A Tale of an Upgrade - VGN-P31ZK

Preamble

Because of this episode of the The Verge’s podcast “Ctrl-Walt-Delete” I remembered that I’m actually still in possession of a little laptop, a Sony Vaio P31.

In the podcast (at minute 29), Mr. Nilay Patel mentions a review of the Vaio P, written in February 2009 by his co-host, Mr. Walt Mossberg. The review (which didn’t recommend the Sony laptop) was about an older version of the Vaio P running Vista. But even the P31 that I happen to have, which is a bit faster and was running Windows 7 when it came out, was and especially is nowadays, pretty terribly slow.

Hence I asked myself the question: Would it be possible to update a seven year old laptop, that was already quite slow when it was released and is at least relatively rare (so compatibility is possibly not great), to Windows 10?

A Vaio P31 (a VGN-P31ZK to be exact) is a tiny little computer - some would call it a “netbook” - with an Intel Atom Z540 in it, that runs Windows 7 at 1.866GHz. Also it has 2GB of memory and a 80GB hard-drive. Yes, one of those with actual spinning disks… The display is 8" in size and 1600*768 in resolution. It has a trackpoint instead of a touchpad and it weighs just 625g. It was pricey when it came out, but at the time I bought it (which is almost exactly seven years ago) it was possible to get a pretty sweet deal because you could get it in combination with a cellular contract for its built in 3G modem…

What follows is a chronological list of all steps that were required to update my little Vaio P31 to Windows 10. During the process, I only made some notes on a piece of paper - so that’s what you’ll also get here - and this might be boring at times. I’ve put a short review and a conclusion at the end that might be more interesting though - so scroll if needed!

That’s the little thing! (Rotring for scale..)

2015/12/18 - Still alive?

  • 18.06: Lets go! Meaning: Connect the charger, boot and let’s see where we are.
  • 18.26: Booting (and starting a whole bunch of auto-start apps) completed: Last update was applied on the 12th of August 2015 (20:24), last search for updates also was on that date.
  • 18.58: Start backing up files: Copy documents, pics, movies etc. to an external drive. Also uninstall some programs & download updates in the background.
  • 20.06: Manual backup is finished > reboot
  • 20.43: Updates were installed, PC booted. Shutdown and apply 1 update.
  • 20.45: Boot
  • 20.54: Shutdown again and install 14 updates.
  • 22.36: Updates completed. Boot again.
  • 22.46: 33 updates to install while booting - this is gonna take time..
  • 23.20: Booted. 31 updates successfully installed, 2 failed. Reboot.
  • 23.35: Booted. 4 optional updates available. Run download.
  • 23.57: Reboot. 3 updates install, 1 fails.

2015/12/19

  • 00.11: Shutdown to install 1 update.
  • 00.50: Boot
  • 01.01: Windows update found 47 updates more… download.
  • 01.31: Shutdown. Apparently 23 updates are ready to be installed while shutting down.
It seems we’re still quite a long way from an update to Windows 10. Need to get some sleep.

2015/12/19 - Afternoon. Let’s continue.

  • 13.03: Boot
  • 13.19: Successfully booted and the shutdown button shows updates - therefore: Shutdown and install 24 updates.
  • 13.53: Boot
  • 14.15: 6 updates to go
  • 14.20: Shutdown (4 updates)
  • 14.28: Boot
  • 14.41: Shutdown (1 update)
  • 14.45: Boot
  • 14.57: After booting, Windows update showed 1 optional update remaining. Shutdown.
Don’t have time for more of this right now. Enjoy the weekend…

2015/12/21 - Monday evening. Move on.

  • 19.04: Boot. Windows update still shows 1 optional update only, no sign of the Windows 10 update app yet… > Search for more updates
  • 22.04: 55 updates found so far. Downloading…
  • 22.05: The shutdown button shows updates again — shutdown, install 5 updates and boot again.
  • 22.53: Booted. Start downloading 48 updates (169MB).
  • 23.23: Windows defender detected “BrowserModifier” malware > remove (successfully). Shutdown and install 48 updates.

2015/12/22

  • 00.21: Boot
  • 00.45: Shutdown again. 1 update to go.
  • 00.46: Boot
  • 01.12: Shutdown again. 1 update to go.
  • 01.27: Still 2 optional updates to go. Download, Install, Reboot.
  • 01.45: Still no sign of Windows 10, but Windows 7 is pretty much up to date by now — probably. Start creating a full Windows backup to an external drive.
Let’s get some sleep and leave the backup running over night.

2015/12/22 - Tuesday evening. Let’s see now.

