Buying A New Laptop Computer And Getting Rid Of Sony VAIO Bloatware
Published 8/18/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
As I grumbled a bit in an earlier personal finance blog post, I'm suffering from a bit of a bout of blogger's block recently. What started out as a torrent of gun-ho, blog posting eager beavery has dwindled to a couch potato-ry display of procrastination and summer slumpery (yes I know, I'm making up words here). However, despite my motivational troubles of late, I made the decision recently to rekindle my blogging business drive. To jump start my previously respectable and focused work at home habits, I decided to force an immediate change of scenery solution to get myself out of my temporary rut - by going on an overseas vacation. Of course, I wouldn't want to head out without the ability to bring my blogging business platform and online writing tools with me - I will require the services of a portable notebook computer.
Since I gave my only existing laptop computer away to my younger brother so he could use it for his new graduate school studies, I decided I needed to go out and buy a new one for myself. As I'm actually in the midst of working my way through one of those supposedly free online laptop gift reward offers at the moment, I debated whether to wait around until I received it before heading off on my trip. At the end, I decided I could always sell the free laptop reward on eBay or Craigslist for extra money some other time in the future. So I decided to go ahead and buy a new laptop computer for work travel portability. The following are some of the considerations I went through when choosing a new laptop computer.
What Features Should I Look For In The Perfect Laptop Notebook Computer?
I'm not a tech blogger, nor am I even close to being an expert on how to buy a notebook computer. While I love computers, I really don't update myself on all the latest news and advancements in technology related products. What I am is just an ordinary consumer who has purchased laptops and computers before as a student and as a working professional, for myself, family, and friends. I know what I like and I know what's practical for most personal and business applications. I also enjoy visiting retail stores like Best Buy and Circuit City that offer in store display products for consumers to tinker on, tap away furiously, and basically abuse to their heart's content. It's one of the many reasons why I like retail brick and mortar electronic stores as opposed to online shopping sometimes. At retail stores, when it comes to products like laptop computers, you have the ability to pick the product up to physically gauge the weight and feel, the ability to feel the sensation of the laptop keyboard spring response as you type, and the first hand ability to visually assess the quality of the merchandise.
As a financial blogger with a legal background, I'm definitely not a savvy expert on computer CPU processor terminology or a know-it-all when it comes to deciding whether one memory component is better than another memory component. But I do know what works for me and what is practical for most laptop consumers in the real world. For my purposes, so long as a laptop computer is form appropriate in terms of weight, size, and aesthetics, and performs with proficient speed, and able to handle appropriate writing and browsing tasks at an affordable cost, I'll definitely give the laptop model a serious consideration.
Here are some of the most important features to look for in a laptop notebook computer. The items in this little list don't cover everything, but they are the primary features and components that most ordinary laptop users will want to consider when choosing a new notebook computer. I'm sure some of the so-called laptop hardware experts will be surprised at the features I find important and amused by the ones I deem less worthy of my concern.
1) Glossy Screen or Matte/Anti-Reflective Screen - Other than the keyboard, the screen is probably one, if not the most important feature of a great laptop computer. Personally, I highly prefer the glossy screens over the duller matted ones, despite the fact the great majority of computer users (probably 80% or more) seem to prefer matted displays. While the glossy screens tend to be more reflective of light and has been reported to cause eye strain in some users, I've never had any viewing problems or reflective difficulties associated with the glossier displays. I love the glossy screens because the colors are displayed much more brightly and with more richness. Color palettes are not only displayed with greater vibrancy, but the resultant effect is a laptop screen back light that seems stronger than that of the matte.
Matted displays on the other hand, while not reflective of light and supposedly less imposing of a strain on the eyes, display colors and shades that are much more subdued. My old IBM Thinkpad laptop was a matte screen and I always had problems with the display being too dark. Ever since I bought a glossy Sony Xbrite LCD monitor for my desktop computer, I fell in love with the glossies and never plan on going back. Due to my great experience with Sony glossy screens, I almost always recommend their displays over other brands. I've owned Dell's and other brands as well and have found their screen colors to be comparatively duller.
