.

Update 11/27/2015: After many years of faithful service, my VIP1216 gave up the ghost and refused to power up any more.  I suspect it was a higher order fault like CPU failure because it had been flaky and locking up during playback for the 2 months prior.  Cable guy comes out the next day with a spanking new VIP2262 with 1 TB SATA Seagate in it.  I had 265 hours of recordings on the old PVR and both the telephone support person and the technician said that migrating my old recordings to the new machine was not possible, but I was motivated to figured it out, here’s how:

My first step was to examine the hard drive in the 2262 to see if it was a substantially different architecture than the 1216.  It was not.  There were the 3 partitions as expected.  The OS partition had a similar structure but contained different files.  Not unexpected since the underlying hardware was different.  So the next thing to do was to do a straight hard drive swap.  [If your old drive was IDE, then you will need to get an IDE to SATA adapter].  No dice, the VIP2262 powers up with a big red X on the screen.

What finally worked was to copy all the files from the VIP2262 OS partition (and only that partition) to the old VIP1216 hard drive in the same partition.  Leave the other 2 partitions alone.  Install the old hard drive in the new box and everything should work with all the old recordings available.  [I suspect deleting all the files from the OS partition will also work since the box ought to download a new set of firmware if it detects a damaged OS].  The first time you boot, it will spend a few minutes with a flashing power button to scan the data partition.  Then after it boots, it will spend some more time starting the PVR service while it takes inventory of all your old recordings.  After that, do a happy dance since you were able to save everything.

What should also work is copying the data partition from the old drive to the new drive and keep using the new one.  This will only work if the new drive is larger than the old.  The new drive would also adopt the size of the old.

I do not know whether the 2262 has the same 1 TB software limit since finding out involves formatting the hard drive.  If anyone finds out, leave a note in the comments.

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Discussion

19 thoughts on “How to upgrade the hard drive in your Fibe TV PVR

  1. Would it be possible to place a hard drive that has been formatted by the PVR into a computer and use the computer as a cheap Bell PVR?

    Posted by TB | February 22, 2015, 5:17 am
  2. thanks Slumbuddy, this is a helpful guide – just did the upgrade today for my 1232. I’m a novice (haven’t really built my own PC) but still managed to pull it off. for those that may have the same unit as mine coming off warranty – you actually don’t need the $3 SATA to IDE part, it’s already included in the unit (lightly taped to the enclosure). it was a WD SATA green drive inside. (I bought the part, but should have checked before ordering – hence novice)

    Posted by jf | April 16, 2015, 1:42 pm
  3. I just got a replacement cable pvr (vip2262) and cannot migrate my old recordings to the new box. Would a down and dirty hard drive swap from my old machine to the new one work?

    Posted by Boris | February 2, 2016, 6:50 pm
    • No. Follow my instructions to copy the new OS onto the old HD, then move the old HD into the new cable box to migrate your old recordings. Remember to back up everything first.

      Posted by slumbuddy | February 4, 2016, 2:06 pm
  4. Thanks for posting this procedure! I can confirm that this also works on the Motorola VIP 2250. Mine came with a 500GB drive which seemed pretty small. Now I have 1TB to work with though!

    Posted by Sam | March 30, 2016, 9:09 pm
  5. Hi Slumbuddy,

    thanks for those information, very interesting.

    when you got a new Bell PVR in November 2015, was it free of charge ; I assume your older PVR was out of warranty ?

    My story: I’ve owned my VIP1232 for 5 years and liked it and I don’t think it is on warranty anymore (was it not 2 years?) and it has been having issues for a couple of months now (freeze image, especially while playback recordings, then I had to force reboot 10-sec hold power button trick, got it back for some time, did it again…but today, sadly, it always blocks on RedX-1).

    Ever heard of such error? Could it only be the OS partition and not “data, i.e. recordings” ?
    Bell tech support as well as some websites obtained by Googling, tell to do a “hardware factory reset” with OK-Down arrow buttons and power off procedure but that erases everything including recordings 😦 And if that does not do the work, to get a new PVR.

    In my case, even if I get a new box (free or not) I might not be able to “restore” recordings with a new box and its new HD’s OS partition copied over the old HD and put in new box, do you think? Side question: I assume you do that by connecting both HDs to a Windows 7 or 10 PC, right?

    It unfortunately seems Bell does not care we lose recordings 😦 – I do ! Especially if it is not a “real HD failure” ) and they just get around the issue by providing free or not new PVR.

    Finally, Bell did not say anything on the fact you had previously opened the older one before they came and provided you a new one – since you own it I understand ?

    I would be very tempted in trying your procedure but afraid this will remove (any) warranty somehow on a new box if I get one and open it.

