Installing Windows XP Professional on the Sony Vaio TR2A Laptop

Introduction

I recently acquired a Sony TR2A laptop system. This machine, a capable subnotebook system, comes with a copy of Windows XP Home Edition. It’s possible to order the machine as the TR2AP, which comes with Windows XP Professional Edition pre-installed, but I already own the requisite XP Pro licence and didn’t want to pay for a second copy. Even if I had gotten the TR2AP, I’d have likely wound up reinstalling, since the disk comes weirdly partitioned and with more than ten percent of its usable space reserved as a “recovery partition.”

With most computer systems, this reinstallation is a simple process: simply wipe the disk and install Windows XP Pro. Add any machine-specific drivers from the CD-ROMs that came with the machine, and you’re done.

Not so with this system! First of all, the machine doesn’t come with any CD-ROMs. There’s a utility on the machine to allow you to burn a set of nine CD-ROMs that can be used to restore the system to its factory configuration. These discs additionally contain the drivers and application files for use subsequent to the OS install, but important components are missing. It took a lot of trial and error to get things working: hence this page. It’s aimed at the experienced computer user; I’d recommend getting assistance if you don’t consider yourself an expert.

Important disclaimer: these instructions worked for me, but they might not work for you. You will lose the contents of your hard drive when you do this: plan accordingly and back up your data. I’m certainly interested in hearing from you if these instructions helped you, or if you had problems with them–but, in the end, it’s your computer and your data; proceed at your own risk.

Procedure

Here’s a not-so-straightforward 15-step process that will get XP Pro onto your machine.

  1. Create a directory on your hard disk called c:\cd.
  2. Create a subdirectory called c:\cd\driver-downloads. Download the current drivers from Sony’s Web page for the machine to this location. As I write this, you can start athttp://www.ita.sel.sony.com/support/, though they rearrange their site periodically. At the moment, these drivers contain everything you need to get the machine working, with two exceptions: the USB2 drivers and the integrated Motion Eye camera. There’s a camera driver available, but it’s for an external camera and doesn’t work with the laptop.
  3. Create a subdirectory called c:\cd\driver-originals. Copy the contents of c:\windows\drivers to this location.
  4. Create a subdirectory called c:\cd\system32. Copy the contents of your c:\windows\system32 directory to this location. This probably isn’t strictly necessary, but the camera drivers refer to files in this directory and it seemed better to have the files readily available than to need them late in the install process and wind up frustrated. There will be several files that can’t be copied because they’re in use; this is OK. I’d further posit that if you need anything from this directory, it’s likely to be DLL files only; this may be useful if your system32 directory has grown too huge.
  5. Create a subdirectory called c:\cd\usb2. The TR2A uses an Intel USB2 controller not supported natively by Windows XP, and I couldn’t find drivers for it in a readily installable location on the recovery disks. Intel’s Web site contains one file, USB2.0.EXE, that’s used for a large number of their desktop systems. I found it by looking for drivers for the D845BG desktop board at www.intel.com. You’re also welcome to try this more direct link to get there, though it will likely break at some point in the future when Intel rearranges their site.
  6. Now burn the contents of c:\cd to a CD-R. Keep this updated driver disk with your recovery media.
  7. Double-check to make sure you have all of the recovery media. This should consist of a startup CD-R, plus eight data CD-Rs, plus the disc you just burned.
  8. At this point, you can install a copy of Windows XP Pro. Pay attention to disk partitioning; there’s a 5G partition that contains the recovery image; so long as you’re confident of your recovery media, you can (and probably should) delete it to recover space.
  9. Once XP Pro is installed, install the drivers you downloaded from the Sony Web site (the driver-originals directory on your newly-created CD-ROM). If your experience is like mine, you’ll wind up with most things working when you’re done.
  10. Update XP Pro using Windows Update (download Service Pack 1 and any other updates you’d like).
  11. Check the Device Manager (Start | Control Panel | System | Hardware). You’ll likely see two unrecognized devices: a “USB Host Controller” and a “USB device.” These correspond to the USB2 controller and the camera, respectively.
  12. Run the USB2 driver installation utility (from the usb2 directory on your CD-ROM).
  13. Go back to Device Manager. At this point, the “USB Device” should be the only unrecognized device. Right-click on it, select “properties” and attempt to install its drivers. The drivers should be located automatically if the CD-ROM you created is in the drive.
  14. Once again, within Device Manager: locate the USB Root Hub that’s connected to the camera. There are several (on my system, four) root hubs; the third one is connected to the camera. Once you’ve located the correct hub, select the “Power” tab and disable power management for that hub. This important; the camera will hang or will otherwise be unresponsive if you don’t do this.
  15. Now remove the CD-ROM you created and insert disc 1 from your recovery disc set (this is not the startup disc, but the next one in the sequence). A window will appear offering to reinstall application software; select anything you’d like to restore. Minimally, you’ll want the hotkey utility, shared libraries, PowerPanel, and the DVD player. I’d steer clear of the “driver reinstallation wizard;” it didn’t cause any harm when I tried it, but it definitely does not reinstall the USB2 drivers, nor the camera drivers (otherwise there’d be no reason for this page). Take note of any error messages: in particular, the PowerPanel utility for my machine depends on the shared libraries, but the libraries aren’t installed until after the wizard attempts to install PowerPanel. Keep running the application software recovery wizard until you’re able to get everything you want back on the machine.

