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Sony desktop has proprietary BIOS?


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#1
GeekEE

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I'm working on a Sony Vaio desktop (PCVRX742) that was laying around. This is pretty much a plain vanilla system, 1.4 GHz, 512 MB, 60G HDD, etc. The previous user had been deep into kazaa, bitorrent, et al, and the poor suffering computer was crawling on its knees so far as speed goes, refused to run the antivirus program, or to uninstall it, or to run diagnostic downloads. You get the pictureÖ That must be why the friend bought a new computer and gave me the old one.

Time to go with a fresh copy of XP. There was no system recovery CD to be found, and looking back, this was probably one of those times where you get recovery on a hard drive partition instead of a CD. Oh well, ainít hindsight great?

Suffice to say I pulled out a generic WinXP upgrade CD from my stash, and decided that one 60G partition was superior to the 20/40 split already on the drive. Did that and everything came up running but the sound, also was annoyed to discover that the video could not be set to higher than 800 X 600. After poking around on the Sony support part of their website I found the specs for the machine. It uses a SiS7012 sound chip and a SiS740 graphics controller. A visit to the SiS website found the audio driver, and it works fine. Then downloaded the video chip driver, but when it tries to install it canít find the hardware! Downloaded the video driver from the Sony website with the same result. Got in touch with Sony support and was told the following:

* The version of XP supplied with the machine is a proprietary version
* Standard XP will not support the Sony driver
* Sony XP will not support the standard driver
* The motherboard video adapter will not automatically disable if you put a video card in a PCI slot. A user supplied video card can only be used as a secondary adapter. (There is no AGP on this model.) There is no hardware disable built in either (like a jumper).

Iím not sure I entirely believe the support explanation, but so far it checks out. Poking my head into the machine found Ď7S266-VSí silk-screened on the motherboard. Googling that took me to the website for ASUS, the Taiwanese manufacturer of the motherboard. The website shows model # 7S266-VM. Iím sure ĖVS just means a Sony version of the same thing, and I suspect that there is no hardware difference, just a custom tweaked BIOS to implement the annoying features described above.

I hate it when machines have proprietary tweaks. A friend who was at Conner Peripherals when they were a hard drive supplier to Compaq told me that the drives sold to Compaq had a special track with some sort of ID code on it. The machine would look for that code and refuse to use the drive if it didnít have it. Guess where you had to buy your upgrade. I avoid Compaq like the plague because of stories like that, dunno if their purchase by HP cured it. Maybe I should add Sony to the list.

Anyway, the Sony seems to be working fine except for the lousy video resolution. My thoughts are:

(1) Bite the bullet and purchase a Sony recovery CD, then reinstall yet again. Live with the proprietary tweaks.
(2) Do a hardware mod to disable the motherboard adapter (assuming that the BIOS will then accept the PCI card as the primary display). I can always put cuts and jumpers back like they were.
(3) Reflash the BIOS with the standard version, hopefully turning the VS back to the VM generic version. If I do that I sure would like a copy of the Sony version as insurance, but Iíd have to read it off the chip (or the area of memory that it is copied to for execution). I donít have a way to make that copy right off hand.

Iíd just as soon make the machine accept a PCI card. This would avoid sharing 32MB of main memory with the onboard video adapter, presumably boosting system throughput. It would also let me put in something better matched to the 1920 X 1200 the monitor is capable of.

What would you do? Thoughts?
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#2
Neil Jones

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Suffice to say I pulled out a generic WinXP upgrade CD from my stash, and decided that one 60G partition was superior to the 20/40 split already on the drive. Did that and everything came up running but the sound, also was annoyed to discover that the video could not be set to higher than 800 X 600. After poking around on the Sony support part of their website I found the specs for the machine. It uses a SiS7012 sound chip and a SiS740 graphics controller. A visit to the SiS website found the audio driver, and it works fine. Then downloaded the video chip driver, but when it tries to install it canít find the hardware! Downloaded the video driver from the Sony website with the same result.


Most onboard graphics with boards use S3 graphics, often branded as an SIS x display adaptor. Therefore the drivers on the SIS site don't always work.

Got in touch with Sony support and was told the following:

* The version of XP supplied with the machine is a proprietary version
* Standard XP will not support the Sony driver
* Sony XP will not support the standard driver
* The motherboard video adapter will not automatically disable if you put a video card in a PCI slot. A user supplied video card can only be used as a secondary adapter. (There is no AGP on this model.) There is no hardware disable built in either (like a jumper).


This is all bull.

XP is XP, there is no "proprietary" version.

