**Update – 02-07-2004**
OK, after some feedback, I’ve changed links as requested by the admins at rpc1.org and added some clarification about what I actually achieved as well as another option when taking the dock apart that saves a lot of time. Enjoy!!
First things first, the warnings and disclaimers – this page is for information only, I am not advising anyone to follow my instructions. Doing this can PERMANENTLY DESTROY YOUR DRIVE. Even if you are OK with the risk, I have had extensive experience building PC’s, fixing laptops and the like and I still had to be extra careful. You do this at your own risk. If you are not comfortable taking your laptop apart, DON’T do it, it’s that simple. If you do follow any of the instructions on this page, you do so at your own risk.
After changing the region on my Sony laptop a couple of time without using a utility like DVD Genie (purely out of laziness), I ran out of region changes. No problem I thought, I’ve fixed this before on several standard DVD drives. So, off I went to my favourite firmware site expecting to download a new (hopefully region free) firmware and flash my drive.
First of all, when I went there first there were no firmwares available nor was there any way to patch my current one. I was a bit disappointed. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel, a bit of digging in the forums led me to that firmware God that is >Nil, and he was working on a patcher.
Then I found out my second problem. My drive was part of the Docking Station on the laptop, and Sony in there wisdom use a Firewire/i-Link interface for this drive. Unfortunately, all of the flashing and patching utilities out there require your drive to be IDE (or at least any of the ones that I’ve found).
This whole thing was really starting to annoy me, particularly since I don’t believe there should be any region encoding in the first place – I’ll leave that discussion for another time. I wasn’t about to let this beat me, so I got an adapter from the good people at Baber.com and set to work. Here’s how to do it:
First go to the Forum and get the autopatcher utility. This will take the pain out of the whole process for you. The utility writes an image to a bootable floppy that will let you read, patch and write your firmware once we have it all connected up. For any info on the utilities themselves, please see the firmware site, the guide below assumes you are familiar with them and that you have a good knowledge of PC configuration and hardware.
The Build quality on this unit is pretty good, which unfortunately for us means the screws feel like they’re welded in. Make sure you have the right size screw driver so you don’t wreck the heads, this has happened to me with other Sony screw heads and it’s a real pain. There are several screws on the back of the unit, remove them first to save yourself problems later.
NOTE: A very kind individual (whose name I can no longer remember – sorry!) has pointed out that it is not necessary to remove the cover as I did – you can simply unscrew the CD drive from the underneath and slide it out without removing the cover. This will save a lot of time, though the original way was more fun I will leave it up to you……
Once you lift the top off the docking station you should be presented with something like the image below. On the bottom left is the floppy, the bottom right the DVD drive.
This can be a very nice image to have when you accidentally bump the thing and some of those little springs and switches at the top of it come flying off
Sliding the drive out is easy (just make sure you have removed the small screws holding it in from the bottom). Once that is out, the dock should look like this:
As an FYI, below is the Model No. etc. of the drive I worked on. Below that is a stock shot of the adapter used, it’s a neat little thing and the plastic headers at either end are used to screw it onto the end of the drive you are using meaning it is nice and secure. Something else to note is that you will need a spare floppy power connector to power the drive. Next to it on the right you can see what the back of the drive looked like with the adapter fitted.
Next you need to hook it up to a regular IDE cable so we can flash it. Thankfully one of my machines has the Abit KT7-RAID motherboard, so it has plenty of spare IDE channels. Initially I accidentally hooked it up to the RAID controller, which won’t work, so I changed it to the regular IDE controller (as a Secondary Master) and voila my drive was recognised in the BIOS. Here’s what the drive looked like all connected up:
Using the boot floppy supplied in the Forum I got the following screen. The program (mpatch.exe) read and patched the firmware correctly but the drvloadc program that actually wrote the firmware would not work from this boot floppy (I even changed the drive to be a Primary Master with no joy).
So I copied the necessary files onto a hard drive instead and used a normal Win98 boot floppy to get into DOS and then ran drvloadc manually from the boot disk and this time it worked fine as you can see below
Once I popped the drive back in and booted the laptop, I once again had 1 change remaining – not exactly region free but better than being locked out as I was before. The patcher has no doubt been updated since so I may give this another try later and post my results
Comments/Suggestions to Adam.