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

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?

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

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

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  • DDanster

    I also own a Vaio.

    First order of business is to get rid of all the CRAPWARE sony installs on your PC. I'm talking about over a dozen different pieces of software that some vendor pays sony to install on your brand-spanking new Vaio.

    After ganking all the crapware, it did perform better.
    • There's a niche for crapware-free PC sales

      Some smart vendor somewhere should start offering an option, or a line of PC's that ship purely with stock windows on them. No crapware. None.

      No offers for dialup that no one wants.

      No free trials of a dozen things you don't need.

      No layers of oem-ware on top of stuff the OS already knows how to do.

      I think iBuyPower can give you a PC loaded roughly like that, but one of the majors could still make major waves by offering it.

      Setup would be easier, the computer would be more reliable and run faster... customers would be happier. You'd sell enough additional volume to more than make up for whatever pennies per unit they got from the crapware.
      • The problem is...

        spark555 wrote:

        [i]Some smart vendor somewhere should start offering an option, or a line of PC's that ship purely with stock windows on them. No crapware. None.[/i]

        The margins on PC hardware are so small that the income derived from placing crapware on the desktop often comprises a significant fraction of the manufacturer's profit.
      • Filling the niche...

        [b]Some smart vendor somewhere should start offering an option, or a line of PC's that ship purely with stock windows on them. No crapware. None.

        No offers for dialup that no one wants.

        No free trials of a dozen things you don't need.

        No layers of oem-ware on top of stuff the OS already knows how to do.[/b]

        Dell already offers computers for this particular market - the Vostro line is aimed at small to medium business' that want a decent machine with little to no garbage to get rid of. Something you can plug in, install what you need and get on with life.

        Their Vostro laptops are pretty decent for the money. They feel fairly solid, not cheap or flimsy. The OS is fairly clean - only comes with their Dell assistant program preloaded.
      • Dell has a crapware free option

        I bought a Dell Inspiron 1420 last year off the Oulet store they have. Basic bare bones software install no anti-virus, no trial ware of any kind. It was great deal and the machine smokes with a few options dedicated graphics,2.2 ghz, 2gb ram and a 7200 rpm HD.
  • Snap

    That sound you hear is the sound of a new kind of
    benchmark. It's one where the larger experience of
    computer use forms the criteria for opinion, not a Windows
    "self analysis" or a frame rate on Crysis.

    Is this becoming clear? What's wrong with the Vaio? An
    explosion in complexity? A hardware glitch? Open
    architecture itself?

    Who cares.

    It's broken, it doesn't work, and the company(s) that sold it
    will not get return business from thinking users.
    Professional people are not interested in hobby kits. We
    simply don't have time for endless troubleshooting.
    Another attempt to blow smoke, shuffle blame, misdirect,
    or mitigate is truly unhelpful. When it's coming from a
    myopic and Windows centric source, it is conspicuously
    self serving.

    In 2008, a switch to Apple is effectively never reversed.
    This particular benchmark has to be addressed before any
    more intra-Windows slap fights go on. To have any
    credibility in this year's dialogue around technology, there
    is a new requirement. One must engage in some level of
    peer review between competing commercial systems. Any
    blog that presume to champion the user has to answer one
    question before any other.

    To switch, or not to switch, that is the question.
    Harry Bardal
    • I don't think you get it

      Who cares? A lot of people do care about making correct decisions; knowing what is wrong is the first step in making informed decisions and being and intelligent person/consumer. That is the whole point of this experiment / analysis; to find out what is really wrong with this computer. If people unintelligently point fingers then they become part of the ignorant masses.

      Recently my older cousin came to me saying his Vista laptop had a problem where Outlook 07 was performing very slowly, taking 2-3 seconds to load messages, open reply windows and open menus. Influenced by the negative press surrounding Vista he deduced that because Outlook worked for him on XP that Vista must just suck. This is the typical shallow minded assessment. I asked him what particularly he had heard about Vista and why specifically it "sucked". He just said he had read it sucked. I fixed the problem which turned out to be the integration of Google Desktop into Outlook. Google Desktop came pre-installed on the system and after un-installing it everything was working nearly instantaneously. I didn't say anything to him about his previous unwarranted finger pointing but I hope he learns not to make rash uninformed judgments anymore.

