The computer of the future…
… from 13 years ago!
This page is all about my adventures with the VAIO UX VGN-UX380N Micro PC. It covers the unit itself, how I set it up and my experience with a few programs and games on it.
Take a seat and grab a coffee before you read it; it’s quite a long story but well worth to read!
Unpacking and first impressions
The guy who had sold me the unit had packaged it really well. Almost everything was present, except the carrying case and the translucent plastic sheet of the port replicator.
The unit itself is in really good condition. Only a few scratches on the outside and it still has a screen protector on it. Hell, even the battery still holds a charge and lasts about 70% compared to a new one! This is really cool, as a lot of the units up on sale are either broken, noticably worn or just ridiculously overpriced. My unit is perfectly fine and went for sale for a reasonable price, considering how rare these are ($230).
As for the missing parts: I can live without the carrying case, as I’ll almost never take mine outside and it doesn’t hold much value as a collectible. But: the plastic sheet missing was actually a serious thing. It meant that the PC could not stay up in the port replicator (which i’ll from now on call “dock”) and I risked damaging the dock’s connector if I were to put it in with something else behind it.
As the piece of plastic was far too complex to cut or 3D-print, I decided to buy another dock that did come with this plastic piece. Luckily, a dock went up on eBay in the UK, which was a lot closer to me than the US, where the PC came from. This meant the shipping wasn’t that expensive.
With the dock now having its plastic sheet, the unit was fully usable as if I had gotten it brand new in 2007.
The software: Not quite the original
The next -and by far longest- part will be about the software. While the unit itself is perfectly fine and I did not even have to take it apart, the software was a whole different story.
As i had seen in the pictures of the eBay ad, the unit was running Windows XP, whilst it had a Vista sticker on it and the whole internet stated that the 390N would only ship with Vista. My fear was, that the previous owner had installed XP himself and had removed all (or at least some) of the original Sony applications. That would be problematic, as it’s almost impossible to find these online nowadays and some of the programs are really needed in order to make the device function properly.
My first impression was that the XP install performed pretty well and luckily contained most of the Sony applications, including the Touch Launcher, the Zoom utility (to make things larger on the screen) and the Camera Capture utility (needed for the capture button on the top right). That was at least cool, but still, some things were missing. Like any of the media tools and the whole driver + software for the Cingular WWAN module. I also did not really want XP on it, i wanted it as close as possible to when it was stock, came just out of the factory. This meant I had to install Vista. But how?
My first thought were the included CD’s. The unit came with a few CDs. Two driver packs, but these were for XP (see the other page TODO). A “Vista upgrade disk”, as the owner stated it, but this was a Vista Home Premium Express upgrade meant only for other models that acutally shipped with XP from the factory. Why the original owner bought this, I’ve got no idea. but hey: it may be handy in the future.
This meant there were no recovery disks included. Not strange, considering the unit did not ship with them and you had to create these yourself using the VAIO Recovery program. So, I almost seemed out of luck.
But I wasn’t.
While the previous owner had indeed installed XP himself, he had left the original recovery partition intact. This meant, that just by pressing the F10 key at startup, I could launch the built-in recovery mode and reinstall the original Vista OS from scratch. Bingo!
Vista restored. Is this all of it?
So, you may think that was it. But hell no, here’s just where the adventure started! Installing Vista on a device like this is not something which you’ll do in 35 minutes. The recovery itself took more than 2 hours, and after that, I ended up with an unpatched Vista install from around March 2007. This meant: 10 years of updates and 2 service packs to go!
My first impressions were that the unit was slow. Everything took soo long, from starting it up, to opening files and even launching simple programs such as Paint or Notepad. Was it the tiny hard drive? Probably. But there was something else slowing it down: The bundled trial of Norton antivirus 2007. Ugh, shame you Sony, to put this crapware on a $1700 device!
After removing Norton, things got a lot better. I could actually explore it for a bit and saw lots of other programs installed as well. Most of these are trials, some of them are not. Microsoft Streets & Trips 2006 was probably the best non-trial program installed, but in 2020, it’s gotten almost completely useless.
Installing the first updates and SP1
A while after the unit was set up, the Windows Update icon popped up. Ah, it found out that it was 10 years behind in time!
So I opened Windows Update and saw some 95 updates ready to install. I let the unit install these (taking an hour to complete) and checked again afterwards. Almost no updates?!? That doesn’t seem right. We need at least a service pack (SP1) installed!
Apparently, it did not find SP1 in the Windows Update panel. Also not after turning on Microsoft Update, which should find updates for more programs. This meant, that I had to manually install SP1. After having it downloaded from Microsoft, it took multiple hours to install. How long exactly, I dont know. But I left it instaling overnight and the next morning it was done.