2) Keyboard Size and Responsiveness - As I will primarily be using this new laptop for word processing and blogging related functions, having a stellar keyboard with accurate spring back response will be extremely important. The keyboard is definitely a major make or break issue for me. After visiting all the local Best Buy and Circuit City stores, and having matched the opinions expressed on online review sites like CNET to my actual experience at the retail stores, I've narrowed down what I believe to be the top 3 laptop brands that offer the best keyboards - Lenovo (formerly IBM Thinkpad), Dell, and Sony's Vaio SZ business series. All of the other laptop brands out there like HP, Sony non-SZ series, and even Apple offer sub par keyboard typing experiences in comparison. Of course this is just my personal take and opinion, but I highly prefer laptop keyboards that click crisply as you type with very responsive and clearly defined bounce backs as keys are pressed.
The legendary IBM/Lenovo Thinkpads are above and beyond the very best when it comes to keyboard design and technology. Very few other brands even come close. The only ones that can even compare are the Dell and Sony VAIO SZ series keyboards (the non-SZ series laptops offer keyboard buttons that seem a tad too soft). While some might not like the noticeably louder clicking sounds that emanate from the Sony SZ keys, I actually find the sharper key taps to be very reassuring and responsive as I type.
3) Laptop Machine Weight and Screen Size - Unless you are buying a laptop computer as a desktop replacement computer that will spend the bulk of its time sitting stationary at your home office desk, the laptop's weight and size will be fairly important factors to consider. In my ideal business oriented laptop, I prefer a light weight machine that doesn't exceed 5 lbs (4 lbs is highly preferred). Anything higher than 5 lbs is treading into the heavy brick category in my opinion. I've lugged around laptops before and have found that after including the additional weight of the electrical power strip, the mouse pad, the mouse, and other external hard drive extras, any laptop that exceeds 5 pounds can quickly weigh down the laptop bag fairly significantly.
Interestingly, the laptop screen size itself is not something I pay too much attention to when it comes to choosing a notebook computer. If you ask me, unless you are buying a desktop replacement, you needn't pay too much attention to the screen size. Even smaller screen computers generally perform just as well as the larger ones. Usually, it comes down to a trade off between screen size and weight. Having a larger screen size affords more computer desktop space and is certainly nice, but it also means the computer is likely to be substantially heavier. I've found that the compact 13 inch screen is perfectly ideal for most ordinary users, including bloggers and writers who don't really need the extra desktop space for their work. For my purposes, anything larger than a 13 inch screen would probably result in a portable computer that's significantly heavier than I'd like.
4) Processor and Memory Hardware - I rarely pay attention to the processing speed or memory hardware when choosing a laptop. I'm sure some computer techies would probably be shocked, but I personally view such laptop parts as inherently interchangeable. I've rarely had any problems with slow processing speed or issues involving not having enough memory. These days, with the rapid rate at which new developments in computer hardware get released into the marketplace, there isn't much point in trying to stay on top of the latest technology. Most of the desktop computers and laptops sold out there usually offer the top of the line hardware anyway, or at least close to the top. There's no real point fussing over one chip over another and it's unlikely any of us regular consumers would be able to tell a difference based on performance alone anyway. You're better off hinging your laptop buying decision on components like the keyboard or type of screen offered.
5) Built In Camera and Microphone - While neither are essential components, having a built in camera and internal microphone are handy features to have. Having them already installed into your laptop screen cuts down on the added weight from having to carry around extra accessories. With the growing use of video instant messaging and the use of Voice Over IP services like Skype for audio conferencing purposes, it's good to have a built in webcam in your notebook computer. It shouldn't be a make or break issue though, so don't let it hinder your ultimate buying decision.
