The laptop.

I got this computer from my recycler friend in May of 2019 or so. It was missing a hard drive and the charger, and that’s about it. It was in amazing condition, though! It looked brand new. I also thought the system looked pretty modern, considering how old it truly was. Thin bezel, pretty design, it had it all. Who said old laptops were ugly? Not me!

However, it did have a HDD caddy connector that was messed up, showing the model all garbled, and didn’t allow the hard drive to be written to. The size of the drive was also inaccurate in the BIOS. Clearly, it wasn’t identifying the drive correctly. Also, the keyboard, despite looking immaculate, had an electrically-stuck key (as opposed to physically-stuck).

For the parts, I figured I’d turn to eBay. I thought the motherboard might’ve been bad, causing the HDD to be read wrong. Maybe a connector issue, or a solder joint somewhere. Well, the boards were looking to be around $70 for a NOS board, which isn’t too cool, but I would’ve done it…if I wouldn’t have found a better deal, a complete Sony VAIO PCG-FX340. It had some problems, but fortunately, they were all different from my own laptop’s problems.

I grabbed it, it came in, and I moved over some of the parts, namely the HDD caddy, the processor (for a 750-to-900MHz upgrade), and the keyboard. To make the processor run at the full 900MHz, however, I had to transfer the updated BIOS from the eBay system to my initial one. It ran at a mere 700MHz before I did this.

At first, I was trying to get Flashrom to run on there via Linux, but I couldn’t find a Linux distribution that’d run on there. Even Puppy Linux failed me! The best result I ever got was just a blinking text cursor. Maybe I’ll experiment more with Linux on there, later.

Next, I tried WinPhlash. In order to back up the BIOS, you need a sort of layout file of some kind. Dang it! How was I ever supposed to get that? It’s not like Sony is like “here, let’s give you a highly-specific, magical file solution in relation to a near 20-year-old laptop once made by us”.

Moving on, I rediscovered UniFlash. I tried it, and it actually did work out without me bricking either system! Keep in mind that this was all a bit of a challenge, as the source (“BIOS donor”) board had a bad solder joint on it, causing it not to boot unless the RAM was being pushed upon. I at least discovered it only affected one of the two RAM slots, so I just made sure not to use that slot, and I was able to get it to work out.

Next, I installed XP onto the Lexar 32GB 1066x CompactFlash card w/Syba-brand CF-to-IDE adapter inside of the system. It mostly worked out, but there’s a few issues with me choosing such a cheap CF-to-IDE adapter. At first, XP expected me to three-finger salute (Ctrl-Alt-Delete) every time the Welcome screen came up. This was actually because the Windows page file wasn’t properly configured. The system would beep when the error dialog in relation to the issue came up, but 80% of the time, it hid behind the Welcome screen. Anyway, it’s not good to have a page file on flash media, so I disabled it altogether, and no more three-finger saluting my way into Windows all the time. Excellent.

Even better, miraculously, the seller had recovery discs shipped with the system, which I extracted with a couple of utilities, one of which, I wrote myself as a Python script. This allowed me to then install the original Sony software, which permits me to do things like adjusting the screen brightness and sound volume with the keyboard, like any laptop should let you do. Of course, I installed what I wanted, aka not all of the original bloat with it, which my self-written script made far easier.

With the laptop I bought, I also got a 4.74A genuine Sony VAIO charger. Genuine Sony VAIO chargers are certainly nice to have! I also had a NETGEAR WPC54G CardBus 802.11g wireless card that I pulled from a seemingly-totally-dead Compaq Evo N610c laptop (yet another project I need to get to one day) that let me use Wi-Fi on the system. Ethernet is actually built-in on this nice machine!

In the end, I now have a complete VAIO PCG-FX150 that works wonders and is pretty fast, and some spare parts to boot. Maybe I’ll fix the old board one day! The solder joints actually look relatively easy to deal with. It’s either that, or I sell that board to my recycler friend, where I got the initial laptop!