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1Mar/210

Sony VAIO PCG-Z505R – Booting From The PCMCIA Drive

This has always been on the wish-list and one appear on a Facebook group recently. It came with an external CD drive, but no power adapter. Fortunately, third-party adapters are easy to find on eBay and one arrived in no time at all. A port replicator also then arrived as someone was selling one for cheap and, honestly, there's no competition as no one else has a Unicorn laptop that needs one!

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Such a nice design. The colour instantly tells you it's a Vaio.

Cosmetic Issues

The unit wasn't without its flaws. Both screen hinge covers were loose in the packaging when it arrived. The main issue is that the tab/lugs have been partially destroyed. The bases where they're meant to click in are also unhealthy.

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The right pillar between the main base of the laptop and the screen hinge is also in a bad way. The plastic shell has actually been glued down as, presumably, the clips holding it down have also been erroneously removed. It also looks like a washer or coin was sitting on the speaker and the unit was then closed, creating a circular impression in the plastic. The speakers are also a little distorted on low volume. I must admit, the seller never mentioned any of this. Finally, the unit, all around, has dints and scratches... but, well, wouldn't I just do the same damage to it if it was in my care anyway?

Installing Win98SE

The unit came with XP installed, but it wasn't running as quickly as I'd like. The unit only had 128mb RAM, so I opted for Win98SE. The CD started booting from the external drive, but the base OAK/ASPI drivers couldn't find the CD-ROM! I then realised that Sony's PCG-CD51A External PCMCIA CD-ROM Drive is proprietary (not really surprising for Sony!) and doesn't work with generic drivers.

Instead, use this boot disk and burn it to a CD as the boot image, with the win98 folder as the guts. If you try to roll your own, you may get the following error:

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Just for search results, let's represent it as text:

The following file is missing or corrupted: VA16CD.SYS
There is an error in your CONFIG.SYS file on line 3

VA16CD.SYS Corrupt or missing!? The file is on the boot disk, and when booting from a USB floppy with the standard PCG-CD51A boot disk, it'll work fine. Once you try to burn that img as a boot floppy to a CD image, it will fail miserably.

The point is that, as soon as you load the VA16365.SYS driver, it re-initialises the PCMCIA bus and throws A:\ in the bin. A:\ was virtual anyway, being the boot floppy image on the CD, and so when the boot disk then tries to load, A:\ is no longer accessible! Instead, I hacked around with CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT to load the drivers later.

Going into a little more detail, VA16CD.SYS needs to be loaded in CONFIG.SYS and requires that VA16365.SYS be loaded first. Of course, if you do that, A:\ disappears and then CONFIG.SYS fails trying to find VA16CD.SYS as it continues to load. I tried a lot of things to prevent VA16365.SYS from trashing the boot-disk access, but nothing worked... it really seems to want to re-init the PCMCIA bus.

I then managed to find a work-around! I crafted a boot image that uses DEVICE.COM from QEMM to load the SYS drivers later. With the SYS driver files skipped in CONFIG.SYS, the boot process gets to AUTOEXEC.BAT and the standard RAM drive is initialised as per the Win98SE boot disk. Once up, I then copy everything from A:\ over to it, switch to it and then proceed to load the SYS files via DEVICE.COM and then MSCDEX.

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It works, but there's a caveat! You'll get errors that A:\ is missing as it's still in the path... oh... maybe I should unset it from the path. Anyway, the image above will let you boot from the Sony PCG-CD51A PCMCIA CD-ROM. Just hit F when the failure message comes up and switch to D:\ or E:\ to start the install.. fdisk... file-copy, etc...

I installed Win98SE from C:\WINSETUP. When it booted, all the drivers were missing, so I tried to install Red Hat instead.

Linux for a PII-366 w/ 128mb RAM

I found a link to another Sony laptop where the user had installed Red Hat Linux 7.2 with a CDE-style WM known as DeXtop. Of course, trying to find Red Hat Linux (not Enterprise!) nowadays is a pain since they chose to rename/reuse the name/numbering for the new versions. I first checked Winworld PC, but they only had v5.0. Looking closer, you'll see a link to Red Hat's Linux Archive and from there, you can find the ISOs for Red Hat Linux 7.2. But those links don't work, so get the ISOs from here.

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I then failed to get it even installed as it seems the laser in my external PCMCIA drive is failing miserably. Somehow, I had another PCG-CD51A in my PCMCIA junk box! Same CD error though!? Let's re-burn with a different CDR brand and the slowest speed.

Finally installed, why is it trying to initialise ETH0 on each boot? Oh shite, there's actually an ethernet adapter inside, but I'm missing the dongle?

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There is no actual option to disable it in the BIOS, so we'll have to disable it at startup script located in /etc/system/network-scripts edit the ifcfg-eth0 file and change ONBOOT to no.

Next, no sound. Video was nicely initialised, but audio just didn't work. Turns out this thing has a NeoMagic 256AV Sound device and people already have workarounds. Turns out all it actually needed was for me to run sndconfig!

Finally, I tried a PCMCIA Ethernet card. I had a Laneed nearby, but there was no off-the-shelf driver, so without networking I gave up on RH7.2 from there.

I was about to just give up, but then tried to configure WiFi. I had already purchased some really old/compatible cards for the eMate. These should surely work with Red Hat? One is a legit Linksys/Cisco Orinoco/Wavelan, so it must just work... Supposedly I can just run the neat command and set everything up?

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It worked pretty well. The first was a Linksys WPC11, but it just wouldn't associated with my guest network access point. The eMate did though! Maybe this thing is way too old, being a REV 1. I'll have to do some more digging and work out how to correctly set up WiFi. This can go back in the box for now.

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