Speeding up a sluggish Sony

Speeding up a sluggish Sony

Summary: Over the past year, I've read nothing but horror stories about Sony's Vaio running Windows Vista. Over the past weekend, I finally had a chance to see one of these allegedly accursed machines up close and personal, courtesy of digital media guru and blogger Jeremy Toeman. Ironically, the well-used machine I received was running Windows XP and was practically unusable. Here's what happened when I replaced it with a clean installation of Windows Vista.


Last week, Jeremy Toeman’s accursed Sony Vaio arrived here, and over the weekend I had a chance to get my hands on it for the first time. (If you missed the back story, read the first installment that I posted earlier this month.) The short version: Jeremy, a digital media expert and blogger, replaced an older Sony with a $2500 Vaio running Vista Business last spring, and the experience was so awful that he basically wrote it off and purchased a new Macbook. Like Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, Jeremy found the Vaio unacceptably slow and inscrutably buggy.

After reading a few of Jeremy’s posts, I e-mailed him and offered to take a look at the machine. This post represents some preliminary observations after two days of working with this hardware.

I couldn’t find a way to restore the original factory configuration. The machine includes a 6GB+ recovery partition, but the package I received didn’t include the recovery media, and Sony (apparently) doesn’t make it available for download. That’s probably just as well. [Update: Found the secret (press F10 at boot screen), so will be able to do this after all.] Anyway, Sony is sending me a new, boxed Vaio for evaluation this week, so I’ll be able to report on the retail experience when it arrives.

Before shipping the machine off to me, Jeremy noted that he had wiped out Vista and installed Windows XP. Ironically, the machine with XP installed was practically unusable. My first step was to do a complete backup using Windows Home Server, but as soon as the backup began, the system slowed to a crawl. After clicking the Start button, I had to wait 30 seconds for the Start menu to open. Opening Task Manager or Performance Monitor took two minutes. The CPU wasn’t particularly stressed (7% average usage) nor was disk IO or memory. I finally began killing processes, and after killing a couple of background programs the system stopped its sluggish ways and the backup completed normally.

With the backup complete, I decided to wipe the disk clean and install Vista Business from scratch, using a fresh copy with Service Pack 1 integrated into it. I downloaded more than 30 drivers, utilities, and updates for this model from Sony’s website as well. (I’ll document the entire process in a follow-up post.) The results were eye-opening.

Jeremy’s original complaint was that the Vaio took as much as five minutes to boot up. With a clean install of Vista Business and enough custom drivers to enable all installed hardware devices, the system was a rocket.  Boot time to the logon screen was 33 seconds. I was able to swipe a finger in the fingerprint reader and get to a fully responsive desktop at exactly 40 seconds. It made a wireless connection almost instantaneously and loaded web pages in Firefox with no delay. Total elapsed time from the appearance of the BIOS screen to active web browsing: 51 seconds. Every one of the programs included with Windows Vista opened quickly and ran well, with no discernible delays.

That’s pretty impressive, and exactly what I would expect from a system with this Vaio’s specs. The VGNSZ460N packs a lot of power into a sub-four-pound package, with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2 GHz, 2 GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 graphics processor driving a WXGA (1280 x 800) screen. With that hardware and a clean copy of Vista, there’s no slowdown to be noted.

Next, I loaded all of the Vaio notebook utilities (a camera capture utility, some power management drivers, a handful of network tools). With that extra work at startup, the system needed a few extra seconds, but that’s all. It now takes 45 seconds to get to the logon screen, another 5 seconds to log on using the fingerprint reader, and another 8 seconds to make a wireless connection, open Firefox, and load a web page. That’s still under a minute consistently, and I did nothing out of the ordinary to achieve those times.

My tentative conclusion? There’s nothing defective about this particular hardware, and nothing wrong with Sony’s design. After two days of use, I have noted a few interesting issues and annoyances that I’ll cover in the next post, after I get a chance to speak with the folks at Sony. And now that I have a full image backup of this system running the way it should, I’m dying to restore the original configuration so I can see why it made such a terrible impression on its owner.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software

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  • So....

