Firmware Fixes for Your Rewriteable CD & DVD Drive Without the latest firmware, your rewriteable drive can be crippled. Learn how to make these changes safely and effectively
- Jul 1, 2003
Firmware Fixes for Your Rewriteable CD & DVD Drive
Without the latest firmware, your rewriteable drive can be crippled. Learn how
to make these changes safely and effectively
Optical Drives Also Have Firmware
In my book, Upgrading and Repairing PCs, and in my training classes I frequently emphasize the importance of motherboard BIOS upgrades. BIOS upgrades can be used to fix problems with CPU and memory support, USB ports, system stability, and many other problems. However, the motherboard BIOS is just one type of firmware (software in a chip) which needs to be upgraded periodically. With the widespread popularity of rewriteable CD and DVD drives, firmware upgrades for these drives are also becoming an important tool for improving their performance and stability.
Why Firmware Updates for DVD and CD-RW Drives Are Useful
Firmware updates for your optical drive can important for a variety of reasons. For example, one of my associates has a Plextor CD-RW drive with a maximum CD-R writing speed of 40x. This drive performed flawlessly and achieved speeds of 30x and faster when writing to green-gold media brands such as Philips and Imation. However, when using azo blue/silver Verbatim media, performance sank to an average of 10x or less. A check of the Plextor website (http://www.plextor.com) revealed that the latest firmware upgrade improved results when Verbatim media was used. He installed the upgrade, which solved the problem and enabled the drive to write at top speed to azo blue/silver, green-gold, and other types of CD-R media.
What other types of rewriteable CD and DVD problems can be solved with firmware upgrades? Here are a few examples drawn from a review of firmware update notes for recent drives from major vendors:
- Improved ability of DVD+RW drive to read DVD-RW media (HP DVD 200i)
- Added support for varying brands of 40x media (Plextor 40/12/40A)
- Added support for DVD+R 4x media (Sony DRU-500 series)
- Improved support for digital music extraction from scratched CDs (various models)
As you can see from these examples, firmware upgrades can significantly improve the performance and versatility of your drive.
Do You Have a Pioneer DVD-RW Drive? A Firmware Update Can Save Your Drive
If you have a Pioneer retail or OEM DVD-RW drive, a firmware upgrade (see http://www.pioneerelectronics.com for details) can literally be a matter of life and death to your drive. Several Pioneer DVD-RW drive models, including the DVR-A03, 103, A04, and 104 models, as well as the DVR-7000 and PRV-9000 standalone recorders can be damaged or destroyed if they attempt to write to high-speed DVD-RW/R media (4x DVD-R, 2x DVD-RW speeds) before the firmware update is installed.
Firmware Update Rules of Thumb
What are the clues that you should look for a firmware update for your optical drive? If you encounter any of the following issues, a firmware update might be necessary:
- You cant use a particular type of media, or it performs much more slowly than other types/brands of media
- Your writing software stops recognizing the drive as a rewriteable drive
- You want to use faster media than what the drive was originally designed to use (particularly true with Pioneer drives)
Since any firmware update runs a risk of failure, and a failed firmware update can render your drive useless, you shouldnt install firmware updates casually. However, as the preceding examples make clear, sooner or later youll probably need one.
What Firmware Updates Dont Fix
Firmware updates dont fix the following problems:
- Drive not recognized by a newly-installed CD or DVD mastering program
- Drive not recognized by Windows XPs built-in CD writing program
Because each rewriteable CD or DVD drive has special characteristics, CD or DVD writing programs you buy at retail must have model-specific updates to work. Get them from the software vendor (see the list of major vendors at the end of this article), or use the software provided with the drive. If you are trying to use an OEM version of a program with a different drive model than the original, you will also need an update from the software vendor.
Windows XPs built-in CD writing feature is a pale imitation of even the worst third-party CD mastering program, but if you insist on using it, make sure your drive is listed in the Windows Catalog of supported drives and devices (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/catalog). To install the latest updates for Windows XP, including updates to the CD writing feature, use Windows Update. Microsoft Knowledge Base article 320174 discusses an update to the CD writing feature. Search the Microsoft website for other solutions.
