A real-world Vista challenge: Can this Sony Vaio be saved?

Summary:For nearly a year, Jeremy Toeman has been chronicling his experiences with Windows Vista running on a pricey high-end Sony Vaio. In a word, it has sucked. (He's now replaced his Sony with a MacBook.) So we worked out a deal. Jeremy’s sending the infernal Vaio to me, and I’m sending him a Dell notebook that's running Vista without issues. My goal is to restore the factory Vista install on that Sony and see its suckiness up close and personal. Can its problems be fixed, or are Sony’s engineers just clueless?

I’ve been reading Jeremy Toeman’s LIVEdigitally for ages. He’s got impressive digital media credentials (former VP of Sling Media, co-founder of Mediabolic) and geek cred (self-described “marketing guy” for Bug Labs, which won a CNET Best in Show award at CES this year).

A real-world Vista challenge: Can this Sony Vaio be saved?

Jeremy has done an excellent job of chronicling his experiences with Windows Vista running on a pricey high-end Sony Vaio. In a word, it has sucked. In fact, his experience pegged out his suckiness meter and inspired him to (a) switch to a MacBook and (b) remind everyone who reads his blog, at least twice a week (I might be exaggerating a little, but not much) that Sony makes the world’s worst PCs and they should not under any circumstance consider buying one. Even now, nearly six months after setting the Sony aside, he is still nursing some wounds. (I’ll describe the entire history in just a minute.)

So when I saw another reference to the Vaio on Jeremy’s blog last week, I left a comment:

Jeremy, do you still have that Sony? If so, I’d love to take a look at it and figure out why it sucks so bad. (Maybe help some future Sony victi^H^H customers.)

After a brief exchange of e-mail, we worked out a deal. Jeremy’s sending the infernal Vaio to me, and in exchange I’m sending him a Dell notebook with a dual-boot installation of Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP2. I’ve been using the Dell for more than a year, and it’s been a solid performer (ironically, it has a Vista Capable logo on it, plus an Intel Core Duo logo). My goal is to restore the factory Vista install on that Sony and see its suckiness up close and personal. Can its problems be fixed, or are Sony’s engineers just clueless? I’ll post my full results here, and Jeremy will document his experiences on his blog. (His first post is up now: Do Sony Vaios really suck, or is it just me?)

Now, this is not the first time I have heard Sony’s Vista-powered PCs described in less-than flattering terms. Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal has a Sony Vaio as well, purchased a month or two earlier than Jeremy’s. He writes about its sluggish start-up times regularly, as I've noted before. (In fact, Apple was so happy with the comparison that they used a quote from Mossberg’s column in a recent “Hi, I’m a PC. And I’m a Mac.” ad.)

When Mossberg got his Vaio in April 2007, he described the experience of getting started as “irritating” and “a big hassle.” He called the machine “slow” and called out Sony for its “lack of respect for the consumer.” Six months later, in his review of OS X Leopard, Mossberg still had harsh words for the Vaio:

I compared a MacBook Pro laptop with Leopard preinstalled to a Sony Vaio laptop with Vista preinstalled. Even though I had cleared out all of the useless trial software Sony had placed on the Vaio, it still started up painfully slowly compared with the Leopard laptop.

It took the Vista machine nearly two minutes to perform a cold start and be ready to run, including connecting to my wireless network. The Leopard laptop was up, running and connected to the network in 38 seconds. In a test of restarting the two laptops after they had been running an email program, a Web browser and a word processor, the Sony with Vista took three minutes and 29 seconds, while the Apple running Leopard took one minute and five seconds.

Mossberg’s odyssey parallels Jeremy’s, which started innocently enough, in May 2007, when he replaced a stolen notebook with the Sony Vaio. After two hours of copying data files and installing and uninstalling software:

Overall experience was pretty good. I have no real complaints about Vista other than it is a lot clunkier than it should be - what I mean is there’s no good reason for the clunkiness.

Three weeks later, the honeymoon had definitely ended:

My brand new laptop, as in the one that came with Vista pre-installed, shipped with out-of-date drivers. Let me see if that point is clear enough here. I bought a laptop, in the store, took it home, turned it on. Wrong drivers. Imagine buying a car, at a dealer, and they left the wrong tires on it.

It’s taken me a couple of weeks, but now I can proudly say that my brand-spanking-new laptop no longer crashes when I close the lid, nor do I lose the right-mouse button for hours on end. Anymore.

Clearly my productivity is at an all-time high.

A system recovery at the end of June (full details here) resulted in at least one bizarre error message but seemed to make things “much, much better.”

But not for long.

By August 8, the Sony was toast and the Macbook was in the house. Jeremy’s report:

I couldn’t take it anymore.

Seriously, I started counting the amount of seconds-to-minutes of “waiting for Vista” I was spending every day. 30-120 seconds from sleeping to awake. 5+ minutes to dock/undock. 10-60 seconds to go to sleep. 5-10 minutes from hibernate. 2-3 minutes to connect to a new network. Utterly intolerable.

I don’t know if it’s Sony’s fault or Microsoft’s, but I don’t care.

Since then, Jeremy tells me, the Sony has gone mostly unused. I’m really looking forward to spending some hands-on time with this Vaio, and I’ll let you know what I find out.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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