Sony Vaio Y Series Review: Proving Fusion's Potential
Introduction and Design
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.