Determining What Drive Model and What Firmware Is Installed
Before you can determine if you need a firmware update for your rewriteable drive, you need to know your drive model and what firmware version its using. You can use the Windows Device Manager (Windows 9x/Me) or CD/DVD Mastering Software Drive Information to determine this information.
With the Windows 9x/Me Device Manager, follow this procedure:
- Right-click My Computer and select Properties
- Click the Device Manager tab
- Click the Plus (+) sign next to CDROM in the list of device types
- Double-click the rewriteable drive icon to display its properties sheet
- Click the Settings tab; the firmware version and drive name will be displayed.
With Roxio Easy CD Creator 5, follow this procedure:
- Click Tools
- Click CD-Drive Properties
- Click the drive letter
- The firmware revision and drive brand/model are listed along with other information
With Nero Burning ROM 5.5, follow this procedure:
- Click Recorder from the top-level menu
- Click the drive desired
- The drive model and firmware version is displayed along with other information
Once you have this information, you can go to your rewriteable drive vendors website and see if a firmware update is available, and what the benefits of installing the latest version would be.
Installing New Firmware
Generally speaking, the firmware update procedure works like this (but you should be sure to follow the particular instructions given for your drive):
- If the firmware update is stored as a ZIP file, you need to use an unzipping program or the integrated unzipping utility found in some versions of Windows to uncompress the update to a folder.
- If the drive maker provides a Readme file, be sure to read it for help and troubleshooting. If the update file is an EXE file, it might display a Readme file as part of step 3.
- Double-click on the EXE file to start the update process. Be sure to leave the system power on during the process (which can take 2-3 minutes).
- Follow the vendors instructions for restarting your system.
- After you restart your system, the computer might redetect the drive and assign it the next available drive letter. If you previously assigned the drive a customized drive letter (for example, my associate uses Q: for a CD-RW drive and R: for a DVD+RW drive), use the Device Manager in Windows 9x/Me or the Computer Management service in Windows 2000/XP to reassign the correct drive letter to the drive.
Troubleshooting Firmware Updates
If you have problems performing a rewriteable drive firmware update, check the vendors Readme file or website for help. In addition, here are some tips weve found useful.
If the firmware update fails to complete, there might be interference from programs that control the drive such as packet-writing programs (InCD, DirectCD) or the built-in Windows XP CD writing feature.
To disable resident software, restart the computer in Safe Mode (Windows 2000/XP) and retry the update. Restart the system normally after the update is complete.
With Windows 9x/Me, you can use MSConfig (System Configuration Utility), choose Selective Startup and uncheck Load Startup Group items and Process Win.INI file before restarting. After completing the firmware update, be sure to rerun MSConfig and choose Normal startup before restarting the computer.
To disable Windows XPs own CD-writing feature for a particular drive, right-click the drive icon in My Computer, select Properties, click the Recording tab, and clear the check mark in the box next to Enable CD Recording on this drive.
If the firmware update doesnt improve drive performance on a system running Windows 9x/Me, DMA might not be enabled on the rewriteable drive.
To enable DMA for an optical drive on a system running Windows 9x/Me:
- Open the Device Manager properties sheet for the drive as described earlier
- Click the Settings tab and look for a box next to DMA in the options section
- Click the box to place a checkmark there
- Click OK if a warning is displayed, then OK again to close the dialog.
- Click Close to close the system properties sheet.
- Click Yes to reboot the system after closing any open data files.
If the option for DMA is grayed out (cannot be selected), you need to install the latest DMA drivers for your motherboard. Contact your motherboard or system vendor for details.
Just as BIOS updates improve system performance and compatibility, optical drive firmware updates improve drive performance and compatibility with new types and different brands of media. Take advantage of them as needed to keep your rewriteable optical drive working properly.
Rewriteable CD & DVD Drive Vendor Websites
Pioneer Electronics (also OEM vendor for Compaq and Apple DVD-RW drives) http://www.pioneerelectronics.com
Lite-ON It (popular OEM for various low-cost CD-RW drives)
CD & DVD Writing Software Vendors
Microsoft (Windows XP CD writing feature)
Roxio (Easy CD Creator)
Ahead (Nero Burning ROM)
NewTech Infosystems (NTI CD Maker)
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