The computer of the future…
… from 2007!
A few years ago, I’ve obtained and restored a VAIO UX VGN-UX380N Micro PC. On this website, I tell about the computer itself, how I restored it to the factory software, how i updated it and give a brief experience with some 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!
Table of Contents
Quick notice: This article was written in July of 2020. Some things software-related have been changed since. But the overall experience to get such a machine running should be roughly the same today.
Unpacking and first impressions
I purchased mine on eBay. It was described as being in good condition and came with some accessories. The person who had sold me it had packed it really well. Almost everything was present, except the carrying case and the translucent plastic sheet of the port replicator.
The computer 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).
Getting a complete system
With my purchase, there were some missing parts. I could live without a carrying case, as I’ll almost never take mine outside. But the plastic sheet of the port replicator is something I really wanted. It’s needed for the PC to be used in the port replicator. Without one, it will not stand and you’ll risk damaging the connector on the replicator.
This piece of plastic was too complex to cut or 3D-print, so I decided to buy another dock that did come with it. Luckily, a dock went up for sale on eBay in the UK. With me being in the Netherlands, this meant shipping wasn’t that expensive.
Having a complete port replicator, the computer could now also be connected to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse.
A few months later, I also found a carrying case on eBay. It was sold from France and for a good price. Having received that, I now have a complete system.
Restoring the software
The next -and by far most difficult- chapter will be about restoring the software. While the computer itself is perfectly fine and I did not even have to take it apart, the software was a different story.
When received, the computer was running Windows XP, whilst it had a Vista sticker on it and the internet stated that it should ship with Vista. My fear was, that the previous owner had downgraded to XP 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 and some of the programs are needed in order to use the handheld features.
My first impression was that the XP installation 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 cool, but I did not really want XP on it, as I wanted it to be as close as possible to when it was brand new. This meant I had to install Vista.
Unfortunately, there were no recovery disks included. Not strange, considering the computer did not come with them when new; you had to create them yourself using the VAIO Recovery Recenter program. So, I thought i would be out of luck.
But I wasn’t.
While the previous owner had downgraded to XP, 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!
Installing Vista on a device this old is not something you’ll do quickly. The recovery itself took slightly more than 2 hours, but proceeds automatically. Then, you’ll need to update it (see below).
My first impressions were that this computer was slow. Everything took long, from booting up, to opening files and even launching simple programs such as Paint or Notepad. Was it the tiny hard drive that is on its last legs? Maybe. But upon opening Task Manager, 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 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 useless.
After restoring the OS, you’ll end up with an unpatched Vista installation from around March 2007. This meant: 10 years of updates and 2 service packs to go!
Installing the first updates and SP1
A while after the computer was set up, the Windows Update icon popped up. Ah, it found out that it was missing some updates!
So I opened Windows Update and saw 95 updates ready to install. I let the computer install these (taking an hour to complete) and checked again afterwards. No updates available?!? That doesn’t seem right. We need at least a service pack (SP1) installed!
Apparently, it did not find SP1 in Windows Update. Also not after turning on Microsoft Update, which should find updates for more products. 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 be the quickest way, I waited no longer and installed it directly. This took about 2 hours, which was probably shorter than SP1.
Installing the rest of updates (Fixing “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 a common issue 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 stops with an error).
But: the internet has a solution: Install a few crucial updates first, then the calculation becomes less complex and Windows will find the rest of updates to install! The page at http://wu.krelay.de/en/vista.htm exactly 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, just installing update files also triggers an (impossible) search for updates. To get around this, you need to turn off the wi-fi, restart the computer and immediately install one of the manual updates from krelay. Then it’ll work …
After having done a few of these updates, the rest went easier and did not hang on “searching for updates” anymore. Rebooting afterwards allowed searching for the remainder of 184 updates.
These updates could be installed in about 4-5 hours. That meant, after a few days of work, Vista was fully up to date and ready to be used. Yaaay!
Creating recovery disks
The last thing to do is creating a set of recovery disks. Like I said, these were not included and you really need them in case the hard disk breaks down or you want to upgrade to an SSD.
So, I thought, well, let’s create some! Plug in a DVD burner, grab some blank disks and here you go.
But nope, like with everything with this computer, it’s not that simple.
Using Symbolic Links to fix errors
This time, the problem relies in the amount of free space on the C: drive. With all the updates of Windows, only 5.5 GB was left free. And that’s not enough, as the recovery disk program copies portions of the recovery partition to C: and needs to create an image out of it. In total, about 8.5GB of free disk space is required. Except that it’s impossible to free that up – all space is taken up by Windows and the bundled programs.
However, after thinking for a while, I came up with a clever solution. Like I sometimes did on Linux servers, you can create symbolic links! These are some kind of shortcuts which redirect directories to external drives!
For example: if you have a program that uses c:\myfolder\myfile, but there is not enough disk space on C:, you can create a folder named someFolder on D: and create a symbolic link to it from the original location on C: .
Then myfolder is not actually a folder on C: anymore, but merely a shortcut to the someFolder on the D: drive. And even more important: the program can still see that folder from the original location!
I installed Link Shell Extension to create the symbolic link. I plugged in an USB thumb drive, made a link using “Pick link source” on the external drive, and used “Drop as: symbolic link” on the folder C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\temp (which is a folder created and used only by the recovery disk tool, not by Windows itself).
Creating the disks then proceeded without errors 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 VAIO-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 painfully slow, Youtube playback stutters and forget about watching Netflix on it. And why would you, as more modern devices can do this much better.
As for games, there are some interesting things to see. First of all, this is not a gaming machine. It was oriented at business users and therefore only had integrated graphics.
Don’t expect any modern games to work, except for some open source remakes of older games. These open source games actually work quite well! They shine on single-core systems and get a decent FPS to be playable. The controls aren’t that great though, as the mouse pointer is not responsive enough for smooth gameplay and the keyboard is, well just, tiny…
Nevertheless, it’s cool to see some modern programs run on it. I’ve created 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!