The other day, I decided to buy an extended life battery for my Sony Vaio. Since it’s an older laptop, the orignal battery was beginning to show its age and was giving me about half an hour of use before dying. So, off I went and bought a 13 cell model from what appeared to be a UK site, and much cheaper than batteries Sony sells. Anyone who has recently tried to buy an after-market battery for a Sony laptop recently probably knows exactly what I’m about to say.
Sure enough, the battery turned up and I plugged it in happily to the back of the laptop, only to see the battery light start flashing like mad.
“Hmm,” I thought “this can’t be good”. Sure enough, Ubuntu reported that the battery was detected and connected to the mains, but wasn’t actually charging. This led me to hit Google to see if anyone else had problems. It turns out that Sony doesn’t like you using 3rd party batteries. Most vendors would just give you some nonsense about the dangers of 3rd party parts and leave it up to you, but not Sony. They have actually implemented a hardware block which checks to ensure the installed battery is a genuine Sony part. Since this is implemented in the Insyde H2O “BIOS” (actually an EFI system), the only way around it is to patch the BIOS. Now, this sort of thing gives me the heeby jeebies: a 3rd party “patch” for my BIOS? No thanks! Still it was either that or send the battery back. As it turned out, my model wasn’t supported by the BIOS patching tool supplied by the vendor, so the battery is going back anyway.
Even worse, the laptop is now bricked due to a failed BIOS upgrade. Most Insyde machines have an emergency or “crisis” recovery mode, which allows a reasonably canny user to recover the BIOS to an original image. Sony, in their wisdom, have disabled this, their only solution – a motherboard replacement. As a result, I’ve ended up a good portion of my precious time trawling BIOS mod forums and trying to manually edit BIOS files using a variety of suspect tools and hex editors, and after many hours, I’ve finally given up. Given the age of the laptop, a mainboard replacement isn’t really an economical option, so I’m stuck waiting for a decently priced board coming up on eBay.
I’d love to say that I understand vendors wanting to hide the complexity of advanced BIOS options from their users, but actually I can’t. It doesn’t aid security in anyway, and it certainly doesn’t help when well-documented recovery mechanisms are disabled so that the vendor can punish their customers with outrageous “repair” fees. As it is, I’d love to get my hands on the person who came up with the concept of implementing EFI hardware blocks.
It will be a long time before you see me with another Sony laptop, that’s for sure!