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…
When 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.
… 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!