There is no such thing as a "Sony driver", because the board is a standard board with modifications made to it for the benefit of Sony

No such thing as "Sony XP", the only difference between so-called "Sony XP" (which would apply to "HP XP, "Packard Bell XP", etc) is that it doesn't need activating and doesn't use the product key on the case. Apart from that there's no difference between it, shink-wrapped OEM XP and retail XP.

99% of boards with onboard graphics are automatically disabled with the presence of a separate card. The other 1% need to be told to ignore the onboard graphics. In the BIOS there should be an option called "Primary VGA Bios", with the options Onboard, PCI or AGP (which only appear if there is a separate card). Selecting PCI with the separate card in should disable onboard graphics, or get it to feed monitor output through the PCI card anyway.

Iím sure ĖVS just means a Sony version of the same thing, and I suspect that there is no hardware difference, just a custom tweaked BIOS to implement the annoying features described above.


The VS means its a Sony butchered version of the 7S266-VM board, therefore in 99% of cases, it acts like a 7S266-VM board so far as the drivers from Asus' website goes.

I hate it when machines have proprietary tweaks. A friend who was at Conner Peripherals when they were a hard drive supplier to Compaq told me that the drives sold to Compaq had a special track with some sort of ID code on it. The machine would look for that code and refuse to use the drive if it didnít have it. Guess where you had to buy your upgrade. I avoid Compaq like the plague because of stories like that, dunno if their purchase by HP cured it. Maybe I should add Sony to the list.


This is not a Sony exclusive, though they are very good at doing this, many OEMs make non-standard tweaks. Sometimes they can be reversed, most of the time they can't.

Anyway, the Sony seems to be working fine except for the lousy video resolution. My thoughts are:

(1) Bite the bullet and purchase a Sony recovery CD, then reinstall yet again. Live with the proprietary tweaks.
(2) Do a hardware mod to disable the motherboard adapter (assuming that the BIOS will then accept the PCI card as the primary display). I can always put cuts and jumpers back like they were.
(3) Reflash the BIOS with the standard version, hopefully turning the VS back to the VM generic version. If I do that I sure would like a copy of the Sony version as insurance, but Iíd have to read it off the chip (or the area of memory that it is copied to for execution). I donít have a way to make that copy right off hand.


1) You don't need a recovery CD, the drivers are out there. Just a case of finding them.
2) You shouldn't need to do this if the options I discussed above work.
3) This will probably not be possible as the flash program checks the board revision number, finds it isn't actually a VM model and refuses to flash. Continuing to flash may kill the board entirely. Proceed at own risk.

Iíd just as soon make the machine accept a PCI card. This would avoid sharing 32MB of main memory with the onboard video adapter, presumably boosting system throughput. It would also let me put in something better matched to the 1920 X 1200 the monitor is capable of.


Well if it's got 512Mb now sharing 32Mb, the presence of an extra 32Mb won't make any difference to performance, as 480Mb is more than XP needs to run happily anyway, it'll run on 256 quite happily.
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#3
b1caez01

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Neil hits every nail on the head...

"XP is XP, there is no "proprietary" version." may refer to an OEM version...unsupportable by MS, and only supported via returning to mfg and hounding them...if buddy was the original purchaser get him to do it.

OEM versions are "said to be" slimmed out versions of the original XP, sold to the 2nd party, who in turn tweak it with their 2nd or 3rd party software on the install and restore disks.

I have a compaq laptop...it had a pile of setup/restore CDs that came with it. After the first system failure and a failed restore...I ordered new disk, which compaq gladly sent to me by mail, no costs, after many, over the phone, attempts to restore it with the old disks...

I made the decision, while waiting, to completly strip the hard drive and reinstall my other OEM version from my mainframe...problems solved. There is now, no connection between me and compaq, as I use all of my mainframe material on it...and update all drivers from off-line.

P.S. : got your L1/L2 cache files maxed out? Have MS's default for caching set to choose its own limits, depending on needed resources? These might compensate a bit for the lower RAM you appear to have...as we don't know what else you are using your computer for, it might be a battle for cache space and resources, and Windows is taking the easy way out.

Edited by b1caez01, 17 September 2006 - 07:48 PM.

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#4
GeekEE

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These are very good comments. A few points:

The thought about 32 MB of shared video memory is not about memory size. It's based on the observation that monitor refresh is a high bandwidth process, and sharing main memory with video to save a buck means giving up some of the total throughput that would otherwise be available to the processor. It's a hardware, not a software issue. I've since poked about in the conguration and found that I can set the video memory size to 16, 32, or 64 MB. Since I can't access the higher resolution modes anyway, and I'm not into video games, so I've knocked the allocation down to 16 MB on general principles. I doubt I'll see any performance differences. It's just a bit of extra margin for the heavy duty engineering applications that I use.

