virtualization Windows 7

Sony Confirms No Hardware Virtualization on Vaio Computers Past, Present or Future

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!

virtualization Windows 7

Without Hardware Virtualization Sony Vaio Laptops Do Not Perform to Spec!

For the last 8 months I’ve been working almsot exclusively off my Sony Vaio SR140D – the laptop I purchased with the revenue from my book. And until recently I have had nothing but good things to say about it. That was until I needed to run a virtual OS on it. Turns out that for reasons no sane and logical person could ever figure out, Sony has disabled hardware virtualization on all their Vaio laptops – this in spite of full hardware support. Now I’m not a lawyer but since virtualization is supported by the expensive Intel processor and Sony has decided to disable this function in the BIOS without warning about this in the specs for the computer I think it’s a fair claim that the whole line of laptops do not perform to spec. And If this is not fixed very soon I urge all owners of Vaio laptops to return them for a full refund for this very reason!

Hardware Virtualization is Supported on a Sony Vaio…

Intel Processor Identification UtilityWhen I started looking for a laptop back in the fall of 2008 I had a number of requirements: It had to be small (13.3” screen), light and powerful. I’m also a big proponent of future proofing so I did a lot of research on the capabilities of the processor to ensure that when I encountered unusual situations that required above-standard specs I would be able to get this from my laptop as well. As a result I narrowed my search down to laptops with the Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 or above processor. Not only were these processors based on the new 45nm technology making them faster and more energy efficient than their predecessors but they also had full support for 64bit operating systems and hardware virtualization. This last bit was paramount because as a beta tester I knew that somewhere down the line I would need to run virtual operating systems on my computer to do proper testing.

After much pining and tons of research I landed on the Sony Vaio VGN-SR140D – it was small, light, powerful, full featured and had the right processor. Before buying it I read all the specs on both Sony’s own site and in multiple reviews and store listings and saw nothing about hardware virtualization being disabled so I figured like any sane person would that this meant the computer would let me use the processor the way it was designed if and when the time came. To make double sure I ran the Intel Processor Identification Utility on a store model and as expected it stated that Intel Virtualization Technology was supported.

Done deal.

… But Sony Has Disabled Virtualization in the BIOS

Flash forward to May 2009 and I was in for a big and unpleasant surprise. Needing to run some tests on Expression Web 3 for my upcoming book I set up a virtual PC on my laptop to run XP inside my current OS. But when I tried to start the virtualization environment I got an error message saying that hardware virtualization was disabled in the BIOS and asking me to enable it. Sure thing I thought and spent the next hour trying to figure out how to access the BIOS on my laptop in the first place (tip to Vaio owners: To access the BIOS you have to hit F1 or F2 when the VAIO screen flashes).

Once I did get into the BIOS I was flabbergasted. The BIOS on this laptop is so stunted it is really not useful for anything but setting the system time and selecting a booting device. And nowhere was there any virtualization settings.

A quick search on Google told me I should have been more vigilant in my research: Users all over the world have reported for some time that Sony has stunted all their Vaio laptops and turned off hardware virtualization. And in spite of heroic efforts from hacks to full on BIOS rewrites users have had little to no success enabling the feature without risking killing their laptops in the process. But most surprisingly Sony has been beligerent in their refusal to even address the issue of why virtualization has been disabled and have provided zero information on whether this feature will be enabled in the future.

No Virtualization Means the Computer Does Not Perform to Specifications

So it turns out no Vaio laptop allows hardware virtualization in spite of full support for this feature from the processor. This is because Sony has deliberately (or ignorantly) disabled the feature. I can imagine two scenarios that may explain this bizarre situation:

Either the BIOS on the newer Vaios with the new processors that support hardware virtualization is left over from older versions with processors that did not support this technology and they simply forgot or were too lazy to update the BIOS.

Or Sony deliberately disabled the feature in some half-brained effort to force people who want the feature to pay top dollar for a more advanced model.

The problem with the latter is that to my knowledge not even the top-of-the-line Sony laptop allows for virtualization so my money is on the first option.

Regardless, any fair minded, logical and intelligent person will agree that when the hardware supports a feature and there is no explicit information warning that this feature has been disabled, one can assume that the feature will work properly. And since there is no information in the documentation or spec sheets for these computers stating that hardware virtualization has been disabled in spite of the processor supporting it, it is fair to say the computer is not performing to specifications.

Fix it or I’m Sending it Back!

Where does that leave us? The answer should be simple. Just like if you had bought a new 1080p HDTV only to discover that for whatever reason the manufacturer decided to turn off the colour feature leaving you with only black and white images without warning about this, a laptop that has hardware virtualization disabled in the BIOS in spite of hardware support without the customer being warned about this is by definition not performing to specifications and should be returned. That is unless the manufacturer gets its head screwed on straight and fixes the problem immediately.

I know for a fact that Sony is well aware of this problem but so far they have not lifted a finger to do anything about it. So here’s my ultimatum: I need hardware virtualization enabled on my Vaio VGN-SR140D on or before June 1st. If Sony has not coughed up a viable solution to this problem by then, I am taking my computer back to the store and demanding a full refund of the purchase price claiming the computer does not perform to specifications. This is unfortunate because I love my laptop and I’m having a hard time finding a replacement, but I will not stand for this kind of disrespect where customer service is concerned.

Why should you care? Windows 7 is just around the corner!

I’m sure a lot of people are reading this thinking “seriously dude, why do you care. It’s not like normal people need hardware virtualization anyway.” Well, here’s some news for you and for Sony: When Windows 7 rolls out before the end of this year, the support calls from Vaio owners frustrated with not being able to turn on virtualization are going to go through the roof. Why? Because Windows 7 comes packaged with Virtual XP – an application that lets everyone run a fully working version of the old operating system within Windows 7 thus letting them use older applications that don’t run properly in Vista and Windows 7 environments. This is a huge and revolutionary feature in Windows 7 and a big selling point and unless Sony gets their act together there’s going to be a long line of people wanting to return their laptops come December.

The countdown starts NOW!