  • 17.04: Boot. Backup completed. Also: 36 more updates were found… Shutdown to install 35(?) updates.
  • 17.34: Boot
  • 17.49: Booted. The Windows 10 registration app is here! … But apparently, this machine is not suitable for Windows 10 — there’s a compatibility problem: The Intel(R) Graphics Media Accelerator 500 apparently “is not made for Winows 10” :(
  • 18.15: After some googling: Change Registry entry to allow upgrade anyway > reboot
  • 18.25: Booted. Start downloading Windows 10 (2037.7MB (b/c 32Bit version)). Windows update says it’s preparing the installation.
  • 19.31: Apparently “there are some things to check” or whatever > effectively means shutdown and install 5 more updates.
  • 19.41: Booted again. Windows 10 update app starts “preparing” the computer for installation - again. Deamon Tools must be removed apparently..?
  • 20.28: Update to Windows 10 is started!
  • 20.59: PC reboots itself and starts installing Windows 10.
  • 22.33: A quick update from the installation process: we’re at 75% — currently installing drivers…
  • 22.52: Settings are set (max. privacy, etc. pp.). Languages are preserved, i.e. not selectable. Settings are set as the local configured admin user remaining from Windows 7. Click login.
  • 23.12: Standard User (also remaining form Win 7) is automatically logged in (probably because no PWD was configured for this user). After looking around a bit — don’t find Edge?
  • 23.15: Change to the old admin user. Everything feels very Windows 10-y now. WLAN settings are preserved BTW…
  • 23.24: We are logged in. Seems alright & still being updated in the background.. Add MS-account.
  • 23.30: Login with the added MS account (account info entered again and configured PIN during login).
  • 23.38: Reboot & update in the process
  • 23.44: Login with the MS account again. Stuff gets “prepared” ;)

2015/12/23

  • 00.17: Done! Settings are synced and all! YAY!
Before having any further look at this all new and shiny Windows 10, this upgrade-journey had to be interrupted - Christmas… u know?

2015/12/28, 00.19 - Test & Review

Back from some fair amount of festivities and now booting again. All stuff is synced. Onedrive is set up and screenshots are now syncing automatically (?). The language settings did (probably by design) not sync from other PC’s though - so:

  • 00.21: Search, download and install English language pack
  • 00.48: Language pack installed, reboot.
  • 00.53: Login. We’re English now ;)
  • 01.01: Start reviewing stuff:

Features and Stuff: Remarkably, all required drivers were found and most of the hardware seems to work fine. Apart form the already mentioned WLAN settings, all other relevant settings are there too:

Old apps work fine (tested ones include Paint.net, Firefox, various Sony Vaio Apps, Autodesk Design Review 2013, etc.). Also the wireless-functions-app from Sony seems to work (Tested WLAN & Bluetooth).

Of the hardware things, GPS seems not to work or at leat not connect to Windows. I did a short walk outside, but in those 10 minutes the maps app was not able to determine my exact location. Also, I’m currently not able to test the cellular functions, because I don’t have a full-sized SIM card or adapter… The modem is detected by Windows though, drivers are installed and it seems like this could work in theory.

All the media stuff works, or at least works as good as before the upgrade: Videos generally stutter (it’s just to much for the little Atom), but sound works fine, also when streamed. However, the sound quality, as before Windows 10, is pretty terrible - remember cellphone speakers from 2009?

The built-in camera works fine too - including video recording (VGA, 15fps max…) and face detection. It still has a crazy lag - but that was the case in Windows 7 too.

In terms of speed and performance there are mostly good news: While the programs that were kept form Windows 7 show no noticeable difference in performance, the Windows 10 apps seem comparatively snappy. Boot and shutdown times have improved dramatically (estimated by about a factor of 2). Overall it’s still very slow, of course. Probably you got a sense for it by looking at the time-stamps above - more than half an hour to install a language pack, that’s not… fast.

Interestingly, I’m able to switch to tablet mode, even though the device does not have a touchscreen or a detachable/flip-able screen. Maybe it’s because of the small screen size?

Also, and I almost forgot to check, the Linux partition seems untouched and is still working. The Vaio P31 has a “quick start mode” that launches some Linux mini-OS with basic capabilities like players for sound, videos, and pictures, a web browser and a text editor. All still there.

That’s the Linux quick-start thing - obviously doesn’t use the Windows language pack.

So after 195 Windows 7 updates that were installed over the course of multiple days and an upgrade process to Windows 10 that lasted for pretty much exactly 6 hours, the little Vaio P31 is ready for work again.
Or ready to go back into the drawer that is. Which seems, due to its lack of anything that could be attributed with the word “speed”, more likely.


Summary

The fact that all this worked - all the drivers were found automatically, almost all hardware features still work, performance is better than before - is, even though it took enormous amounts of time, awesome. So, kudos to Microsoft. The required registry-hack-thing is crazy though. I don’t think that the “Intel(R) Graphics Media Accelerator 500” is a particularly exotic piece of hardware. Sure, you could also manually download an installer for the update and go from there, presumably without needing a change in the registry. But it doesn’t seem to much to expect that Microsoft could test at least the integrated Intel graphics chips.

Then again, maybe I’m kinda crazy too. After all, who tries to update a seven year old laptop that was already under-powered at the time it came out? To me though, this was fun anyway.

Yes, it was late (or early) when I was done with this… :)