    Thanks for any ideas/suggestions.

    Posted by Sebastien C. | May 24, 2016, 10:51 pm
    • Read the updates at the bottom of my blog post. My VIP 1216 died (in a similar way to what you are describing), and I got Bell to replace it with a VIP2262. I thought I had purchased it, and the installer told me I had purchased it, but for some reason Bell has me on record for renting it. But before I knew this I migrated my old recordings to the new box using the procedure that I outlined, and nobody from Bell has come to chase me down about it.

      One recurring issue with the old hard drive in the new box is that when they try to upgrade the firmware overnight, sometimes it fails to download onto the old hard drive and the box fails to boot (big red X). To work around this, I do the upgrade again with the original VIP2262 hard drive, then manually move the updates to the old drive with the old recordings. It’s a pain in the ass, but I only have to do it every few months. I’ve been trying to figure out why it would fail to download on the non-original drive, but no luck so far. So for now, keep the original hard drive of the new PVR and set it aside.

      Posted by slumbuddy | May 27, 2016, 2:11 pm
      • Merci.
        I called back and the representative told me I own it and it is out of warranty (I admit I am not surprised there 😉 so they will not replace for free. Therefore, since I don’t have much to lose at this point, I will try to reformat the OS partition only by connecting it to my computer via IDE-SATA to USB connector and then plug it back to Set-top-Box board. It may as well act as doing partially the “disaster recovery OK-down arrow procedure” and force a re-install of OS files downloaded from server. If it doesn’t I will try the hard reset procedure. If still no success, I will assume HD failure and will buy a new 1TB HD and do as you did. Will keep you posted of results; finger crossed it will work and keep recordings too.

        Posted by Sebastien C. | May 29, 2016, 9:58 pm
      • After trying to connect to a PC and getting “disk not initialized” I decided to try the “hard-reset”. But when I re-connected the STB, guess what it did setup (one gear and then 3 dots) and I got Bell Fibe!? I could watch Rolland-Garros finale 🙂 I don’t know how it will last though…
        Any idea why “disk not initialized” ; is it the SATA-IDE to USB device that has an issue? Or do I miss something?

        Posted by Sebastien C. | June 5, 2016, 1:00 pm
  6. Hi,

    I have a VIP2262, and it became instable, somtimes an not able to watch my recordings and sometimes it freezes, anyway, called Bell, they are sending a new receiver (I guess the same model) .
    so my question is swaping the 1tb HDD my best option? and if it works as easy as is without any other intervention?

    Thx

    Posted by hkm | January 23, 2017, 7:27 pm
    • If it is same model, then swapping hard drive to keep your recordings will work seamlessly. If you swap hard drive to a different model of cable box, then it can be done, but the procedure is more complicated.

      Posted by slumbuddy | January 27, 2017, 2:35 pm
      • yes it’s the same model, different make though, the old is Motorola the new is Arris but the same model VIP2262, after thinking about it I dont want to swap the HDD because I suspect the old one to be defective, well not totally but some bad clusters for sure and maybe that what makes the receiver instable somehow.

        If I just copy the Data partition, would this work? is it better to copy the partition before the first boot?

        Thx.

        Posted by hkm | January 27, 2017, 10:40 pm
      • Oh I just realised the old is 500gb the new is 1TB

        Posted by hkm | January 28, 2017, 4:31 pm
      • If you copy over the data partition from the old 500G to the new 1TB, it will work but your 1TB drive will henceforth only store 500G of recordings. Sounds like your best bet if you want to watch your old recordings is to swap in the 500G drive (you will have to overwrite the OS partition to make it work with the new box), watch all the recordings until it is empty, then swap back in the 1TB drive and do all your new recordings there.

        Posted by slumbuddy | February 5, 2017, 5:04 pm
  7. I’ve got a VIP2262 – CenturyLink. It’s got no PVR functions – no HDD installed. Is it safe to assume I can open her up and drop a 1TB HDD in and it’d magically work, if I do the full reset procedure? Or maybe format it correctly and obtain disk images to copy onto it? Or am I stuck paying up for PVR service?

    Posted by Aaron G | February 22, 2017, 2:12 am
    • Short answer: don’t know. If the box has been approved by your cable provider and can show broadcast channels, then I should think if you just dropped in an unformatted 1TB drive it should work. You may have to wait about 5 or 10 minutes after dropping it in for the first time for it to format. But I really don’t know. You cable provider will know that the hard drive size has changed. If it is a leased box, they may do something about it (they don’t with me), if you own the box, then it is yours to do with as you please.

      Posted by slumbuddy | March 14, 2017, 5:05 pm

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