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The 3-pound Ultraportable: 
    Sony 2008 VAIO Notebooks  (7/2008)

    by Douglas Dixon

Sony VAIO 2008 Line Summary
Apple MacBook Air - Specs
Sony 2008 VAIO Notebooks -- Specs

What's an "ultraportable" notebook? I don't mean a tiny pseudo-PC, but a real computer. A system designed to be stripped down and easy to carry, but without too many compromises ...

Sony has given its view of the right trade-offs for a small notebook with the introduction of its latest generation of Sony VAIO notebooks, available in August 2008 (www.sonystyle.com/vaio). The comparison to the Apple MacBook Air shows very different ideas about where to compromise in cutting features (www.apple.com/macbookair). 

        

The Apple MacBook Air is positioned as full-sized (as in keyboard and 13" display), but incredibly thin (3/4 of an inch) and light (3.0 pounds). But the MacBook Air sacrifices an optical drive, hard drive capacity (only 80 GB), and most connectors (including video out and Ethernet).

  • Apple MacBook Air - 13" - 3.0 lbs., 1.6/1.8 GHz, 2 GB, 80 GB, $1799  (1/08)

In comparison, the existing Sony VAIO TZ (still in the product line) at about the same price point, shrinks the display (11.1") and keyboard, but piles on more storage (to 320 GB) and a CD/DVD burner, and still comes in weighing less, at 2.7 lbs.

  • Sony TZ Series - Ultra-mobile - 11.1" - 2.7 lbs. - to 1.33 GHz, 2 GB / 320 GB - $1899

And the new Sony VAIO Z, also in the same price range, matches the MacBook Air display size (13.1"), and further increases the available processor (1.8 to 2.53 GHz), and memory (up to 4 GHz), although coming in slightly heavier (3.42 lbs.).

  • Sony Z Series - Sleek, powerful, lightweight - 13.1" - 3.42 lbs. - to 2.53 GHz, 4 GB / 320 GB - $1799  (new 8/08)

The remaining Sony VAIO notebook line then offers larger display size and enhanced performance.

  • Sony SR Series - Performance with design - 13.3" - 4.14 lbs. - to 2.80 GHz, 4 GB / 320 GB - $1399   (new 8/08)
  • Sony FW Series - Multimedia High-def - 16.4", 6.4 lbs. - to 2.80 GHz, 4 GB / 320 GB - $1000   (new 8/08)
  • Sony BZ Series - Professional - 15.4" - 5.8 lbs. - $1000  (new 8/08)
  • Sony AR Series - Multimedia power - 17" - 8.3 lbs. - to 2.60 GHz, 4 GB / 320 x 2 GB - $1529

So we have general agreement on a 3 pound notebook starting under $2000, but significantly different alternatives on the key required features, not compromising on at least one of the display size, processor speed, storage capacity, optical disc, and/or ports. Some models also offer the alternative of a solid-state drive (SSD), with memory instead of a spinning magnetic disc, offering faster boot and access with a more rugged drive, but at a significantly higher cost and with significantly smaller capacity (64 / 128 GB).

Another alternative could have been to be more aggressive in reducing features to drop to around 2 pounds, both shrinking the display (as in the VAIO TZ) and omitting the optical drive (as in the MacBook Air), but still retaining sufficient performance to be a useful system. After all, you can always hook up to a larger display at your desk, and access storage though a flash drive and the network.

Sony actually took a shot at such a system with its Sony VAIO X505 notebook introduced in May 2004 as a limited experiment. It was thin like the MacBook Air, tapering from 0.8" at the back hinge to 0.38" at the front, and smaller, with a 10.4" screen (so it fits comfortably in a regular 8 1/2 x 11 envelope). As a result, the X505 weighed just 1.84 lbs, so carrying it really was like a thick magazine. The price at that time started at a hefty $2999, and the power and storage were limited to a Intel Pentium M 1.10 GHz processor, with 512 MB memory, and 20 GB hard disk (with an external CD/DVD drive, and a dongle connector for video and network). 

