Introducing the Sony EE34

You can't buy it from Sony's website. If you blinked you might have missed the news popping up on a couple of different sites about its existence. If you were on the phone with me when I called Jarred about it, you might even have shared his reaction: "Sony makes a budget AMD laptop?" But sure enough they do, and we have a  budget Sony EE34 notebook on hand that's liable to raise more than a few eyebrows. Around $600 for a Sony Vaio AMD-based notebook with a Blu-ray drive standard? They make those?

As a matter of fact, they do. With Intel's Sandy Bridge recall having largely enervated the retail market, we thought it would be a good opportunity to take another look at what AMD has on hand. When we saw the EE34 on the shelf, it wound up being such a curiosity that we knew we had to find out just what exactly a budget Sony Vaio AMD notebook means. This is also the first of hopefully many Sony notebooks we'll be taking a look at in the future and yes, we've heard your calls, we're trying to get a Z series on hand.

In the meantime, though, we're going to check out what happens when an AMD Athlon II mobile processor with a 25W TDP hangs out inside one of Sony's attractive Vaio notebooks.

Sony EE34 Specifications
Processor AMD Athlon II P340
(2x2.2GHz, 45nm, 1MB L2, 25W)
Chipset AMD RS880M Northbridge + SB800 Southbridge
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4250 IGP
(40 Stream Processors, 510MHz core clock)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1366x768
(LG LGD02CA Panel)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 5400 RPM
Optical Drive BD-ROM/DVD+-RW Combo Drive
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 802.11b/g/n
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 4-Cell, 11.1V, 39Wh battery
Front Side MS reader
SD/MMC reader
Wireless switch
Indicator lights
Headphone jack
Microphone jack
Left Side AC adapter
Exhaust vent
Ethernet jack
USB 2.0
Right Side 3x USB 2.0
Optical drive
Kensington lock
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.56" x 9.78" x 1.26"-1.47" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.90 lbs
Extras Webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Blu-ray drive
103 key keyboard with 10-key
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Pricing Available online for $630

It's no big secret that Intel's "Core 2010" series of mobile processors are faster than AMD's current lineup, and that the Sandy Bridge-based "Core 2011" series will be faster still. The problem is that the former are drying up in retail (no doubt due to trying to shift inventory to make room for the Sandy Bridge refreshes) while the latter are still about a month away due to the recall. That leaves us with a healthy amount of AMD-based notebooks on the market, and as we'll see that's not such a bad thing.

The Athlon II P340 (so nice of AMD to finally do away with any sense of logic in their chip naming just like Intel did) is basically the same as the dual-core desktop Athlon II, with no L3 cache but 512KB of L2 cache per core. It runs at an unexciting 2.2GHz, but should still provide enough processing power to handle most tasks. The best part, of course, is that this chip also features a 25W TDP that you'll see Sony actually manages to get some mileage out of.

Well, that's not the only best part. The other part is that while AMD's 40-shader integrated graphics haven't exactly aged gracefully, they're still better than any other IGP currently widely available on the market (NVIDIA's GeForce 320M is only available in MacBooks, and the 9400M is basically gone now) barring the Radeon HD 6310 in AMD's E-350, which brings with it the baggage of a much slower processor. As a result the Mobility Radeon HD 4250 may not be much but it can at least get the job done for the lightest of gaming, though most users will be disappointed to see it doesn't share the 700MHz core clock of the desktop IGP.

The other big selling point of the Sony EE34 is the Blu-ray drive, making it a very affordable way to get a decent computer and a Blu-ray player in one shot. The middling 720p screen may not help you get the most out of your movie watching experience, but it's a start, and there's always the HDMI port for external displays.

As for the rest of the EE34, connectivity is generally good and the 4GB of DDR3 is ample, but the system is bogged down by a lowest-common-denominator 5400RPM Toshiba hard drive with a paltry 8MB of cache. Every time I have to use a Toshiba or Fujitsu hard drive I feel like I'm being punished for something, and it's a disappointment to see them when most vendors have switched to using Seagate or Western Digital drives (though Samsung and Hitachi are also fine candidates.) 