    Too many dumbed-down generic drivers in use?
    • Don't know yet

      But I suspect it's not just drivers but crapware. That's next on the list.
      Ed Bott
  • Not surprised

    I have a similarly spec Dell and its very fast, Mac's are pretty but I had to give up on them after numerous hardware issues. 3 logic boards and 2 hard drives on 2 different (1 ibook and 1 Powerbook)laptops was ridiculous and Apple still denies any problems with those machine despite being sued in Belgium, over exactly the same problems. My own experience with Vista has been very good. Some driver issues when I first installed it, but they've been taken care of with updates. Many issues with Vista arise from the hardware manufacturers not writing drivers. By the way, I just upgraded a "Vista Capable" Thinkpad R60 to Vista, I added 2 gigs of Ram for $40 and it runs great.
  • RE: Speeding up a sluggish Sony

    On most Sony laptops, if the restore parttition is still there, all you need to do is hit F10 durring a cold boot to get it to boot from the restore partition. Whereupon it should present you a menu of restore options.

    • Thanks

      I discovered that option earlier today (amazingly, I couldn't find it in an hour of searching through Sony's website, and I couldn't find it when I looked through the 239-page manual over the weekend. Just checked again: nope, not there! Ironically, the VAIO Recovery guide is "non-printed documentation" available only from the original factory Windows installation. So if your system gets hosed and you need to restore the recovery partition, your instructions are unavailable. Smart!
      Ed Bott
      • Yeah, but Ed...

        With the recovery partition, that means all the crapware you just made sure wasn't on there, is reinstalled along with Vista. The same junk you just spent whatever time it was to remove.

        I used to buy Sony, but I've heard they have the most bloatware of all OEMs. Which is no excuse since you'll pay more for one of those over a Dell or a HP.
        hasta la Vista, bah-bie
        • I thought that was the point?

          Ed has proved the machine runs fine, so he wants to put it into the original setup that was compromised to find out the source of the problem.
  • RE: Speeding up a sluggish Sony

    Unfortunately, most consumers will be faced with using the system in the "out of the box" state. I always clean install a new system, but most people simply don't have the expertise to do so. It's very hard to compare a system that has been clean installed with one that has not, but there are obvious differences in performance.

    The only real test is one that uses the "out of the box" config, since that's where most vendors manage to screw it up. Hardware is hardware these days, so it's really only the software that matters.

    • Yes, but...

      I agree, most consumers don't have the skill to do a clean install. But when you do assess the consumer product as purchased at retail, you are assessing the entire package: hardware, software, drivers, and especially crapware. Ultimately, you're judging how well the hardware maker took care of its customers. Some do a great job, some are terrible.

      One unfortunate thing that comes out of the Windows business model is that people buy a retail computer and have a bad experience and say, "Vista sucks." When the reality is that a nearly identical computer put together by someone who respected their customers would have given them a much better experience.
      Ed Bott
      • Agreed

        Why don't vendors give consumers the ability to opt out of crapware? I would gladly pay a fee to ensure a clean install of Vista. Unfortunately, on my Vaio, it wasn't an option, and moreover, I opted not to do a fresh install of Vista because of problems that I'd read about on the web with finding drivers. Now, as I know otherwise, I fear that it's just too much of a hassle. Besides, my Vista runs surprisingly well all things equal.
      • OEM Vista

        OK. I have a 2 month old Sony Vaio laptop, Centrino with a core 2 duo (1.73 Ghz) and 2 GB of RAM. I uninstalled the programs I knew were crapware and left the programs I felt were possibly Vaio related and the ones I haven't reaserched yet as to whether they are necessary for Windows (Home Premium). There are still about 65 proccesses (all users) running after logging on. System runs good, but....

