Sony has now released BIOS upgrades to most of their Hardware Virtualization (VX) capable Vaio computers. Visit Sony’s eSupport centre (link) and enter your model number to see if yours has an update. This move, which goes against everything Sony has said, proves that if enough people voice their discontent with bad corporate behaviour, corporations actually do the right thing.
Sony confirms they will continue disabling Hardware Virtualization (also known as VT) in the BIOS of all their Vaio computers even after the release of Windows 7 making the new Windows XP Mode unavailable to all Vaio owners.
A couple of months ago I discovered that in spite of the hardware of my Sony Vaio laptop fully supporting Hardware Virtualization, Sony has decided to disable this feature in the BIOS making it unavailable. There has been much chatter and theorizing about this on the net but no clear conclusions, statements or solutions have been provided. So today I contacted Sony directly to find out exactly what was going on. What I found was both surprising and infuriating.
A quick summary of the back story: I bought a Sony Vaio VGN-SR140D laptop last fall and have been very happy with it. That was until I tried to enable Hardware Virtualization so I could run a virtual machine on it for beta testing purposes. It turned out that even though the processor fully supports this feature, Sony has disabled it in the BIOS making it impossible to run any type of virtualization on the computer. The problem is there is no mention of this in any documentation available about the computer or its product siblings. For this reason it is fair to say the computer does not perform to specifications.
To get to the bottom of this I contacted Sony customer support. After a lot of back and forth, explaining and some feeble attempts at tricking me into giving up claiming that “hardware virtualization has been disabled because there is a conflict with this type of functionality with other hardware in the computer” I was passed on to a high level tech located somewhere on the US west coast, and it is from him I got all the nasty details.
Hardware Virtualization will not be available on Sony Vaios. Period!
Right off the bat the tech told me flat out that Hardware Virtualization not only is not available on older or current Vaio models, both laptops and desktops, but that there will be no support for Hardware Virtualization in future models either! When I mentioned that this would become a hot topic once Windows 7 with its much talked about Virtual XP feature is released in November of this year he responded “Even when we start shipping Vaios with Windows 7, hardware virtualization will be disabled.” And he continues: “Sony has no plans to make this function available in any of our computers.”
Hardware Virtualization is disabled to cut cost!
This of course begged the obvious question of why: “It’s part of our licensing deal with Intel,” he explained: “To retain a competitive edge they sell the boards to Sony with a guarantee from us that we will disable the feature on all our computers. That way we get the boards at a discount and they (Intel) can sell them at full price to other computer manufacturers who want the feature enabled.” At this point I mentioned that I had just been in touch with Dell who confirmed that all their new XPS laptops have Hardware Virtualization enabled and that these computers on average retail for $400 less than the comparable Sony ones. “VT (Hardware Virtualization) is a fairly obscure function that not many people use. Corporate feels that it’s not worth it. That is in spite of us techs recommending they enable it” was his somewhat surprising response.
It’s not on the box, so you can’t return it
As I promised in my first post about this situation I am hell bent on returning my laptop for a full refund claiming either defect or that it does not perform to spec. I asked the tech about this and he at once told me they will not refund the computer under any circumstances: “It doesn’t say on the box that the computer supports Virtualization so they (corporate) feel that you have no case. If it’s not on the box you won’t get your money back is where they stand.” I pointed out that if you look up the specs of the processor on Intel’s website or go to a store and buy it on its own the spec sheet clearly states that it has Intel Virtualization Technology. To that he had no answer. I then pointed out that the box doesn’t say anything about stereo sound or colour screen either but that if they shipped computers that only had mono sound and black and white screens people would be furious. His response was the same as before: “Virtualization is something few people use and corporate doesn’t think this is a real issue. And they are willing to take the hit of bad publicity if people start to complain. They are willing to lose customers over this!” In other words they don’t think enough people will voice their frustration or make life difficult for them so they are willingly screwing their customers to turn a profit. Classy.
Class action lawsuit anyone?
It seems abundantly clear that Sony has deliberately disabled Hardware Virtualization on their Vaio computers to save money. It is equally clear that they have made no effort to inform their customers of this. As a result many customers, myself included, have purchased computers with the perception that they would perform to the specifications provided by the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers – in this case Intel) only to find they do not. Any rational person would agree that under these circumstances Sony should have provided some form of written information or warning stating that in spite of hardware support, Hardware Virtualization has been disabled in the same way that they would have warned that in spite of the screen being able to display colours, the screens on certain computers would only display black and white. Now I’m no lawyer but I think the customers have a valid case for a class action lawsuit here. The argument that Sony is in the clear just because the box doesn’t state that the computer does Hardware Virtualization is logically defeated by the fact that the processor itself has this functionality as one of its main features and selling points.
So, does anyone know a good class action lawyer willing to take on this case and go up against a major multinational corporation? And does anyone want to join forces to show Sony that when you treat your customers like crap they fight back? In the meantime I’m taking my computer back to the store I bought it from and make the guys there sweat for selling me a computer that doesn’t work!