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  Stephen's Story  
     
This is a true story related to demonstrate how good folks can make bad choices, especially when they are ignorant of the choices available - i.e. don't take's independent advice before buying a computer.

Stephen called me as his Sony Vaio PCG-8111M laptop had failed to start properly.  This model of laptop is a huge 'desktop replacement' model with a 17" display costing about 1,500.  It came with Windows Vista Ultimate edition, two 320GB hard disk drives (HDD) configured to look as one using RAID0 technology, a 2.50 GHz Intel Core2 Duo CPU, 4GB RAM and lots of other top end components.

It turned out that one of Stephen's HDDs had failed.  Normally I take an image backup of the entire disk before starting any job, but in this case that was not possible as the RAID controller was on the failed laptop.  Being complicated by being a RAID set also meant that this was one of the few occasions where I was not able to recover data in house - a service for which I often charge less than 100.  So I sent the HDD away to a specialist recovery company.  Even after my 15% trade discount, Steve ended up paying 1,121 for the data to be salvaged.  [lesson 1 - don't use RAID technology without planning a disaster recovery strategy]

Unlike many owners of new off-the-shelf computers, Steve had followed the instructions and created a 'recovery disk' - a CD that can be used to restore the computer to its initial state when new.  As he now had a backup copy of his documents, photos and music he was happy for me to use this 'recovery disk' to wipe the disk and put a working system back on.  But as he under estimated the amount of storage space he would need when he bought the PC a little over a year ago, Steve bought a couple of replacement 500GB HDDs and asked me to use those for rebuilding his system as they cost only 18 more than the 320Gb ones they replaced.  [lesson 2 - have a requirements analysis before buying an inappropriately configured PC]

I used the 'recovery disk' that Steve had created with the new 500GB disks inserted but the installation failed to complete.  After calling Sony on their premium rate support number, we discovered that this was a pre-programmed action that was taken whenever any components were not identical to those initially supplied by Sony.  It became apparent that the computer was completely un-upgradeable; when the customer out grows their PC Sony presumably think they will just buy a new one.  At about 1,500 Steve thought this expensive as it was only just over a year since he bought the laptop.  [lesson 3 - get a complete copy of the Windows installation disks rather than a 'recovery disk']

Steve wanted the 500GB disks he had bought, so decided to buy a new copy of Windows Vista to install on his PC.  Knowing that 32 bit addressing prevents more than about 3GB of RAM being useable by Windows, it was assumed that Sony had used a 64 bit version of Vista as 4GB was installed.  Wrong assumption !   Although the 64 bit version of Vista installed perfectly on Steve's PC, it was virtually useless as some of Sony's device drivers would only work on 32 bit architecture.  [lesson 4 - pre-purchase consultancy would have warned against a 32 bit system with 4GB RAM]

Not only that, the graphics drivers would not install from their manufacturer's website (Nvidia) as Sony has made alterations to suit their own bespoke hardware.  So even if security vulnerabilities or performance problems are fixed, owners of the Sony laptops that depend on Nvidia hardware will not be able to take advantage of updates unless Sony re-engineer their drivers each time.  [lesson 5 - have standard non-proprietary components in the computer to avoid being trapped into one supplier WHEN something fails]

I tried repartitioning the disks to look like 320GB ones, but the Sony 'recovery disk' was not fooled.  So eventually Stephen had to buy a new copy of Windows Vista 32 bit (which retails at about 180) and accept that however much RAM he has, only a little over 3GB will be useable by Windows.  Even then, three components in the laptop failed to work as no Sony drivers were available; their technical support people refused to support us as the laptop no longer contained the original components.

In summary, Stephen bought an off-the-shelf laptop without professional advice and spent about 1,500 initially then about the same again to recover data and repair a fault.  Had he bought a similarly specified PC with wireless peripherals and followed good backup practices, the initial cost would have been about 750 and the repair bill around 100.