At this point the machine should be fully operational with Windows XP Pro.

Ranting

I saved this section for last, but I couldn’t bring myself to omit it entirely.

Sony makes attractive laptops, but there are a number of things that make them much more difficult than necessary for the experienced user. For example:

  • Why on earth doesn’t the machine come with recovery CD-ROMs? It’s bad enough that the machine doesn’t come with usable operating system media, but this is a policy forced on them by Microsoft. But there’s no media in the box at all, unless you count one of the ever-present AOL CD-ROMs. This is hardware that costs north of $2,000; is it really necessary to force the user to take the time to burn nine discs in the name of saving a little money?
  • If it’s necessary to force the user to make these discs, it might be nice if the process actually worked the way it’s supposed to. I made two of the nine discs, then got a dialog box saying that it’s necessary to reboot the machine following the creation of recovery media. Foolishly, I followed the directions. After the reboot, I started the recovery media creation utility again, only to discover that I had to start over making the CD-ROM set (naturally, it’s not possible to make only a subset of these discs). Eventually, I realized that this message was intended to remain hidden by another window until after the entire set of CDs was made; just ignore it until then. Why did this message become the topmost window–and, for that matter, why is it necessary to reboot after simply burning some CDs? Nobody knows–Windows is like that.
  • Once the recovery disks have been created, it would be nice if they were simple to work with. Instead of a set of directories containing drivers, setup files, and the like, you’ll find a bunch of files that are largely impenetrable without using Sony’s application/driver reinstallation application. This application, by the way, won’t run until after some of the drivers/libraries are installed; naturally, it just hangs silently rather than returning a useful error message.
  • Sony’s support for upgrades is abysmal. While it’s not unusual for a manufacturer to support only the operating system delivered with the machine, it’s unique in my experience to refuse to even take a problem report about incorrect and incomplete files on the support Web site.
  • Finally, software quality assurance at Sony clearly isn’t even remotely in the same league as their hardware QA. The fact that I’ve been able (in three days) to find five major problems with the OS/driver installation process (no camera drivers, no USB drivers, incorrect camera driver on Web site, reboot dialog box problem creating recovery disks, and an application dependency/installation error with PowerPanel) tells the story.
  • That said, the hardware is nice and it works well once all of the software pieces are in place. But it does underscore that the combination of a rapacious software vendor and a hardware manufacturer that doesn’t really get the needs of the experienced user can be a costly and difficult one. It also points out the beauty of computing environments in which ease of use is a key concern, even when talking about something like re-installing the OS. The experienced user also shouldn’t overlook the benefits of an operating system in which licensing restrictions are not the primary driver behind the installation process.

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