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An old Sony Vaio is reborn. Arising from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix of old



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BACK to Sony VAIO PCV-RX540 User's Log...

Whatever became of the country Vaio and the city Vaio bought as xmas gifts in 2001?

Wow: it's been years since an update on these two machines!

One of them is still somehow humming along under Windows XP in Knoxville Tennessee-- although I'm pretty sure the fairly computer savvy man of the house there has been woefully negligent in terms of maintenance and upgrades. His wife and kids have somehow had to keep it running all these years on their own-- with very little help from me. But I think they're mainly using it as a web surfing station.

The other Sony got a much more rigorous workout from the other family, as a surfing and gaming station. They even installed a fairly powerful graphics card to help its gaming performance. But they never upgraded its RAM.

This second Sony PC got its Windows XP repeatedly restored due to malware problems. Its DVD- ROM drive apparently stopped working (opening/ejecting) at some point. The 17 inch CRT monitor I'd bundled with it quit (and I loaned them a 15 incher for a replacement). But eventually the PC BIOS began warning upon startup about failure of the hard drive being imminent.

Besides all that, the PC had to have gotten awfully slow running XP over the years. So when a friend gave my nephew a newer Sony Vaio (discarded because the friend got a new PC), the family switched from the Vaio I'd given them in 2001, to that newer one from the friend.

I finally managed to get them to bring the old decrepit Vaio to me over Thanksgiving 2009, after it'd likely been stuffed into a corner or closet for many months (maybe even a year or two).

Thankfully they still had all the recovery disks too-- albeit some of them possibly too badly scarred to work.

Salvage and rejuvenation

Man, was this Vaio in sorry shape when I took delivery of it!

I had to scrounge up another 17 inch monitor just to boot it up for examination, whereupon I learned many of the things listed above.

After that I did some online research about the various old PCs and Macs I have laying around, and compared them to the specs of the Vaio, for which I've downloaded several Sony manuals in PDF form.

I found some possible hardware donor candidates, and began my surgery.

We can rebuild him...we have the technology...[cue bionic man theme music]

I removed the 30 GB hard drive from my old HP which I quit using due to overheating of the crowded mini-tower, and replaced the Vaio's dying 60 GB with it-- making sure that all the drive's jumper settings in the rear of the unit were set identically to the original Vaio drive (there's a master/slave thing about multiple IDE drives you must be conscious of).

During drive replacement I also used a small air compressor to blow out the worst cloud of dust and lint and muck from the Vaio that I've ever seen emerge from a computer's innards in my life. I don't see how in the hell the computer could run with that inside it. The cloud filled the small room I was working in, and I had to temporarily evacuate to breathe.

I noticed the added graphics card wasn't locked down with one of its latches, and remedied that, which seemed to fix a worrisome video wave I'd noticed earlier from the machine.

I had a DVD-RW removed from a Mac G4 sitting around too, so replaced the Vaio's non-functioning DVD-ROM with it as well (again, checking that the jumpers were set the same).

I accidentally pulled the hard drive ribbon cable loose from the motherboard during the DVD install, which made the Vaio think the hard drive was dead, and had to go back in and rectify the situation afterwards.

Note that while the Sony manuals offer pretty good instructions for most of these matters, they offer very, very little useful info about switching out the DVD or CD drives, which requires some NOT very intuitive removal and replacement of the front case bezels. Basically you got to remove the top and side of the case, then lift out the hard drive cage, to get at some front bezel clip hooks inside the case, to get the bezels free. Otherwise you break and ruin lots of stuff that makes the Vaio look so good sitting on a desk. And putting the bezels back again afterwards is almost certainly going to leave you cursing the designer. For this part is definitely not as easy as you'd expect. I ended up having to backtrack quite a ways in my reassembly to get the top and bottom bezels properly installed. They have to almost both go back on simultaneously-- and yet interfere with each other in the process.

Once you have the bezels off, you only need disconnect the cables and remove two screws from the side of the DVD drive for it to slide out the front.

It took me a while to come to this realization, as I was sure there had to be at least two more screws on the other, inaccessible side which needed removing too. But there aren't.

You do have to take care about losing the screws inside the drive cage, as access to them is through two small holes in the (fixed in place) cage.

Note that I might should have installed a DVD ROM like the Vaio originally came with here, instead of the DVD-RW. Because writing DVDs would likely be more reliable on a newer, faster machine with more RAM than the Vaio. So I may yet switch out this drive again for a more optimal computing arrangement here at WebFLUX Central.

I did several reassemblies/boot ups during these chores to check on my progress and verify the new parts were working.

After I'd replaced the hard drive, I temporarily re-installed Windows XP from the recovery disks to get a clearer picture of the Vaio's status.

Add a pinch of new memory...and a whole new operating system...

So far, so good. I ordered 256 MB RAM for the Vaio. Added to its original 256, this would boost it up to its absolute maximum possible: 512 MB. This was also the minimum recommended for an Ubuntu 9.10 Linux install.

I wanted to go Ubuntu because the Vaio was too old and slow to comfortably run the bloated and resource hungry latest version of Windows XP. Add atop that the also demanding anti-malware apps necessary on a Windows PC, and the Vaio would be nearly useless for doing much of anything as an XP machine.

I booted with the Ubuntu CD in the CD drive, and took the tour test. Everything seemed pretty good, with the added graphics card making for a very high res display. So I went the next step and installed Ubuntu. This took quite a while on the old Vaio.

Maybe an hour or two later I was inspecting the results. And adding things like Ubuntu restricted extras, which you need for full internet compatibility with flash games and audio and video.

Flash and video kinks...

As one of the biggest duties of the reborn Vaio will be to entertain kids from age 10 through 22 here (yeah, I'm so old now you're still a kid to me at 22), I wanted it to be able to stream video and run flash games online. My first test results for this were pretty awful, and I thought uh oh, this isn't going to work.

However, with a little more research online I realized I might be able to lessen the workload on the graphics card to make up for the slow CPU and restricted RAM. So I turned off Ubuntu's desktop effects, and took the onscreen resolution down two notches, to 1024 x 768, the minimum recommended for Ubuntu.

(By default Ubuntu had noticed the graphics card at installation and turned on desktop effects, and dialed up the screen resolution pretty high)

...nicely ironed out

These reduced settings did the trick, and flash gaming and online video now worked much better. Even slightly better than the 800 Mhz faster 512 MB Ubuntu Compaq.

However, even at these settings the old Vaio is NOT up to doing full-screen video any better than something approaching a slide show presentation.

All in all though, the Vaio now seems to be a pretty decent $30 web surfing station (I paid around that for the new memory: everything else came from old/junk parts, elbow grease, and online research).

BACK to Sony VAIO PCV-RX540 User's Log...

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Copyright © 2009 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.