6) Extra Features and Gizmos Like Special Video and Sound Cards, and Extra USB Ports - Having extra USB ports is nice because it allows you to hook up multiple components like your mouse, printer, scanner, digital camera, and external hard drives at the same time. While the ideal laptop should have at least 4 USB ports, 2 is often enough for most entry level users.
As for having fancy 3D video cards or premium sound cards, unless you plan to be a heavy gamer or work as a 3D graphics designer, these are luxuries that are nice to have but not really essential in a new laptop computer. My suggestion is to not pay these components too much attention. Focus on the screen type and keyboard instead.
7) Customer Support and Product Reliability - One thing that I've learned over the years is that internally, computers are all basically from the same stock. Other than a few proprietary and unique components like computer screens and keyboard design, the internal processor and hardware components are all the same among the different computer brands. Almost all of the manufacturing and assembling processes are outsourced to other companies. For example, would it surprise you to know that Dell and many of the major computer brands out there don't actually build their own computers? It's true. What the brands actually offer is customer and technical support for computer repairs and troubleshooting. Manufacturing responsibilities are outsourced to other companies and all their laptop and desktop computer parts are built and assembled by third party manufacturers like Seagate, Panasonic, and Intel. Thus, oftentimes, one of the few distinguishing factors among different computer brands are the differences in customer support warranty packages. Most of my laptop buying and technical support experiences have centered around IBM/Lenovo Thinkpads, Dell laptops, and Sony notebook computers - the vast majority having been generally positive and favorable.
Most computers in the market offer the industry standard warranty of 12 months. When it comes to buying extra laptop warranty coverage, I advise against it - use credit card warranty programs instead. You're much better off buying the laptop computer with a credit card and extending your original manufacturer's warranty by a year or more with the special warranty extension perks that many credit card issuers provide for consumers. By extending your laptop warranty to a combined total of 2 years with credit card warranty programs, you'll get pretty good mileage out of your portable computer. As laptop lifespans are generally 2-3 years and computer prices drop fairly fast, you may be better off buying a new laptop after the end of the 2 year warranty period should it break down after that time. Don't waste your money on purchasing additional extended warranty add-ons. Many retail store agents push this type of extra service, not because it's such an invaluable service, but because it's one of the few things the reps can earn lofty commissions on.
My Decision To Ultimately Buy A Sony VAIO SZ Series Business Laptop
After weeks of tests and comparisons at local area electronic retail stores, I finally settled on buying a brand new black Sony VAIO SZ750 business laptop. The price, while more expensive than that of standard consumer laptops, offered a laptop that was a perfect fit for an aspiring full time blogger on the go like myself. The keyboard typing experience is quite exceptional on the Sony VAIO SZ series and the laptop is very light at 4-5 pounds. The glossy screen display also offers crisp colors and an excellent viewing experience, a trademark of most Sony VAIO computers. I love the black exterior color design, reminiscent of my old IBM Thinkpad during law school. The only thing that would have made the Sony VAIO SZ even better would have been a red pointer device. While most people seem to dislike those handy red pointing devices in favor of the classic laptop touch pad, I actually like the pointing sticks a lot more, probably due to my days as a Thinkpad user. I had considered buying a Lenovo Thinkpad, but the lack of glossy screens in the Lenovo notebook line eventually led me to go with a Sony VAIO. As usual, I paid very little attention to the processor, memory, or even hard drive specifics - making my decision primarily based on keyboard and laptop screen quality comparisons.
Getting Rid Of The Infamous Sony VAIO Computer Bloatware Programs
My only gripe with the Sony VAIO laptop I purchased is the extremely high and ridiculous amount of bloatware that came pre-installed. Bloatware is basically the lingo used to refer to free, but useless software that comes pre-installed on many new computers. Oftentimes third party software developers like AOL, Microsoft, and Norton Anti-Virus pay computer manufacturers like Sony and Dell large sums of money to install their promotional software programs into all new computers sold. Most of the time, the software installed are not even fully functional versions, but rather demo test trial programs designed to compel the user to pay more money to buy the full software at the end of the trial period. The pre-installations essentially bloat your new computer, causing it to unnecessarily devote processing power to handle the excess software load. For those like me who desire a clean desktop and streamlined hard drive installation, getting rid of all the preinstalled software can be a major pain in the you know what. Oftentimes it's also hard to differentiate the unnecessary bloatware from the essential programs.
