Wii Startup Disc (Status Unknown Software; 2006)
The Wii Startup Disc was a disc containing a system update for the Nintendo Wii console, seemingly intended to be shipped with the first released Wii units. While there exist large amounts of evidence for its existence, the physical disc has not been found, nor has a rip of it been found. However, a NAND with the startup disc message has been found. The contents of this NAND reveal that the most likely contents of the disc have already been found seperately, making the disc a strange state between found and lost.
|Message asking to insert a startup disc.|
The NAND with the startup disc message has been once dumped by Bushing and finally uploaded by Larsenv, and can be downloaded here:
This can be ran on Dolphin.
- Go to Config > Paths > Wii NAND Root and set the directory to the one containing this NAND.
- Go to Config > Audio and change that to DSP LLE interpreter.
- Load a Wii game in Dolphin, then exit to the Wii Menu.
- The Startup Disc screen will show up.
While the Wii Startup Disc was rumored to be required for the console's initial startup in pre-release rumors, and the disc was shown on the initial versions of the Wii box, it was never shipped to consumers.
According to an old blog post on a now abandoned Wii hacking blog called HackMii, a developer discovered that a very few early Nintendo Wii units shipped to customers required the disc, even though no such disc was provided. Apparently, said units that required the disc were accidentally shipped to customers, and had to be sent back to Nintendo to be fixed. As most of the very few purchased by customers were sent back, there exist very few, possibly less than a thousand, Wii units that require it. 
Also according to the HackMii post, the final version of the Wii firmware (Wii Menu) has a check built in that checks any disc inserted to insure its internal disc ID does not match the one of the Startup Disc. If it does, the firmware will refuse to boot the disc- this was most likely implemented to prevent people from using the disc twice to downgrade. The disc ID in question is "RAAE"- it is known that this is the ID of the startup disc as a Wii with the error message will boot discs modified to have their ID as RAAE.
While very, very few Wii units that required the disc were shipped to customers, a substantially higher amount were shipped to retailers to be used for kiosk demos- there are reports of sightings of the screen on store kiosks in late 2006. According to Bushing, the developer who wrote the blog post on HackMii, there are reports from retail workers seeing the physical disc, indicating that it was shipped with kiosk units. 
While the Wii Startup Disc error message is not lost and has been thoroughly documented, the disc itself is lost. While it is known that the disc was just a software system update, the specific content of the disc is unknown as the disc did not ship with any systems that were purchased by consumers (as far as is known), and it is unknown if any retailers are still in possession of the disc. No concrete info, physical copy, or digital rip of the disc has surfaced, although it is likely that Nintendo is still in possession of copies of the disc.
Upon posting this article on Reddit again for the Wii's 10th anniversary, a Reddit user who worked at retail during that time and saw/used the disc has come forth.
"Excalibur0123" on Reddit claims to remember owning the disc, however neither him nor his family worked in retail and he does not remember seeing the error screen. However, this claim has not been backed up, so it is uncertain if he actually did own the disc. If he did, this would be a case of the disc being shipped to customers, possibly in a mixup of some sort. 
A user "ProfFurryPaws" on Reddit has commented claiming that he worked on the Nintendo assembly line just before Wii launch, with some intriguing comments related to the disc.  His comment reads as follows:
"That startup disc may very well have been seen in the earliest of the demo kiosks, but not in retail boxes. The disc would not have been seen or required in the wild, at least not in North America. I was one of the folks that worked on a Nintendo assembly line the fall of 2006 for the Wii Launch. My main job for the first few weeks before launch was programming the launch systems with the final firmware. We'd get pallets of systems in their boxes fresh off the trucks from the docks in Seattle, and we'd have to depalletize them, pull out the system, and run it down the belt. There were dozens of folks that would pull a fresh Wii from the line, unwrap it, plug it into power at their station, load a flash disc and SD card, then load a firmware disc, and then re-wrap it in the foam-paper sleeve and put it pack on the line (sideways to differentiate). The systems at the end of the line would then be put back into their boxes which were carried on a different line. Along with flashing the firmware on the Wii hardware we had to open all the boxes fresh from manufacturing to inset the paper manual bundle (and copy of Wii Sports) into the box, as those were printed separately from the hardware manufacturing. And also slap a sticker on the corner of the box, due to some legal change for a text callout on the launch system boxes. Then the repacked Wii boxes would be repalletized and put on a different truck to go the various retailer distribution centers or to air-freight to the east coast. The whole depalletize-unpack-flash-repack-repalletize process got down to about 8-9 minutes once we got going. We were timed and were given efficiency goals. We were also at the mercy of the trucks coming from the docks too. A truck stuck in traffic on the 5 meant that we had a sudden 10-15 minute break. (and then on to the next truckfull) Man, I haven't thought about that in years... IIRC, there were 3 such lines in West coast facilities. Two in Washington and one in California. Why did this happen this way? Because the hardware manufacturing and overseas shipping takes time, so it was started months in advance of product launch. The final launch firmware however was probably finished only days before we started flashing systems and sending to retailers for the launch of the console. Which was only about 3 weeks before launch."
