30 Hardware and Windows Tips in 30 Days - Tip #1: How and Why to Upgrade Your DVD Recorder's Firmware
As a longtime contributor to books in both the Upgrading and Repairing and Special Edition Using Windows series, I've developed a great deal of expertise in both the hardware and operating system sides of computing. Over the next six weeks, I'll be sharing the best and most useful tips I've developed for current hardware, Windows XP, and Windows Vista.
It's always been a tug-of-war between CD and DVD media makers and drive manufacturers. Sometimes, media makers roll out new combinations of dye and reflective layers, leaving drive makers wondering how to use them most efficiently, and sometimes drive makers set the pace, cranking up write speeds for recordable and rewritable media that media makers must scramble to fulfill.
Either way, your rewritable DVD or CD drive is likely to have problems with some types of media over its useful life, such as:
- Slow write speeds with some types of media
- Poor stability
- Problems recognizing and using new types of media
Thankfully, the solution is a simple one: upgrade your drive's firmware.
Step 1: What Drive Are You Using?
To determine the drive make and model number, open Windows Device Manager and expand the DVD/CD-ROM Drives category. Your drive's brand name and model number will be listed.
Step 2: What Firmware Are You Using?
To find out what firmware your drive is currently using, you can use any of these methods:
- With Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista, open Device Manager, select the drive, open its properties sheet, and click the Details tab. Select Hardware IDs, and the text separated from the model number by underlines is the firmware id.
- If you use a DVD or CD mastering program such as Roxio Easy Media Creator, Nero, or others, use your mastering program to view your drive's firmware revision. For example, with Roxio Easy Media Creator, open the Disc and Device Utility and expand the Device Properties branch. With Nero, open the InfoTool utility and click the Drive tab.
- You can also use a third-party utility such as DVDInfoPro or VSO Inspector to display this information, as well as many other facts about your drive, such as supported media types, maximum write speeds, and so on.
Step 3: Are There Any Firmware Upgrades Available for Your Drive?
To determine if any upgrades are available, go to the drive vendor's website and look for the firmware download page. Make sure you select the correct firmware for your drive, since installing incorrect firmware is a fast way to ruin your drive.
Some vendors provide very little information about what the firmware upgrade will do. LiteOn's "match more media" is a classic of terseness. Others, such as Plextor, provide a lot of information, such as the media supported by the new firmware upgrade, the version number, the release date, and links to previous versions (just in case you discover that 'older is better').
Step 4: Downloading and Installing the Upgrade
Some vendors package their firmware upgrades as a ready-to-run .exe file, while others might require you to uncompress an archive file. If the vendor uses the .zip format, you can use the built-in unzipping feature in Windows Explorer. However, if the vendor uses .rar or another archiving format, you might need to obtain a third-party uncompression program, such as WinRAR.
To install the firmware upgrade, follow the manufacturer's recommendations. In most cases, recent drives use a Windows .exe file that is installed from within the Windows GUI, but some old drives might require you to make a boot disk and and restart the system to install the update.
Regardless of the method used, be sure you don't turn off the system, trip over the power cord, or interrupt the process. If you do, your rewritable DVD drive will turn into a useless metal and plastic shell.