An Inexpensive Vaio?
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  • rns.sr71 - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    'While Llano's CPU performance doesn't promise to be a substantial improvement over what we've seen here (the cores are basically K10.5)'- now hold it. amd is doubleing l2 cache size, improving prefetchers, improving the mem. controller(hopefully efficiency), and i have to believe that they are increasing the width and/or the speed of the cpu/nb. it could outperform deneb clock for clock then factor in a REAL could be 15-25 percent better than deneb depending on the app. 15-25 percent better than propus across the board.
  • nitrousoxide - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    While improvements may occur, there won't be substantial changes in CPU performance for it's still a 3-issue design. And note there's no way Llano can be clocked at, say, 3.0GHz (at least without Turbo) due to TDP limit (Llano should have even higher TDP than quad-core i7s because there's a discrete level GPU packed in it). So you can't really expect a Llano faster than the desktop Athlon II X4 640 today. But anyway, with four cores, it should at least keep up with low-end dual core Sandybridge and would provide much much better IGP performance. I expect the IGP performance to be at the same level of downclocked versions of Mobility 5650 (ones equipped in Toshiba and Sony laptops). That performance is enough for most gaming with high (though not ultra high) settings at 1366x768 resolution.
  • rns.sr71 - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    not tryin to argue, but look at this-

    "Quite a lot is known about Llano processor, which is a part of Sabine platform. As reported earlier, AMD Llano accelerated processing unit (APU) will have four x86 cores based on the current micro-architecture each of which will have 9.69mm² die size (without L2 cache), a little more than 35 million transistors (without L2 cache), 2.5W – 25W power consumption, 0.8V – 1.3V voltage and target clock-speeds at over 3.0GHz clock-speed. The cores will dynamically scale their clock-speeds and voltages within the designated thermal design power in order to boost performance when a program does not require all four processing engines or trim power consumption when there is no demand for resources. According to sources familiar with the matter, different versions of Llano processor will have thermal design power varying from 20W to 59W: high-end dual-core, triple-core and quad-core chips will have TDP between 35W and 59W; mainstream chips with two of four x86 cores will fit into 30W thermal envelope and low-power dual-core Llano chips will have 20W TDP." -
  • rns.sr71 - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    also, yes it is still 3 issue. but changes to prefetchers, OoO buffer, scheduler efficiency, ect would improve ipc noticeably. i think the doubling of the l2 cache, lower latency, higher mem bandwidth, wider/faster cpu/nb(which has to be improved) would make up for not having an l3 cache. so it could outperform a deneb. maybe by the same amount that deneb outperformed its predecessor.
  • nitrousoxide - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    IPC can only be improved with substantial architectural changes, not such minor adjustments. So you can't seriously expect too much CPU performance from Llano, but as I said, it could be as fast, if not faster than dual core sandybridge.
  • Hrel - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    I really don't care about blu ray at all, and with this kind of performance of paltry screen...
    I just cannot justify paying more than 400 for this laptop. Either remove the blue ray and drop the price to 500 or less or put in a nice 500:1 contrast 1080p screen with a 6 cell battery.
  • Hrel - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    at 500 bucks with blu-ray I can see a place for it. Even a dollar more though and it's just not worth it. In 6 months every laptop on big box shelves will include Sandy Bridge IGP which greatly outperforms this in every single way. AMD really needs the ramp up their mobile offerings.
  • mino - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    One thing where it also outperforms even those Xpress 1200 IGP's of old is in driver bugs on Windows and driver non-existence on Linux.

    It is worth keeping that in mind. I'd take ATi Xpress 200 from 2005 over HD Graphics any day. With an SB CPU to chug along, of course ;)
  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    The screen doesn't matter as long is it's an asinine glossy one.

    The contrast ratio doesn't mean anything when the image is covered in a reflective sheen all the time. And it will be, even in a pitch-black room, because at the very least YOU will be reflected in it.

    Unless you do all your computing in a ninja outfit, in a closet.
  • kevith - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    Haha, great:-)

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