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Sony Vaio Y Series Review: Proving Fusion's Potential

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Sony

Introduction and Design

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Tech journalists are finicky beasts. A few years ago we were washing netbooks in praise, declaring that they promised a new era of accessibility and portability for the PC. But now the tables have turned – tablets have usurped the throne of “cool new thing” and tech news is all too eager to declare the netbook little more than a passing trend, soon to be booted out of the market by glorious touchscreen slates.

The truth, however, is not as extreme has the headlines suggest. Netbooks are another boring reality that won’t be going anywhere soon, despite declarations of death and injury.  But I can understand why they’ve lost the limelight. The improvements made to netbooks over the last three years have been incremental at best. While battery life has gradually grown, performance has barely moved. Intel, lacking competition from AMD, has had little reason to improve its Atom processors. 

Now AMD has finally brought an Atom competitor to the market in the form of its Fusion APUs. We already reviewed one laptop powered by Fusion, the Toshiba Satellite C655. That laptop, however, was equipped with AMD’s single-core E-240. It provided performance roughly on par with a dual-core Atom system we tested in 2010, but ultimately fell a bit shot of our expectations.

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In this review we’ll be taking a look at the new Sony Vaio Y, an 11.6” netbook powered by AMD’s E-350, the most powerful Fusion APU the company currently offers. While the E-240 was a single-core part clocked at 1.5 GHz, the E-350 is a dual-core part clocked at 1.6 GHz. The graphics portion of the APU is essentially the same on both. 

Let’s have a look at what else is inside the new Sony Vaio Y.

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At first glance, the Sony Vaio Y struck me as smaller than it really is; I had to check the spec sheet to confirm that it was an 11.6” model rather than 10.1”. This is exactly the kind of laptop that will cause geeks to argue over its classification. It’s small enough to be a netbook, but the price is high for a netbook and thee system specifications have some meat to them. 

That argument aside, it’s time to start talking about what the Sony Vaio Y and its E-350 processor have to offer. 

Design

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Sony is the only mass-market Windows laptop manufacturer that I think deserves recognition of a “premium” brand. This is not to say that other companies don’t make laptops with design equal or better than what Sony can offer, but the company is distinct because it rarely cheapens its laptops to meet a price point. I’ve yet to come across a Sony laptop with a floppy chassis or butt-ugly exterior, and I’ve always liked the brash neon colors Sony makes available.

Unfortunately, the review unit we received boasted no neon. It instead arrived in perfectly mundane matte silver plastic. Although unlikely to catch anyone’s eye, the understated appearance has practical benefits. Combining a neutral color with a matte finish is a great way to combat fingerprints – and unlike some competitors, Sony does not chicken out by including masses of glossy trim or some other bit of flash. There are only three pieces of chrome on the entire laptop; the Vaio logo on the lid and two circular plastic accents, one around the power button and one around the power jack. 

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A closer look at the understated appearance does reveal some nice touches, however. The large circular power button on the laptop’s right flank is large and easy to use, but also well integrated into the lines of the chassis. It glows profusely, but this proves useful, as the color of the LED tells you that laptop’s current state (sleep, on, charging) and is also readily visible from across a large room. I also liked the lightly textured palmrest. While made of the same material as the rest of the laptop, the texture provides a richer feel than a simple, flat expanse. 

Most of the laptop’s chassis feels as if it is carved out of a single piece of material. The fit and finish is extremely tight; most of the gaps are too small to slip a piece of paper between. My only complaint is the laptop’s lid. Although it doesn’t wobble during typing the plastic seems thin in the middle, which allows a significant amount of flex if pressure is placed on the middle of the lid. 

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The underside of the Sony Vaio Y reveals a single access panel that covers both the hard drive and the RAM. It is secured by three screws and then snaps out. The force required to remove the panel, along with the thinness of the plastic it’s made out of, made this an uncomfortable process. Once uncovered, however, the hard drive and RAM are easily accessible. 

 

 

April 22, 2011 | 07:35 PM - Posted by codedivine

This (and all other) articles are not rendering properly on Firefox 4. I am using Ubuntu btw so not sure about FF4 on Windows.
Here is a screenshot: http://imgur.com/3ZBju
As you can see, everything is aligned WAY to the right.

April 23, 2011 | 12:27 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Not for me sir. FF4 displays correctly: I'll show my add-ons because I bet that's whats causing your issue.
http://img190.imageshack.us/img190/9476/unledto.jpg

April 23, 2011 | 02:17 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Do me a favor and try hitting Ctrl+0 and see what happens.

April 23, 2011 | 03:47 AM - Posted by codedivine

I tried hitting Ctrl+0 but nothing changed.
I can confirm that things are broken for me (as shown in screenshot above) on FF4 + Ubuntu but are working on FF4 + Windows. I also tried disabling all the extensions but that did not fix it.

For now, I am viewing articles using Chrome which shows everything correctly.

April 23, 2011 | 12:56 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Okay, I haven't tested under Linux, thanks.

April 23, 2011 | 02:39 AM - Posted by berserker29 (not verified)

Am I the only one who thinks that the pathetic HDD score might represent a non-cosmetic design issue of Sony's.

Not necessarily a design error or anything - I mean, it's not like the drive suddenly failed mid test - but (very) generally speaking, HDD performance normally increases with density.

Here however, the faster machine's 500GB HDD score much lower than even comparatively hobbled C655D's 320GB drive.

Bottleneck by design? Sub-par HDD? Was there just THAT much bloatware?

