Upgrader: Firmware fixes

When you buy a DVD burner, the natural assumption is that it'll work faultlessly and provide you with unlimited joy and versatility. Sadly, the reality is often different. As DVD burners get faster, you may begin to experience difficulties with some types of media, and may encounter read and write problems caused by their speed rating or reflectivity. Fortunately, the stress of turning an expensive pack of 10 DVD blanks into a set of drink coasters can often be avoided by updating your optical drive's firmware.

After the launch of a drive and the sub-sequent release of new DVD media, manufacturers can reprogram a drive if it's found to have a major problem with any particular brand or speed variation of DVD media. This is done via the firmware.

The firmware is also known as the BIOS and it resides on a flash ROM chip in your drive. It's the program that controls the way your drive operates, and is independent of your PC's operating system. Manufacturers often issue updates to their drives via their Web sites, and they must be downloaded and manually loaded onto your drive.

The top down:

Benefits: Improved drive reliability

Cost: Free

Level of expertise: Experienced

Time required: 9 minutes

Tools required: Philips head screwdriver

Vendors: Your firmware needs to be specific to your drive's make and model

Know your model number

The first step in securing an update for your drive is to make sure you know the exact model of your DVD burner so that you can download the correct firmware for it. In Windows XP, this can be done by clicking on Start-Run, typing in msinfo32 and clicking OK. Next, expand the Components section by clicking the plus sign next to it and then click on the CD-ROM branch. The Name item will state the brand and model of your drive. In our case, it's the Pioneer DVR-106D. Under no circumstances should you update your drive with the firmware of a different model.

Click here to view a screen shot. Note: Ensure that you know the exact model of your drive before attempting to update its firmware.

Check for updates

Updates to your drive may be made on a regular basis and it's worthwhile checking the support (or download) section of your manufacturer's Web site frequently for any updates relevant to your model. Ensure that you read the details of each update, too, so that you know precisely what has been fixed in the new version. In our example, the latest firmware for the DVR-106D is version 1.07 from www.pioneeraus.com.au and it includes improvements to 2x DVD-R writability and DVD-RW writability.

Download and prepare the firmware

Firmware is usually packaged in a Zip file. Once it's downloaded, you must unzip all the files to a new folder and carefully follow any instructions that are provided with the update. Not all manufacturers follow the same routine when it comes to upgrading firmware, so your drive may not be as simple to update as the Pioneer DVR-106D in our example. Upon unzipping our file, we were presented with an executable (EXE) file, which extracted all the required files for the update to another folder. The extracted files were the new firmware itself and the utility for updating the firmware, but there were no instructions (we found these on the Web site). The firmware itself and the utility must be located in the same directory.

Click here to view a screen shot. Our firmware and utility had to be extracted to a new folder from the downloaded executable (EXE) file.

Prepare your drive

Updating firmware can be a risky business. If something goes wrong it can render your drive inoperable. As such, ensure that you don't have a disc in the drive before you undertake the update and, as a precaution, do not use your computer while the update is taking place. You must also ensure that you don't accidentally (or intentionally) restart or turn off your PC while the update is in progress. If you have more than one optical drive installed in your system, we recommend that you disconnect those drives prior to updating the firmware on your DVD burner and then reconnect them afterwards.

Execute the update

To update the Pioneer DVR-106D, we opened the folder where our extracted files were and executed the update utility while in Windows XP. The whole process took just over 1 minute to complete. Not all drives can be updated through Windows, though, so you must read your manufacturer's instructions carefully as they relate to your particular drive and operating system.

Click here to view a screen shot.

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Elias Plastiras
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