I wasn't about to try reflashing with some random BIOS in hopes that it might run better. The ASUS website has a download for the factory standard BIOS for this motherboard. However, since I'm not 100% certain that the VS variant does not include some hardware changes, I want to be able to undo the reflash if I have to.

"Most onboard graphics with boards use S3 graphics, often branded as an SIS x display adaptor. Therefore the drivers on the SIS site don't always work."

So you're saying that S3 is one and the same as SiS? Or that S3 is private labeling for SiS? I don't see how that would affect the video driver either way. It would always originate with S3, wouldn't it? The ineluctable reality is that, as noted in my original post, both of the drivers I tried failed install with a severe error, because they could not find the motherboard adapter, notwithstanding that XP is happy with it. I'm using that video as I type this.

"99% of boards with onboard graphics are automatically disabled with the presence of a separate card. The other 1% need to be told to ignore the onboard graphics."

I did the experiment of adding a third party graphics card, and the BIOS did not switch to it as the primary adapter or even initialize it. Yet, XP did pop up a notice that it found new hardware and gave the correct information regarding manufacturer and model. The Sony config screen offers only the shared memory options noted above, and absolutely zip on any other aspect of video display. That's part of why I think the Sony BIOS has been tweaked from the ASUS original. Since I can download the VM bios, it seems to be a reasonable bet. How would it tell if this is a Sony version of the motherboard? You seem to be saying that there is some hardware ID beyond the generic stuff built into the chips.

As for XP itself, I'm relieved that the OS itself is the same the world over, and I certainly don't miss all the junkware that comes bundled from Sony.
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#5
Neil Jones

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The thought about 32 MB of shared video memory is not about memory size. It's based on the observation that monitor refresh is a high bandwidth process, and sharing main memory with video to save a buck means giving up some of the total throughput that would otherwise be available to the processor.


I think there's a crossed wire here.
Monitor refresh rate (as in 50 times a second) has nothing to do with the system, that's how often the monitor itself redraws the screen. If you're referring to refreshing as in "showing new graphical elements - windows, dialogs, etc - then yes, in theory it will take up processor time and in extreme cases you can see Windows actually drawing everything on the screen.

I wasn't about to try reflashing with some random BIOS in hopes that it might run better. The ASUS website has a download for the factory standard BIOS for this motherboard. However, since I'm not 100% certain that the VS variant does not include some hardware changes, I want to be able to undo the reflash if I have to.


You won't, unless the BIOS has a bootblock option, which is something that hasn't been seen on boards for a while now as they're tooting "crashfree BIOS" and other terminology.

The Sony config screen offers only the shared memory options noted above, and absolutely zip on any other aspect of video display. That's part of why I think the Sony BIOS has been tweaked from the ASUS original. Since I can download the VM bios, it seems to be a reasonable bet. How would it tell if this is a Sony version of the motherboard? You seem to be saying that there is some hardware ID beyond the generic stuff built into the chips.


Generally, a butchered board either uses physical tweaks on the board itself, or just hides a lot of BIOS options. Having seen the manual for this board that's available on the Asus website, it would appear that Sony decided to remove the "primary VGA boot" option (and probably some more) from their version of the BIOS, their attempts being to be able to tell you at some point in the future that the system is out of date, come and buy a new one.
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#6
GeekEE

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"I think there's a crossed wire here.
Monitor refresh rate (as in 50 times a second) has nothing to do with the system, that's how often the monitor itself redraws the screen. If you're referring to refreshing as in "showing new graphical elements - windows, dialogs, etc - then yes, in theory it will take up processor time and in extreme cases you can see Windows actually drawing everything on the screen."

That used to be true, and mostly still is. It depends on the video adapter. No, I don't mean redraw, I mean the actual pixel refresh that forms every video frame. Until a few years ago, every video card carried its own memory and used it independently of anything happening elsewhere in the system. The graphics controller used in this system (SiS740) is one of a family of designs that shares main memory as a cost reduction feature. Which is to say that it stores video in and does refreshing from the same motherboard DIMMs as the processor. They have to share the available memory bandwidth. Given that video refresh is a real time process, it gets priority, and if there is a conflict the processor is the one that waits. Hence the comments about throughput improvement if I could use a conventional third party graphics adapter.

Here's another tidbit of information. I put a frequency counter on the video sync signals. It turns out that there is video output for every resolution, but 1024 X 768 and 1280 X 1024 use an 87 Hz vertical rate, too fast for many monitors, including mine. Both 800 X 600 and 1600 X 1200 use an acceptable 60 Hz rate. So, my current choices are text that is too big, or text that is too small (or a blank screen).

Many thanks for your thoughts on the feasibility of BIOS upgrades. I don't think this system has a socketed BIOS chip. That would make life too easy.
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