SP2, here we go!
After SP1 was installed I immediatley downloaded and installed SP2 from Microsoft as well. Knowing how slow the device was and that installing it manually would probably the quickest way, I waited no longer and installed it myself. This took about 2 hours, which was probably shorter than SP1.
“Searching for updates…”
After SP2 was installed, it was time to install the remainder of updates (from 2009-2017). My first attempt was to let Windows Update search for these. But it kept searching, and searching, and searching… it did not complete the search after a whole night. Bummer!
However, I googled this problem and it seems to be common for Vista as well as older installations of Windows 7. Apparently, there have been so many updates released over time, that the algorithm that decides which updates you need to install, needs to make such a complex calculation that it will never finish (or runs out of memory and gives an error).
But: the internet has a solution: Install a few crucial updates first, then the calculation becomes less complex and will complete with the rest of the updates to install! The page at http://wu.krelay.de/en/vista.htm shows which updates you need to install, and in which order. Just download them, and see the standalone updater search for updates forever, as well?!?
Apparently, it also kicks in this impossible calculation. For manual updates to work, you need to stop the Windows Update service, start it again and immedialty install one of the manual updates from krelay. Then, and only then, it’ll work …
After having done a few of these updates, the rest went easier and did not hang on “searching for updates”. Rebooting afterwards allowed searching for the remainder … 184 updates.
But these could be installed in 4-5 hours. That meant, that Vista was fully up to date and ready to be used. Yaaay!
But there’s one more thing.
Creating recovery disks. Easy as 1,2,3? Nope!
The recovery disks. Like I said, these were not included and you really need these in case the hard disk breaks down (or you want to upgrade to an SSD).
So, I thought, well, let’s create some! Plugin a DVD burner, grab some blank disks and here you go.
But nope, like with everything with this unit, it’s not that simple.
This time, the problem relies in the amount of free space on the C: drive. With all the updates of the past decade, only 5.5 GB was still free. And that’s not enough, as the (silly) recovery disk program copies portions of the 6.2GB recovery partition to C: *AND* needs to create an ISO out of it. In total, about 8.5GB of free disk space would be needed. And it’s impossible to get that – all space is taked up by crucial Windows components (winsxs, anyone?) and the bundled programs.
However, thinking for a while, I came up with a clever solution. Like I sometimes did on Linux servers, you can make symbolic links! These are some kind of shortcuts, but programs can access the files behind them at their original location!
For example: if you have a program that creates c:\myfolder\myfile, but there is not enough space on C:, you can create a folder someOtherFolder on D: and make a symbolic link to it from C: . Then myfolder is not actually a folder on C:, but merely a shortcut to the someOtherFolder on the D: drive. And even more important: the program can access that folder from C:\myfolder as if it was just there!
This is what i did to create the disks. I made a link from the folder C:\Users\Arjan\AppData\Roaming\temp (which is a folder created and used only by the recovery disk tool, not by Windows itself) to F:\VAIO and off we go.
Creating the disks was then an easy job and after having them burnt, I imaged them for safekeeping and setting up the Recovery Media Service – in case you want to restore your own VGN-UX.
Now that we have the recovery disks, all updates installed and a fresh image made of the entire disk (with Macrium Reflect), it’s time to start using it!
Using it and playing some games
I’ve tried to use a few programs and play a few older games on it. To keep it short: the performance is usually not adequate to do any modern things with it. Browsing the web is tremendously slow, Youtube playback stutters and forget about watching Netflix on it. And why would you want to, other devices like the iPad do this so much better that it’s just not worth it.
As for the games, here are some cool things to see. Don’t expect any modern games to work, except for some open source remakes of older games such as RCT2 and TTD. These open source rebuilds actually work really well! They shine on single-core systems such as this one and get decent FPS to be enjoyable. The controls aren’t that great though, the mouse pointer is not responsive enough for smooth gameplay and the keyboard is just, tiny…
Nevertheless, it’s cool to see some programs run on it. I’ve created a few screenshots and a video of it in action:
Wrapping it all up
This was a long story, and I really appreciate if you’ve read all of it. But in the end, I’ve got a perfectly fine UMPC running all of its original software in full glory. It was well worth it and I still think it is one of the most forthstriving devices of the late 2000s. I only wish that devices like this were more user-friendly, as you could have done so much more with it if it included a faster processor and an SSD. But still, Sony showed us a glimpse in the future of an always-connected world in which we seamlessly switch between devices and screen sizes. Thanks for reading!