      As for the the comparison of Macs and PCs, sometimes Macs are just not suited for certain situations and are not feasible for some people. I think all these different OSs are fine and have their own respective positives and negatives but this is obviously not that discussion.
      • Google Desktop

        I have yet to run into a machine with Google Desktop that did not run like a molasses in January (Vista and XP). After uninstalling the Google crapware, those systems ran fine. It is now my standard procedure to remove all Google crap from our PCs, other than perhaps the toolbar. Even the toolbar goes if the user can't give me a reason why they need it. Google is certainly not the only offender, but is definitely one of the worst.

        I have asked the question many times on various Vista threads about why someone's particular PC runs so poorly with Vista. The invariable answer is that "Vista sucks", yet in my experience it is generally caused by something else, like the Google Desktop. I admit that it might take some modicum of skill to diagnose why a PC does not run well, but for many it is just easier to trash Vista, or perhaps serves some other political agenda.
      • Self Promotion

        I'm sorry, you misunderstood, my post was not meant as
        an opportunity for you to display your prowess at fixing
        computers. In the same way, our friend with the Vaio
        didn't ask Ed for his help. I'm afraid you are the one who
        doesn't get it.

        I understand computers are complex and may need the
        odd tweak, but for many this is not their hobby, nor is it
        an opportunity for self aggrandizement. They have better
        things to do, and if another platform offers a faster path to
        that, it won't matter one little bit what you're able to do for
        your cousin.

        What's better, troubleshooting or being largely trouble
        free? Macs have problems too? Well no kidding. If someone
        switches, and does not switch back however, your skills are
        bypassed. You can't talk these people back to PC usage.
        You can't argue to a medical professional that their
        computer working properly somehow denies them the
        valuable knowledge they would gain from endless
        troubleshooting. This person has quite enough education
        thanks. When it comes time that you cousin needs his
        appendix removed. Lets hope his doctor didn't spend
        medical school futzing with his Windows box.

        Is this sinking in?
        Harry Bardal
    • I agree, one should switch

      computer manufacturers, not platforms, as that in itself invites a new slew of problems that professionals should not have to endure.

      A recent call from a relative started with ?My Apple Laptop [stinks] and I?m returning it because it can?t run any of my programs!? Turns out some of her higher priced Windows programs had no Mac alternatives, and those that did she was not going to run out and re-invest in them. I told her to hang on to it as I had a solution.

      We installed Boot Camp and proceeded to load a copy of Windows XP Pro (she really likes Vista, but in keeping cost down we went this route as we acquired XP Pro at a discount thru her father?s work on a company deal they have.) and she is quite happy as she can continue to use her Widows programs without the added cost of repurchasing them, if that is even an option.

      The bottom line is that if a manufacturer does not come thru with a good product, it is by no means that the format is bad, just their implantation of it, (something you seem to miss). Switching platforms in itself can be more disruptive then just switching to a different manufacturer.

      She was going to return it and get a Dell as my wife?s laptop works great (she really likes it, and Vista, too) but we saved her the hassle of the return, repurchase, ect and gave her a working alterative, which she is comfortable with.

      Though I did get a call on Thursday night from her: she wants to upgrade to Vista.

      Go figure.
      • I have Vista running...

        on my Mac Mini using Boot Camp, and it runs well.
        Performance is very good, and I, for one, like the new
        interface, for the most part. The Start Menu is even worse
        than the one in XP (hard to believe it could be worse, but it
        is), but there are a lot of nice things that more than make up
        for it.
        • I agree

          I like the interface and have seen no issues with the performace of Vista.

          My Brother-in-law runs Vista on his MacBook and has said it runs very nicely, also.

          As for my relative who wants to upgrade to Vista, I think I will push for a full install vs upgrade as I have never really seen any OS "upgrade" as well as when compared to a clean install, though this could be a result of all the issue that are already there prior to the install, which means double the work.

          Still, the XP install is fresh enough that it may not be an issue.
      • Celebrations

        I'm not going to join you in celebrating a lack of software
        choice. I don't think the reduction of options in a market is
        a good thing. Clearly you're ok with it.

        Which OS do you get preinstalled with a Dell again? How
        about HP, Levono, Sony, Asus etc? This kind of choice is
        good enough for you? It seems it is.

        Do you think your relative is the rule or the exception?

