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Author Topic: Win XP + Mach3 + SmoothStepper / System Reliability  (Read 3432 times)

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Win XP + Mach3 + SmoothStepper / System Reliability
« on: January 20, 2018, 07:15:39 PM »

A year or two ago, I outfitted my Taig Mill for CNC with a controller box kit from Jeff Birt / Soigeneris.  Including the parts inside the Soigeneris box, my setup consists of:

-- A vanilla desktop PC running Windows XP SP3, with 4GB of memory.
-- Mach3, Version R3.043.062
-- Ethernet SmoothStepper
-- ESS plugin version ESS-M3-170328-u4-f1-H
-- Gecko G540

For reference, I attach my .xml file:


I have been using this system for prototyping and small volume manufacturing of small plastic parts, and mostly it has been working great.  The learning curve was a little steep, but after getting over initial difficulties the system is very usable and reliable... mostly.

My problem is that, _infrequently_, I am seeing the following kinds of failures and issues:

A} While running a program, the popup message window, "The Smooth Stepper has failed to communicate properly for an extended amount of time......"

B} While running a program, the popup message window, "The SmoothStepper's watchdog timer has expired........"

C} Occasionally the setup will get into a state, where responses to "jog" keyboard presses become profoundly delayed - many seconds; perhaps even 10-20 seconds. Meaning I might push "up arrow" to jog the Z-axis up, but the mill at first doesn't do anything; no movement for several seconds, and then, suddenly and unpredictably, it completes the jog motion.  Obviously this state is quite dangerous.

D) Error upon starting Mach3, "The ESS did not respond to the wakeup message", despite waiting at least 12-15 seconds to start Mach3, after turning on the {ESS + G540} box.  (I think, this seems never to occur if I count at least 20 seconds after turning on the SmoothStepper, before starting Mach3.)

Now, what's odd is, when these symptoms will tend to occur.  Back when I first built up the CNC setup, symptoms {A} and {B} would fairly predictably occur any time I ran a program of more than about five minutes in duration.  Such that it was impossible to make anything of any complexity.  I went reading on Warp9's FAQs, and found some documents or pages talking about Windows and Mach3 optimizations, and made many, many changes; more than I can recall right now.  But, things like setting various buffer sizes and frequencies within Mach3; eliminating or turning off various windows components and services; setting up Mach3 to run at a higher than normal priority, etc.  This seemed at the time to more or less fix symptoms {A} and {B}, and for a time I thought I had a reliable system, able to run long and complex programs repeatedly without issues, etc.

But then somewhere along the line, it seems like something got a little worse more recently:

Right now, when I start the system up to use it, often it will run just fine; I can start the system up for the day, make a bunch of all different kinds of things, jog all around and run programs, without any issues.

But other times, shortly after I start the system, or maybe after it's been running a few minutes, I will see some combination of {A}, {B}, and/or {C}.  The mill will just sort of be stuck in a confused state, where it will be unreliable (and dangerous due to {C}).  Usually, it seems, that just shutting everything down completely, and then starting everything back up, will fix everything for a while; and I won't see any more of these issues for the rest of the day, and even for several days or a week.

But then, once again, (maybe) especially if the system has been sitting unused for a week or two, it will get "stuck" in this annoying state again, with A/B/C happening.  And again, usually it seems that a complete shutdown will fix everything for a while.

I keep playing around, uninstalling and removing various things, trying to figure out what the problem is.  I've completely removed and/or disabled all wireless networking cards / drivers / software; removed the video card and drivers so it's running just the vanilla motherboard chipset video; uninstalled and/or disabled most normal software, etc.  I've gone searching around within any settings for any software I can think of, to make sure there isn't some driver or component somewhere that's trying to auto-update over the Internet (which isn't availble to the machine).

I do have Adobe Acrobat still installed on the machine, as well as Firefox, just to be able to read PDFs and look at web pages.  Right now there's no network access; I just take files over to the machine on a thumbdrive when I need to.

One other thing I keep thinking about, is that I am using a Logitech wireless keyboard and wireless mouse with this machine.  I've had suspicions at times, that when the batteries in these start to go, that somehow it seems to make the symptoms worse.  But then again, there have been times when all batteries have been fresh, and still the symptoms would happen, so I've convinced myself that it isn't really that.  I've tried running with a wired mouse instead without seeing any difference.  I don't have a wired keyboard, but have started to think about getting one.

So, here are my questions:

1) Is this state of affairs, just kind of "normal"?  Is it reasonable to expect that Windows XP, with Mach3 and a SmoothStepper, should be able to operate reliably without errors, once everything is configured right?  Or, on the other hand, is the truth simply that Windows was never designed to be a true machine controller, and this sort of crap is just something I will need to learn to accept?

2) I wonder about getting rid of XP entirely, and migrating this machine over to Windows 7.  Is there any reason to think that this may be beneficial; than XP may be part of my problem?

3) I keep thinking about the factor, that "problems" seem most likely to happen, when the machine has been idle for a long time, and that the machine just seems to somehow need to have it's little temper tantrum, after which it will be good for several days or a week or two.  Similar to my experience with my ten-year-old.

Okay, well that's all I can think to say for now; any ideas???

Thanks much for any feedback;


Offline Davek0974

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Re: Win XP + Mach3 + SmoothStepper / System Reliability
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2018, 03:17:31 AM »
You are right in that windows was never designed to be a machine control base, its not real-time and has a lot of stuff going on in the background most of the time.

On the other hand, no this is not something you should need to accept i think, my two machines, a mill and a plasma table both run very reliably, maybe one glitch a month fixable with a re-boot and thats mostly on the plasma which brings a whole host of issues for computers etc.

Hopefully someone with ESS knowledge will help out as i have a standard BOB on the plasma running on the LPT port and a CSMIO/Ethernet controller on the mill.

Good luck
Re: Win XP + Mach3 + SmoothStepper / System Reliability
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2018, 02:56:29 PM »
Windows XP or 7 has a lot of un-necessary stuff that I am sure by now you have turned off.  No internet. no power saving even on the USB and parallel ports, no automatic updates and etc. Yada yada. If not that would be a place to start and I would be using wired everything. To much EMI and RFI in the shop, even florescent lamps can be an issue.  

I use System Configuration and have only the barest  minimum amount of background programs loading at Start Up.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 03:06:40 PM by wmgeorge »
Retired Master Electrician, Commercial HVAC/R Service and lots of Hobbys.

Offline olf20

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Re: Win XP + Mach3 + SmoothStepper / System Reliability
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2018, 06:22:36 PM »
Andy over on the ESS forum is sharper than a tac.
He has helped me several times with My problems, not
ESS problem.
Go over there and he will give you the needed information
and you will be off to the races.
I agree with  Dave, I run old xp, Dell, optiplex and enjoy
the fruits of my labor.
Keep us posted.
olf20 / Bob
Mach3, Atlas Knee Mill, 4th Axis, VcarvePro, ESS, Super PID.
Been Heating with corn since 1998
Re: Win XP + Mach3 + SmoothStepper / System Reliability
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2018, 08:56:58 PM »
Okay all - thanks for the replies so far.  Actually I posted my query to the warp9td.com forum first, before I posted here; I assume that's what you were meaning by "the ESS forum".  As it was my first post after creating a new account, I think maybe it is in their queue waiting for moderator approval; maybe once the weekend is past things there will begin to progress.

Thanks again and all for now--

« Last Edit: January 21, 2018, 08:58:42 PM by MosaicDave »