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Decent Laptop Ruined By One Major Defect
on December 9, 2012
Note: Read on for some tips if you are interested in doing a Window 7 install.
This Ultrabook could have been perfect, but unfortunately has a major defect that makes me not recommend it. I'll start with the good, however. As for as laptops go, it is ridiculously thin and light, almost bordering on too thin. (It is ever so slightly difficult to open; you almost have to use your finger nails.) And unlike the netbooks of yesteryear, it flies. Windows 8 boots in about 5 seconds from a cold start. Its Toshiba SSD has 400+ MB/s sequential read/write speeds, and great random read/write as well. Overall, it's very enjoyable to use, and subjectively feels very fast. The 1600x900 screen is excellent resolution wise, though it is glossy, and exhibits some vertical "screen door" effect that a lot of new laptops seem to have.
From a hardware standpoint, Vizio gets major points for making an extremely accessible system. Just remove a number of torx screws on the base, and the bottom half of the case practically falls off revealing access to everything. There is no glue or harrowing plastic clips to deal with. RAM is soldered on and not upgradable (boo!) but the wireless card and SSD are. Unlike the 11.6 Asus Vivobook I looked at recently, the wireless card has two antennas instead of just one. The SSD is mSATA. The power jack is a separate board attached to the mainboard by a detachable cable, so breaking the jack does not necessarily mean junking the system. (Though, good luck finding the part anywhere...)
Now for some of the so-so. As far as general driver availability goes, Vizio is showing just how young they are to the PC market. They have no BIOS updates available for any of their systems, and they also do not have any Vizio specific utilities and drivers for download, such as the Fn key / OSD utility. (See below for their response to this.) The way they provide drivers is probably the worst I have ever seen. Each driver is an EXE, which is a Vizio wrapper of the actual manufacturer's installer. This is not too uncommon. But rather than just extracting the mfg's installer, the Visio wrapper actually installs each and every mfg installer to C:\Program Files (x86)\VIZIO\My Product Name, complete with an Add/remove programs reference for every driver before you've actually installed anything. These are somewhat minor issues, but are still a tad on the annoying side.
So what could ruin an otherwise decently favorable laptop? One word: the keyboard. Typing on this in any serious capacity is an exercise in frustration. Firstly, missed key presses abound. In fact, if you push very lightly on purpose, you can make any key depress and "click" but not actually register a press. This should be impossible on a well designed keyboard; any key that is depressed, no matter how lightly, should always register. Second, mysterious double presses occur far more frequently than random chance would allow. That seems to contradict the first issue, but somehow Vizio used their incredible engineering capabilities to create a keyboard that is both not sensitive enough and too sensitive.
Overall it is a slick system with a lot going for it, but the keyboard is bad enough that I would recommend looking elsewhere for an Ultrabook if you do any serious typing.
Windows 7 Notes: I did a successful fresh install of Windows 7 on this system, but ran into some issues along the way. First of all, they do provide Windows 7 drivers on their site, but they neglect to mention that the Win 7 model of this laptop has slightly different hardware from the Windows 8 version, even though it has the same model number. For instance, you need to get the touch pad driver straight from Synaptic, as the Win7 driver on Vizio.com is for a different manufacturer's touch pad, and the Win8 driver does not contain bundled Win7 drivers.
The Intel rapid start technology driver is also a pain to get working. I'll post a link in the comments to a Dell PDF that shows what you need to do to get it installed. In short, you need to use diskpart to create a hibernation partition, otherwise the Intel installer will say your system does not meet requirements. The Vizio provided driver also does not work, and again I had to go to the mfg's website (Intel).
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Vizio does not provide any Vizio-specific utilities or drivers on their site as far as I can see, so that means I was not able to find a Fn key / OSD utility. Thankfully the brightness and volume keys work, but the key to disable the wifi or switch to an external monitor do not work, and there is no OSD or any of the keys. Not a big deal, but worth mentioning. I just wrote Vizio support, and will report back what they say.
UPDATE: I wrote an e-mail to Visio support on the keyboard and driver issue, and here is their response:
Dear Valued Customer,
Thank you for contacting VIZIO PC support, I can definitely assist you with your inquiry.
You'll need to press the keys all the way down for the keyboard to register a keystroke, you can also adjust the sensitivity of the keyboard in the keyboard's properties by clicking on Start, then in the search field type in Keyboard and open the properties window. If you have installed a version of Windows 7 that is not the VIZIO image of Windows 7 Home Premium the driver for the function keys will not work.
If you need any additional assistance feel free to contact VIZIO at 1-877-878-4946 or chat with us at [...]
Thanks and have a great day!
So unlike every other PC mfg on the planet, you have to use their image to install because they cannot be bothered to provide all the drivers that are necessary to operate their product. Is that not the point of providing drivers in the first place? The bit about pressing the keys down all the way is really a joke, as is the helpful tip to adjust sensitivity in the control panel. (There is no such ability. You can adjust the repeat rate, but that has nothing to do with key sensitivity) Needless to say, this will be my first and last Vizio PC.