        Assume I want to do a clean install, but I only have the OEM Vista that came pre-installed with the computer. Do I have any options without buying a new license? I may be able to borrow a Vista CD (upgrade or full install) but I still need to use the OEM license.

        Thx, Bob.
    • Surely not......

      "Unfortunately, most consumers will be faced with using the system in the "out of the box" state. I always clean install a new system, but most people simply don't have the expertise to do so."

      I take it that this is Microsoft Windows you are talking about, the OS that is so easy anyone can use it? It can't be true. :o)
      • You have severe comprehension issues

        Anybody can USE not INSTALL. Those are very different things. Installs are typically handled by system integrators, not users. Next question?

        If you want to write something negative about MS - pick a sensible argument, and there are plenty to be made, but people like you spewing nonsense give every MS basher a bad name.
  • There is a disconnect here, suspect some external difference....

    If you look at the previous article, they are quoting a vista startup time of 3 minutes 20 seconds, and this article is talking 51 seconds.

    That implies there is something besides the OS and hardware different. One obvious cause is crapware, and I agree with that (2 minutes difference, really?).

    I'm willing to bet there is something else going on as well, perhaps how wireless is configured in the old environment versus the new environment? If you've got wireless configured to look for preferred networks it cannot connect to, or connect really slowly, it'll take a while to timeout and start looking at other alternatives.
    • I'll be able to tell...

      ...when I restore the original factory image (I cringe just thinking of it).
      Ed Bott
      • Wait !!

        So you mean to tell me that Vista is actually.....fast ?!?!

        As the only defender of Vista at my job, I am glad to hear that Vista isnt that bad when installed correctly on a machine with decent specs and a IT professional. I do not enjoy reading horribly written "tech blogs" from "experts" telling me how bad vista runs on a 486 DX processer (that was a joke but you get the idea, poor hardware equals poor system performance). I have a Gateway MT3422 laptop with Vista home premium with 1GB installed. Run's just fine. Yes, there were issues in the beginning and yes MSFT shouldve ignored Intel instead of apperantly trying to kill there Windows platform but through it all Windows Vista is coming around slowly but surely. As new hardware is released in the upcoming year then consumers will see what Vista is about, which is actually a pretty good OS.

        Lastly, lets all not forget the past. How many of us disliked or hated XP ? How many of us, gamers especially, went back to Win98 instead of using the bloated XP ? History is repeating itself but sadly the differnce now as opposed to ten years ago is that the internet is filled with poorly written tech articles proclaiming Vista sloppy or bloated. The internet makes unknowns,known and gives a voice to those who are idoitc.

        Ed, would you agree with above statements ?
        • Yes, I would agree with that

          I think you've done a pretty good job of summarizing what I've been saying for several months here.
          Ed Bott
          • Microsoft and Vista operations

            The problem isn't Vista, the problem is Microsoft in not allowing Vista's operating system's Upgrade CD to be installed on a clean partition, but in forcing users who aren't experienced in installing operating systems and software to be forced in installing Vista overtop an existing operating system.

            With Windows XP's Upgrade CD, you only needed to prove ownership of a qualifying previous operating system.

            With Windows Vista's Upgrade CD, you must upgrade overtop of an existing working operating system or you need to buy Windows Vista Full Version. That's the problem.

            You can't do a clean install, format and install of Windows Vista.

            And also many Companies have been slow to provide drivers for existing devices to run under Vista.

            I heard that you can't get above 54 MBs in speed in a home network environment, while you can get above that in Windows XP.
          • NBM's don't wanna hear that...

            Since they have no problems. Only other people do.

            Their favorite weapon? The upgrade to XP from 98 - 2000 excuse.
            hasta la Vista, bah-bie
          • Wrong, and wrong

            "You can't do a clean install, format and install of Windows Vista."

            Yes you can. I just did. You can't use an upgrade product ID to do a clean install. That's different.

            "I heard that you can't get above 54 MBs in speed in a home network environment, while you can get above that in Windows XP."

            You heard wrong.
            Ed Bott