  • Sony X505 - Ultra-portable - 10.4" - 1.84 lbs. - 1.10 GHz, 512 MB / 20 GB - $2999  (old - 5/04)

However, the X505 did not catch on, and it seems that Sony still believes that users need an optical drive, even in this age of near-ubiquitous networking. Of course, Sony is heavily invested in supporting the Blu-ray format, so its new models go beyond DVD to support HD movie playback and burning 25 GB (or more) of data per disc.

Even so, there's a huge difference between carrying a 3+ pound notebook and a 2- pound system -- it's like throwing a paperback book in your bag versus lugging around a big hardcover tome. So I'm still interested in system that can slim down for the road, and yet with enough power to be my main working machine when docked on my desk.

For more alternatives, see:

Laptops: In Search of Bearable Lightness
        Finding an ultraportable laptop with everything I need--and without Vista--isn't so easy.
    Stephen Manes
    PC World, August 2008
    www.pcworld.com/article/147445/laptops_in_search_of_bearable_lightness.html

    Find the Sony VAIO TZ and Apple MacBook Air on Amazon.com


Sony VAIO 2008 Line Summary

Most of the new Sony VAIO product models include widescreen LCD displays with Sony XBRITE-HiColor, Intel Centrino 2 processors ( some up to 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo), up to 4 GB memory and 320 to 400 GB hard drive, with 802.11n wireless LAN, plus multiple USB ports, i.LINK IEEE-1394 port, Memory Stick media/SD card slot, and PC Card (type-II) or ExpressCard slot.

The products then focus on multimedia or business usage:

- The multimedia models add Blu-ray Disc read/write drive with HDMI output to HDTV displays, built-in video camera and microphone, and Sony music/video/disc software. 

- The business models include a biometric fingerprint sensor, Trusted Platform Module compliant chip, and proprietary hard disk drive password protection software. Sony features Windows Vista Business / Ultimate pre-installed, with some models adding the option for a Windows XP Pro downgrade.

New model changes

  • SZ Series -> SR, Z
  • FZ Series -> FW
  • BX -> BZ

Press releases: http://news.sel.sony.com/assets/Vaio_2008


Apple MacBook Air - Specs

   

  • 13" TFT LED backlit widescreen display, 1280 x 800 resolution
  • Compact Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1.6 or 1.8 GHz
  • 2 GB memory, 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • 80GB 4200-rpm Parallel ATA hard disk drive, Optional 64GB solid-state drive
  • Optional external USB MacBook Air SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor with 144MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory
  • Built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR wireless 
  • Optional USB Ethernet Adapter
  • Full-size 78-key illuminated keyboard
  • Multi-Touch gesture trackpad 
  • Analog audio output/headphone out (minijack), Built-in mono speaker, omnidirectional microphone
  • One USB port (480 Mbs)
  • Micro-DVI port (micro-DVI to DVI and micro-DVI to VGA adapters included
        micro-DVI to video adapter optional
  • 0.16 to 0.76 inch thin, 12.8" wide, 8.94" deep, 3.0 pounds
  • 1.6 GHz processor, 80 GB hard drive, 4200-rpm PATA , $1799
  • 1.8 GHz processor, 64 GB solid-state drive, $3098
  • www.apple.com/macbookair

Sony 2008 VAIO Notebooks -- Specs


Sony VAIO Z Series - Sleek, powerful, lightweight - 13.1" - 3.42 lbs. (8/08)

    

  • 13.1-inch widescreen display, 1600 x 900, XBRITE-DuraView LCD technology
  • 3.42 pounds
  • Intel Centrino 2 technology, up to 2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo
  • up to 4 GB RAM
  • up to 320 GB hard drive, available 128 GB solid state drive (SSD)
  •             rapid boot-up and quicker access to applications
  • + optional Blu-ray Disc (BD) optical drive, HDMI output
  • switch-on-the-fly hybrid graphics system, graphics performance or extend battery life
  • 802.11n wireless LAN
  • + optional wireless Sprint Mobile Broadband
  • carbon-fiber casing
  • G-Sensor Shock Protection technology
  • biometric fingerprint sensor, Trusted Platform Module compliant chip, proprietary hard disk drive password protection software.
  • Windows Vista Business pre-installed, Windows XP Pro downgrade for select models
  • Memory Stick media/SD card slot, three USB ports, i.LINK IEEE-1394 port, microphone and headphone jack, PC Card (type-II) slot
  • Starting at $1,799, SSD model around $2,300