Sony is probably the king of bloatware. While they build pretty decent computers, for whatever reason, the company don't hesitate to sell out their computer consumers to the bloatware developers as they readily stuff their new computers with all sorts of pointless software programs that consumers are unlikely to ever use. The following list are all the pre-installed programs and applications that came with my new Sony VAIO SZ laptop. While the specifics will likely differ among Sony computers, the majority are likely going to be the same. I've bolded the ones I've kept. The non-bolded ones are the pre-installed software programs I've deemed to be bloatware and useless. Please let me know if you disagree with any of my bloatware assessments. I removed the bloatware programs by accessing the uninstall program feature through my desktop's control panel and individually removing each one. The whole removal process wasted about 1-2 hours of my time. Thanks Sony.
List Of Pre-Installed Software On My Sony VAIO Laptop (The Programs That Are Somewhat Useful and Perhaps Necessary Are Bolded)
- Activation Assistance For the 2007 Microsoft Office Suite
- Adobe Acrobat Professional 8.0
- Adobe Flash Player
- Adobe Reader
- Alps Point-device for Vaio
- AOL Toolbar 4.0
- ArcSoft Magic-i Visual Effects
- Business Contact Manager for Outlook 2007
- Click to Disc
- Click to Disc Editor
- Compatibility Pack for the 2007 Office System
- Corel PaintShop Pro Photo X2
- Crackle Screen Saver 1.0
- DSD Direct
- DSD Direct Player
- DSD Playback Plug In
- HDAudio SoftV92 Data Fax Modem with SmartCP
- Java SE Runtime Environement 6
- LiveUpdate 2.3 (Symantec Coproration)
- Location Free Player
- Microsoft Office Component Files (all)
- Microsoft SQL Server Component Files (all)
- Microsoft Visual C++
- Microsoft Works
- MSXML 4.0 SP2 Files
- MobiTV Icon
- Norton 360 (Symantec Corporation)
- NVIDIA Drivers
- OpenMG Limited Patch 4.7
- Protector Suite QL 5.6
- QuickBooks Simple Start 2008
- Roxio Easy Media Creator Home
- Setting Utility Series
- SigmaTel Audio
- SmartWi Connection Utility
- SonicStage Mastering Studio and Filters
- Sony Snymsico for Vista
- Sony Video Shared Library
- Spy Sweeper
- SupportSoft Assisted Service
- VAIO Camera Capture Utility
- VAIO Center Access Bar
- VAIO Content Folder Bar
- VAIO Content Folder Setting
- VAIO Content Metadata (all)
- VAIO Control Center
- VAIO DVD Menu Data Basic
- VAIO Entertainment Center
- VAIO Entertainment Platform
- VAIO Event Service
- VAIO Help and Support
- VAIO Media (all files)
- VAIO Movie Story
- VAIO Movie Story Template Data
- VAIO Music Box
- VAIO Music Box Sample Music
- VAIO OOBE and Welcome Center
- VAIO Original Function Setting
- VAIO PC Wireless LAN Wizard
- VAIO Power Management
- VAIO Productivity Center
- VAIO Security Center
- VAIO Service Utility
- VAIO Startup Assistant
- VAIO Status Monitor
- VAIO Survey
- VAIO Update 3
- VAIO Wallpaper Contents (not needed but nice to have some different wallpaper options)
- WIDCOMM Bluetooth Software
- Windows Driver Package Intent Corporation
- WinDVD for VAIO