April 23, 2011 | 03:20 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Interesting question; I'll have Matt post a reply.

April 26, 2011 | 01:31 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

I'd love to have a definitive answer for this, but I don't. It isn't something I looking further into during my time with the machine, and that time is now over.

I do not believe it to be a bloatware problem. Bloatware still hurts boot times, but generally doesn't heard performance once booted. Although I suppose a bloatware antivirus could kick in at the wrong time and skew a benchmark.

April 24, 2011 | 12:29 AM - Posted by whiplash55 (not verified)

FF 4 seems to have issues in general.

April 26, 2011 | 01:50 AM - Posted by Rick (not verified)

I've got a Thinkpad X120e, I ordered it with an E-350, 2Gb RAM, a 320Gb 7200RPM drive, plus the extended battery, in one of those Gottadeal specials for $349. I added 2Gb, and a 128Gb SSD from one of the Newegg deals, and got out for $529 total.

Performance is actually quite good, most day to day things are really drive IO limited, at least for perception. 720p works fine, the little trackpoint nubbin actually is really nice on something this small, to the point I wish they'd just not have the trackpad. Battery life is a solid 5 hours when on power optimized mode. The keyboard is very good, not "for a notbook", just good, better than most island keyboards.

Quibbles, backlighted keyboard, it's not the only one, I just think it should be standard. The plastic isn't as solid as a Tseries, the Google CR48 coating is fantastic, it's trackpad is better too, but overall its a slow POS, terrible OS, but those two thinks would be nice to steal. HiCap batter sticks out the back, and it's a bit thick, really that's about it. I really like it.

I've got a 2008 MBP that I still use as a main laptop, the trackpad just works, that's the killer app for me, and the Thinkpad isn't noticeably slower than the 2.6ghz C2D, mostly because apple used a SATA I connector, so getting faster than a 7200 drive doesn't make that much difference, I still may throw an old 64Gb SSD in it for kicks. My wife has a 11" macbook air, and the thinkpad and it run neck and neck. Sexiness isn't a comparison, but for actually use and travel it's fundamentally just as portable and performs the same. For a full time ultraportable I'd probably go X220, or just bite the bullet on a 15" MBP. I new white macbook with a core i3 mobile, would be compelling too, only add a pound, bigger screen and stay at $999. But overall it kicks the crap out of any Atom system.

The Sony version is not bad either, neighbor has one, but loading a fresh copy of windows on an SSD is key, and the trackpad is awful, but only apple and oddly Google have gotten that right at this point. I'd like to see one with a non customer replaceable battery, a la macs, just go get it slim and sexy, while keeping the price under $700, that might be pretty killer. But then you get into the price of something like a Thinkpad E220, so pay more get more.

April 26, 2011 | 06:09 AM - Posted by Emmi (not verified)

I own sony vaio and i just love it......
I think it would be second most loved brand after apple....

Sony BDP-N460

May 1, 2011 | 08:16 AM - Posted by Adam (not verified)

Am I the only one who *prefers* a smaller trackpad? The bigger they are, the easier they are to bump when typing. Just increase the sensitivity option, and it's perfect (aside from the cheap noisy plastic buttons). The huge trackpad size (and lack of sensitivity) on my MacBook makes it unusable IMO.

One thing the Fusions have over the Atoms is the max. ram capacity - 8gb works fine in the Sony (aside from Windows being a 32-bit version).

AFAICT, the Vaio is the only readily-available E-350 processor-based netbook in Australia at this time. I couldn't find anything with more grunt than this in a smaller and lighter form-factor available off-the-shelf.

Also not don't see the problem you describe with the viewing angle. Must only be an issue under very bright natural light?

And 29fps on YouTube is "uncomfortable"? Aren't most videos there 24fps or less? This review seems too harsh...

Cons:
- No shortcut/switch to control wireless/bluetooth.
- Not Bluetooth 3
- legacy VGA port instead of something more useful (eg. firewire/esata)
- slow HDD
- bad mouse buttons.

Pros: closest thing to meeting my requirements I could easily find in a store.

February 16, 2012 | 06:46 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The hinge cover area at the back is very weak.  The hinge cover on one side broke off as I put the laptop into my bag. It has exposed the circuit board for the on/off switch.

Also once you have one or two apps open it is glacially slow. I have gotten rid of all the Sony Bloatware and even close down the virus checker in standalone mode.

It takes FOREVER to open a folder with lots of contents, open a new application.

Can't wait to get rid of it.

My old single core netbook outperformed this.

February 16, 2012 | 07:02 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

By the way ... you can see the weak point in the hinge in the photo of the back that shows the green power on light in the review above. See how it is not quite aligned with the back of the body? That can catch on things and break the two little plastic pins that hold the two halves together and then it will rip off when you put the 'puter in a bag.

Perhaps the flimsiness of these thin plastic pieces should have been discovered in the review. You can wobble them around with light finger pressure.

February 16, 2012 | 06:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The hinge cover area at the back is very weak.  The hinge cover on ones side broke off as I put the laptop into my bag. It has exposed the circuit board for the on/off switch. The plastic is thin, not well connected to the chassis and has two little plastic pins that work as a snap together.

Have a feel of the area around the hinges ... it is really thin and fragile

Also once you have one or two apps open it is glacially slow. I have gotten rid of all the Sony Bloatware and even close down the virus checker in standalone mode.

It takes FOREVER to open a folder with lots of contents.
Can't wait to get rid of it.

July 2, 2012 | 02:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

id like to know if this laptop is good for games.For example games like diablo and minecraft.

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