        Seriously, what percentage do you think switches back?
        Where do you see current trends going?
        Harry Bardal
        • Are you missing the point, or just ignoring it?

          Your take on the article is that since the Sony is not running well with Vista, jump to a Mac and totally ignore Dell, HP, and other companies offerings that run Vista quite well.

          Who is celebrating a lack of software
          choice on the Apple? I was merely giving a real world scenerio of the ills of jumping platforms that you tend to ignore or dismiss as trivial, something many do not consider so.

          Not many people switch back from anything once the money is invested, so that is quite an irrelevant question. The question is how many switch in the first place?

          You seem to have taken the response quite personally: was it the part where she wanted Vista, the part where the Apple could not deliver on her needs, or the part where she wanted to switch back?

          And please fill me in where I was "OK with the reduction of options in a market"

          Or was my post threatening enough that you had to spin it for others who would read it?
          • 0s and 1s

            A logic gate doesn't know which platform it's on. To be an
            advocate on behalf of technology as a whole, is to speak
            for the logic gate first and the platform second.

            What you blithely speak of as choice, Dell HP etc. is little
            more than different shapes of extruded plastic, different
            logos, and different Chinese motherboards. Technology is
            code, first and foremost. Real differentiation only happens
            between competitors. Real competition in technology
            comes in the form of OS competition, dev environment
            competition, and app competition.

            If you concede this, then you agree that there are not
            dozens of competitors, there are only two. The switch from
            one OEM to another means virtually nothing.

            I'm not going to play "your annecdote vs my annecdote".
            it's childish. Boot Camp and Parallels are a stop gap and a
            transition tool, not a new Windows OEM. If this, and the
            current switching trend isn't obvious, there's nothing I can
            do for you.

            I'm not the least bit threatened by folks so apathetic as to
            endorse a feudal marketplace over an open one. I'm not
            the least bit threatened by folks who look back on their
            record of acquiescence and describe it as a study in free
            will. To my mind, that "shining light" isn't very bright at all.
            Harry Bardal
  • Check the BIOS and RAM

    Ed, I avoid Sony laptops like the plague because of experiences that I have had with themin the past, but there are some things that I would check beyond the obvious of decrapping the system. Download and install the latest BIOS, and then go through the BIOS setup thoroughly. It may very well be that Sony has set the defaults to maximize battery life over performance.

    Next, check the RAM and make sure that it is the right spec for the machine. I would not put it past Sony to install some cheap RAM, or it could have possibly have been done by the vendor or end user. Add a stick of slow memory to boost the RAM and the system will slow down to match it.

    After that, I would check every driver on the system. While at Sony's website to check for a new BIOS, check for new drivers for the chipset, video, etc. Start with those, and then check Windows Update for even newer versions.

    I look forward to reading your findings. So far, I have only ran into a few slow Vista machines, but have found that in every case simple common sense tweaks have cured the problems.
  • RE: A real-world Vista challenge: Can this Sony Vaio be saved?

    Google desktop has always given me issues too, both on XP and Vista. I finally switched Microsoft's desktop search on XP and I guess Vista has its own version pre-installed. Helps a lot. Even though I might use Google for internet search, they don't do a good job on the desktop.
  • RE: A real-world Vista challenge: Can this Sony Vaio be saved?

    I don't quite understand. You compare a VAIO with _Vista_ with a Mac with _Leopard_ on the OS boot times, and conclude that VAIO sucks? Miscrosoft will love you!
    • No, I didn't compare anything

      I haven't yet had my hands on this PC. The comparisons are from Jeremy Toeman and Walt Mossberg, both of whom purchased Sony machines. Jeremy says he doesn't care whether it's Sony's fault or Microsoft's, and Walt's comparison took aim at both.

      So I'm not sure what your point is.
      Ed Bott
  • So it's better believe yourself

    Don't trust the columns, believe in your own experiences.
    Whenever I read some articles that bash Windows and related products, I wonder what the motivation behind these bashers? Why do they make stupid assumption that their experiences must be the same as their readers? I bought a VAIO in February 2007, short after Vista's official launch and have used it until now. I have to say that I have got a positive experience. For some solid reasons, Vista will rule sooner or later. If Mac or Linux want to beat Windows, they'd better work hard rather than mocking.