Couple sues Acer over sluggish Vista performance

Home Premium crashes, freezes, runs slowly with 1GB of memory and integrated graphics, lawsuit claims

An Ohio couple has sued Acer America Corp., accusing the computer maker of deceiving customers by claiming that laptops with just 1GB of memory can run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Vista, according to court documents.

They have asked the judge to grant the case class-action status.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco last Wednesday, Lora and Clay Wolph said that the Aspire notebook they bought in April 2008 "would not run properly" and would constantly freeze or crash when they tried to run Vista Home Premium.

The Aspire 4520-5458 notebook, which the Wolphs purchased for $586 from Wal-Mart, included 1GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce 610M integrated graphics chipset, which grabs some of the system memory for its own use.

"Acer's Defective Notebooks are inherently defective in that they do not contain enough RAM to properly run Vista Premium despite being promoted and sold as a bundled product of both a notebook computer and a premium operating system," the Wolphs' lawsuit alleged. "As a result, the Defective Notebooks experience serious problems, including, but not limited to, freezing during use, crashing, requiring frequent restarts, and experiencing slow load times."

The Wolphs had to upgrade the Aspire to 2GB of RAM, at an out-of-pocket cost of $157, to make the notebook usable, they said.

Acer technical support dismissed their problems, according to the Wolphs' lawsuit. "Acer responded: 'If the system does not run properly, please not that Windows Vista recommended requirements for the memory is 1GB of system memory. However, the minimum requirements is [sic] 512MB of memory in which your system is pre-installed with. This means that the system is still able to run Windows Vista properly."

Some of the arguments made by the Wolphs have been voiced by plaintiffs' lawyers in the ongoing "Vista Capable" lawsuit, which has claimed that the entry-level Vista Home Basic is not the "real" Vista.

"While a computer needs, at a minimum, 512MB of RAM just to install Vista (whether Basic or Premium), the additional elements of Windows Vista Premium, such as the Aero Glass interface (a key component of Vista Premium) and the Media Center, cannot function without additional memory," the Wolphs' suit said. "As such, Microsoft provides 'recommended minimum system requirements' for Vista Premium so that users can experience the full functionality of the operating system, and all of its components without experiencing problems."

Microsoft's recommended system requirements, the Wolphs argued, spell out that a machine must have 1GB of RAM and 128MB of graphics memory to run Home Premium. But because the Aspire shares system memory with the graphics chipset, the machine has less than 800MB of free RAM to run Vista, which they claimed is insufficient.

"Acer's Defective Notebook computers, which have a total of 1024MB RAM and dedicate approximately 256MB of [that] to graphics, are left with only 768MB of system memory to run the operating system," the Wolphs said.

Concerns about Vista's memory requirements surfaced almost immediately after its January 2007 launch. One Computerworld article, which was cited in the Wolphs' suit, quoted an IBM consultant who said that Vista would deliver "sub-XP" performance with just 512MB of available system memory. Some computer makers, including Dell Inc., recommended 2GB of memory for machines running Vista.

The Wolphs charged Acer with breach of warranty, fraud, and violations of California and federal consumer protection laws. They seek an unspecified amount of damages, and have also asked the court to grant the case class-action status.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

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