Go Beyond

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10 Year Old Laptop on the Original Battery

I've been wanting to write about my old Sony laptop for a long time. It had far out lived all reasonable expectations for a typical consumer laptop already a few years ago. I wondered if it would make it to the ten year mark, and sure enough it has.

The "industry standard" life expectancy for desktops is five years, or so I've heard. For laptops it's three years. This Sony laptop has survived ten years of my use.

Now in fairness, it hasn't been ten steady years. The past few years I've mostly used a Dell XPS laptop and the Sony was just for testing or occasional use. But, that doesn't tell the whole story, either. The laptop has traveled all over, ran 24/7 as a server, and been my primary work laptop at several points. Despite the lack of recent use, it's still year over year probably had a rougher life than almost any laptop I've seen.

My parents bought me the laptop as a gift when I was 17 years old. November 2009, or something like that. We bought it at the Sony Store (now closed for years) in La Canterra (a mall in San Antonio, Texas). I asked the salesmen if the keyboards were well regarded or not. It was different than I was used to, the keyboard was covered and not just a single panel. They said they held up well. The laptop was about $700 or $800 new, so quite mid-range. It's a 13" laptop without an optical drive. The model I see is "VPCY115FX". Screen resolution is 1366x768. It was sold with a 320GiB harddrive, if I'm not mistaken. Memory was 4GiB, is now 8GiB between two sticks. I'm now running an Intel X-25E SSD, 32GiB for disk. It has onboard gigabit ethernet, VGA, three USB 2.0 slots, and HDMI. All around, fairly well equipped and the builtin gigabit ethernet was a big selling point for me.

The laptop did have a notable issue from the start. The battery would come out of place slightly and the battery charge light would flash. I found some ducttape would solve the issue for a few years until the tape needed to be replaced. Sometimes the battery will droop out of its position and need to be pushed up by hand to turn on the laptop. It's a pretty silly issue, but workable. The most amazing thing about the battery is that it's still the original, after ten years. Battery life is still over two hours without any kind of explicit software optimization under moderate loads. If you've ever owned Dell laptops from the era, you know that the batteries went bad about every two years. And this battery has been used. Ran flat, on the charger for weeks, or any kind of usage pattern you can imagine.

The charger is still intact after being coiled up probably a thousand times. It's worn, but not unsafe. Some chargers will wear out the wiring and you'll see copper on your A/C wire, not the safest thing. This one is still going.

There have been so many Intel vulnerabilities since the laptop came out. While I don't think it's vulnerable to all of them, the software mitigations seem to be applied for all of them. While it was no screamer back in its day, it's quite slow now as a result with any modern kernel.

The incredible thing about this laptop's durability is that it has obvious non-durable design elements. The power button on the side rather than under the screen, for instance. But the magnesium case has proven strong, all of the keyboard buttons work, and every feature, to my knowledge, works as it did. I have not been gentle on it.

Compare this with a laptop I was bought for work a few years ago, my Dell XPS 13" Developer Edition. The battery swelled up dangerously (not user replaceable like the Sony, either), causing pressure under the touchpad which made the touchpad unable to right click. The CPU fan was poorly aligned, making noise like a bad bearing. The top cover alignment was poor, likely exacerbating this. All in all, the laptop isn't the most user servicable by design (not that you can't) and has had an incredible amount go wrong with it. While many can live just fine without their laptops, for me they are a lifeline for work. Any stability issue is a pretty major deal. My XPS had the battery, touchpad, top cover, CPU fan, and motherboard all replaced. Dell's support was excellent and the laptop does seem stable now, but it took a long time to get all of the issues worked out. Other than memory/SSD upgrades, I've never had to replace a single part on my Sony laptop. Is the Sony laptop comparable to the XPS? No, the XPS cost substantially more and is a much more capable piece of hardware. But the Sony I was always able to trust. The XPS' charger is already more worn than the Sony's.

It's a shame Sony stopped making laptops. They obviously knew what they were doing.

I'm sure this is a boring post for many of you. I just thought my old laptop deserved some recognition. I installed OpenBSD on it today. Everything worked, believe it or not. Albiet, slowly (Linux is not as slow on the laptop, but still sluggish). The laptop can even run Vagabond Workstation with multiple VMs. I think a lot of older hardware is dismissed prematurely which is a shame as a lot of it was better built all around.

Anyway, Merry Christmas!