Sony VAIO SR Series - Thin and light - 13.3" - 4.14 lbs. (8/08)

    

  • Performance with design
  • 13.3-inch LED backlit widescreen display, XBRITE-ECO LCD technology
  • 4.14 lbs.
  • Intel Centrino 2 technology, 2.80 GHz Core 2 Duo
  • Up to 320GB hard drive and 4GB RAM
  • Magnesium alloy, G-Sensor Shock Protection technology
  • 802.11n wireless LAN
  • + Optional built-in webcam and microphone
  • Switch technology: customized modes for home, work and entertainment
  • Entertainment software: VAIO Movie Story produce home movies, VAIO MusicBox enjoy music, Click to Disc/ Editor easy DVD/ BD video-editing and creation; VAIO Media DLNA stream PC content throughout home network
  • Memory Stick media/SD card slot, three USB ports, i.LINK IEEE-1394 port, microphone and headphone jack, PC Card (type-II)
  • Select models Windows Vista Home Premium pre-installed, Windows XP Professional downgrade available
  • Five colors: night black, sunset pink, glossy pink, classic silver, glossy silver
  • Starting at $1,399

Sony VAIO FW Series - Multimedia High-def - 16.4", 6.4 lbs. (8/08)

    

  • 16.4-inch display, 16:9, XBRITE-HiColor LCD technology on select models
  • 6.4 lbs.
  • Intel Centrino 2 technology, Up to 2.80 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • Up to 4 GB RAM and 400 GB hard drive
  • Premium model available Blu-ray Disc drive
  • HDMI output
  • 802.11n wireless LAN
  • Entertainment software: VAIO Movie Story produce home movies, VAIO MusicBox enjoy music, Click to Disc/ Editor easy DVD/ BD video-editing and creation; VAIO Media DLNA stream PC content throughout home network
  • Memory Stick media/SD card slot, three USB ports, i.LINK IEEE-1394 port, microphone and headphone jack, 34mm ExpressCard slot
  • Select units Windows Vista Ultimate pre-installed
  • Titanium gray and powder white
  • Starts at $1,059, premium around $1,750

Sony VAIO BZ Series - Professional - 15.4" - 5.8 lbs. (8/08)

    

  • Durability, mobility and performance
  • 15.4-inch widescreen display, optional anti-glare screen, XBRITE-ECO LCD
  • 5.8 pounds
  • Intel Centrino 2 technology, Intel Core 2 Duo (2.53 - 2.26 GHz )
  • Magnesium alloy, full-size spill-resistant keyboard, G-Sensor Shock Protection
  • 802.11n wireless LAN
  • Biometric fingerprint sensor, Trusted Platform Module compliant chip, proprietary hard disk drive password protection software
  • Memory Stick media/SD card slot, three USB ports, i.LINK IEEE-1394 port, microphone and headphone jack, PC Card (type-II) slot
  • Windows Vista Business pre-installed, Windows XP Pro downgrade included
  • Starting at $1,000

Sony VAIO AR Series - Multimedia power - 17" - 8.3 lbs.

    

  • Portable desktop
  • 17" widescreen LCD, XBRITE-HiColor, up to WUXGA (1920x1200)
  • 8.3 lbs.
  • Intel Core 2 Duo up to 2.60 GHz
  • Up to 4 GB, available 640 GB (320GBx2) hard drive
  • Available Blu-ray Disc read/write drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics with 512MB Video RAM
  • HDMI, S-Video and VGA out with Smart Display Sensor
  • Available ATI TV Wonder digital cable TV tuner
  • Built-in 1.3 megapixel camera
  • Windows Vista Ultimate or other editions
  • Starting at $1,529

VAIO TZ Series - Ultra-mobile - 11.1" - 2.7 lbs.

   

  • 11.1" LED backlit display
  • 2.7 lbs.
  • Up to 1.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • Up to 2 GB RAM
  • Up to 320 GB hard drive, available 64 GB SSD
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Business or other editions
  • Starting at $1,899

References

Sony VAIO Products - SonyStyle
    www.sonystyle.com/vaio