Monday, August 11, 2008

Are OEMs Deliberately Hiding Upgrades?

A few weeks ago, I picked up a new laptop.  The price was outright irresistible and my old one was, well, getting old.

It was a brand that I have come to respect recently, was 'current' and loaded, well under $500, and it had Vista SP1 installed. 

Vista is probably the latest I've ever personally 'adopted' any Microsoft Operating System, but the time had come.  XP was coming to an end , or so it seemed (watch for the next article ! :) but I was reluctant to 'upgrade' because I had tried to help numerous friends with earlier versions of Vista, and had been seriously  disappointed.

So after a few weeks, I decided to add some RAM.  It was pretty obvious Vista needed it, and the laptop had everything else, including a speedy processor.

"Maximum RAM upgrade 2GB"  Huh??  Is this a joke?

About ready to call the company and freak out a little, and thinking that my great new deal was about to head to XP, I did some quick research.

Note: The reason that I'm not mentioning the brand is I took a HUGE chance here and don't recommend it to anyone without extensive PC hardware knowledge.

I searched (yes, Google) for a bios upgrade specific to the model.  The manufacturer listed NONE AVAILABLE.  In fact, they didn't even list the much improved new driver for onboard Intel X3100 graphics accelerator.

A little more digging, now in the 'underground'.  Yes, the forums where the 'real geeks' hang out.

I found a link to the OEM's FTP site which had a bios upgrade 'close' to my model "Vista Bios upgrade to allow additional RAM".  Bingo!

I VERY carefully pushed a bunch of self-booting back-up stuff to DVD and downloaded the Bios patch.

I killed all programs, etc. and proceeded with the bios upgrade.  It stopped dead in the middle of the process.


While I pictured myself wasting a lot of time restoring the old bios, I powered off the box (totally - battery removed) and powered it back on with an additional 2GB installed (which the old bios refused to recognize).

Whammo!  Success.

Vista immediately reflected the new RAM.  I upgraded the X3100 drivers from Intel's site and had a Vista speed demon up and running (IE: I lucked out). 

Now running flawlessly for about a week, I have to think that some OEM's are hiding this stuff so you buy the next generation OR because they're afraid people will 'fry' their boxes and will have a new 'load' on the customer service lines.  So why sell a 2GB laptop with Vista when you still had time to XP it??

My experiences with Vista over the past couples of weeks (with all upgrades including SP1) have been a pleasant surprise.  There are a lot of improvements, mostly under the hood, that do make a difference, and yes, you do need a decent amount of RAM.

The key with Vista is watching for driver updates.  They're still being issued.  I found FIVE for this box.  The Intel update (mentioned above) wasn't posted to Windows Update (and still isn't).  It was, by far, the most significant.

In most cases (not all) if you call customer service they're going to be reading out of a book.  If you encounter a situation like this, find a highly-recommeded hardware super geek! :) 

You may have a really pleasant surprise.