This would indicate that the disc was NEVER shipped to customers, meaning that any previous accounts of customers seeing the disc are most likely fake.
ProfFurryPaws replied once again, this time with internal info related to the Wii launch manufacturing process that has, as far as can be seen, never been mentioned publically before.
His message reads as follows: "I'm saying the startup disc was likely only used in the retail demo kiosks, as those would have been assembled and distributed before the final system software was ready. So I'd guess that disc was probably prepped to launch the console and provide the basic system needed to play the demo discs that ware made. The discs that we used were not the startup disc that is pictured in the article, but as I said it was 10 years ago, and I'm pretty sure they were red. And the onscreen prompts were very basic text menus. As I recall, the first step was using a red disc and SD card, and then when prompted onscreen, swapping the disc out with a burned disc which probably contained the final OS and firmware updates. This first red disc was likely the boot loader that enabled the system to pull the updates for the system from the second disc, with the SD card acting as a key or swap file. We started the process of flashing of systems in late October before the mid-November console launch, and that continued until about early December. That was when the manufacturing process had caught up to us with the final software already installed on the systems. After that the workforce was cut back and we were down to just stuffing the print manual and Wii Sports disc materials into the boxes and repalletizing them for retail distribution. I worked in that warehouse for just over 3 months. It was definitely an interesting experience seeing that side of the video game industry. The crew that worked on the line that first month got tshirts to celebrate the hard work that we did getting the system out for the launch of the console. I bought my Wii console during that first week of launch, right from the company store across the street. So there's about a 1-in-30 chance that the Wii I have today is one that I personally handled and updated on that assembly line."
Note: This info appears to have never been publically seen before!
What this provides us with:
There were 2 discs- a red initial disc, and a burned firmware disc. The red disc would be inserted into initial unflashed Wii units along with an SD card (as a "digital key" of sorts), from where the red disc would be swapped with a firmware disc which would then load on the Wii firmware.
Despite what Bushing said in his HackMii post, the Startup Disc was NOT used during console assembly-instead, unique internal discs were used. While these have not resurfaced, they cannot be considered "lost" as unlike the Startup Disc they were never released or planned to be released.
The Startup Disc was used exclusively for store kiosks and was not used on the assembly line. It is most likely a firmware disc that installs the initial system menu, with the Startup Disc error screen being somewhat akin to the "red disc" he mentioned in terms of its purpose.
Another account of the disc has surfaced, from a forum in 2006. However, it seems rather fake and cannot be verified, although it is possible that it is legitimate.  The account reads:
"Alright guys i think i got it, i have a source who works at a retail warehouse for a major distributor (lets call this individual Wii-man)
And what wii-man and his compondrays managed to do was "borrow" a few wii's They took them back to headquarters, set them up and offered this tid-bit of info.
"I have a Nintendo Wii and the wii startup disc is true. All it does is setup your wii account. It also prevents theft because the CD has a unique code that only works on your console. Even though I have the Wii console, I have no idea what the final secret is but I am guessing it is about portability because why would they give theft protection…Also I just wanted to add that, it does update your console with this disk. I checked the manual and it says that… "
There you go im working on getting scans of the manual"
If this account is legitimate (somewhat unlikely) this would indicate that:
The original version of the Wii Manual, although possibly a version not shipped to customers, mentioned the Startup Disc (one of the Startup Disc screens mentions consulting the manual, so this is very likely even if this account is fake)
There was some sort of "theft protection" in the disc that made it console-exclusive for an unknown reason
The disc also "sets up your wii account", although it is unclear what this actually means, possibly related to online features or initial settings (both of which are handled without any disc in final Wiis)
While this account is not likely to be legitimate, it is noteworthy as it may contain valuable info on the disc if it is.
Larsenv, a Wii homebrew developer, uploaded the NAND (system memory) of a console that requires the startup disc and posted it to this article.
- Engadget discusses the Wii startup disc.: https://www.engadget.com/2006/11/03/wii-startup-disc-is-a-surprise-set-up-disk/
- "Hackmii discusses the Wii startup disc.": https://hackmii.com/2010/09/insert-startup-disc/
- "Disc sightings":http://assemblergames.com/l/threads/wii-startup-disc.25131/#post-387547
- "Redditor claims to have owned the disc":https://www.reddit.com/r/nintendo/comments/591pih/lost_early_wii_software_disk_anyone_remember_this/d95zsqf/
- "Nintendo assembly line worker account":https://www.reddit.com/r/nintendo/comments/591pih/lost_early_wii_software_disk_anyone_remember_this/d9889eb/
- "Wii Startup Disc account":http://www.wiichat.com/forum/nintendo-wii-hardware/4246-updates-start-up-disc-last-big-secret.html#post65343