Good Computer, Too Much Bloat

Generally when I've handled these notebook reviews, I haven't gone into the software/bloatware that ships on them too much, if at all. Truth be told, bloatware (at least in my experience) isn't the cancer on the industry that it used to be. These days the worst you have to do is uninstall Norton and disable Bing bar and I'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks that isn't a net win. But before we get to the part where Sony drops the ball with the VAIO S, we'll take a look at the good stuff.

As far as build quality and style go, the VAIO S is primo for a consumer laptop, no doubt about that. Sony uses a combination of aluminum, plastic, and magnesium alloy for the chassis that's extremely attractive, classy, and best of all, functional. There's just no gloss anywhere. And a weight of under four pounds for a powerful 13.3" notebook is really quite good; as far as heft and portability go, it's comparable to a netbook.

The lid appears to be made out of magnesium alloy, as it displays remarkably little flex when you try to twist the screen. From there, the inside surface is brushed aluminum with a recessed, backlit plastic keyboard. My only real complaint as far as the keyboard is concerned is the lack of dedicated document navigation keys, but given the overall thickness (or lack thereof) I'm inclined to let that slide.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for the touchpad. The tracking surface is something that I think is going to divide a lot of end users; some people will really like it, while some people (like me) are just going to find it doesn't feel particularly comfortable to use. Likewise, the mouse buttons feel stiff and require a bit more pressure than I'm used to. The touchpad and buttons probably shouldn't be a dealbreaker for anyone and most users will be able to get used to them, but this is one area where Sony can improve the design of the VAIO S.

Gallery: Sony Vaio SB

Everything else (physically at least) is pretty stellar, though. Above the keyboard is the eject button for the optical drive, next to the "Stamina / Speed" switch. The "Stamina" mode switches off the AMD Radeon HD 6470M and relies on Intel's IGP, while automatically changing the power profile over to "power saver." On the other hand, the "Speed" mode enables the 6470M and switches the power profile over to "high performance." As I mentioned before, Sony appears to be using muxes to handle graphics switching instead of AMD's dynamic switching software solution, and the screen blinks a couple of times (takes about ten seconds) when switching between modes. Thankfully it doesn't require a reboot.

The VAIO S' battery is housed internally, but a single plate on the bottom of the notebook can be removed to swap it out along with changing the hard drive or adding memory to the single DIMM slot. Clearly the battery isn't designed to be hot-swappable, but it doesn't need to be either; there are grooves on the bottom of the notebook the extended sheet style battery latches into.

And then there's this (and then there's Maude?) I actually had my work cut out for me getting the VAIO S into stomping shape for testing, because the factory restored image has a punishing 100 processes running at the outset, which eventually shrinks down to a more reasonable...97? It's really bad. The bloat on the VAIO isn't just the usual bloatware, a tremendous amount of it is Sony's own pack-in crap. Between all of the junk software and the agonizingly slow 5400RPM hard drive, what should be a fairly agile little computer can actually be rendered nigh unusable. I actually had to do the factory restore after I'd started copying over my test suite; Windows Update running in the background was exactly enough to bring the whole system to a crawl, to the point where the mouse pointer lags hopelessly.

Just to put things in perspective: while I'm writing this review on my desktop, I have Photoshop CS5, Windows Live Mail (quiet you), WinAMP, Steam, Trillian, and Firefox open, along with antiviral software, Dropbox, and my UPS system software in the system tray. That brings me up to about 3.6GB of used memory...and 62 processes.

Introducing the Sony VAIO S Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • Malih - Friday, September 9, 2011 - link

    a Sony VAIO S with Llano in it would be awesome
  • KPOM - Friday, September 9, 2011 - link

    This compares pretty favorably to the 13" MacBook Pro, and since it's a Sony it should hold up pretty well. That they can cram a discrete GPU into this is small package is impressive and ought to get the engineers at Apple motivated to do the same for the next MacBook Pro, unless the Ivy Bridge chip is substantially better in the graphics department, in which case I wouldn't be surprised to see the 13" Pro dropped.
  • hardwareguy - Friday, September 9, 2011 - link

    The 13" MBP already doesn't have discrete graphics. I think they keep it around for people who need a little more connectivity or hdd space than the Air offers.
  • Roland00Address - Friday, September 9, 2011 - link

    I am still baffled why sony sent the 160 shader version and not the 480 shader version. The price between the two is barely anything.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 9, 2011 - link

    I'd guess the SA is going to run pretty damn hot/loud as the major issue. I've actually got an Acer TimelineX 3830TG; run a game and the CPU throttles after about a minute because the CPU+GPU overwhelms the HSF. Part of that is Acer's BIOS, no doubt, but GT 540M and HD 6630M should generate comparable heat so unless Sony has better ventilation....
  • waldojim42 - Saturday, September 10, 2011 - link

    Heat was never really an issue when I had the 6630 version. In reality, the machine would turbo up to about 3.2Ghz in most games, and be quite happy to run there all day. Doesn't change the fact that the fan can be annoying though. Nor does it change Sony customer service... or lack thereof.
  • nutral - Friday, September 9, 2011 - link

    I actually have this laptop, with the sheet battery.

    I also got in the amd 6630, wich is actually pretty good for gaming, i can run call of duty or deus ex on it pretty well. It does get hotter with the amd,, but it's not that bad.

    The bloat is kind of bad, i reinstalled windows 7 right when i got it and also put in a intel 80gb ssd, in the cd drive i put in the 500gb harddrive and i also exchanged the 1000wifi for a 6200 and put in 4gb extra.

    Right now it is a power machine, works very long on a battery and still very light and thin. i usually don't even have to take the charger with me.

    with the 6630M this does become a pretty good road notebook, with some gaming.
  • waldojim42 - Friday, September 9, 2011 - link

    You guys really needed to test the SA. I did purchase the SA, with the Intel 2620 i7 and the AMD 6630. It did not get that warm, and still ran all day. The fan is still annoying though. I really do think you guys would have a totally different view of the machine though, if you considered the amount of portable power the i7/6630 delivers.

    I no longer own it though, as that fan died within 30 days. They then took over a month waiting on a motherboard to arrive. I finally coerced them into a refund, but was without a machine or my money for over 2 months.
  • OCedHrt - Saturday, September 10, 2011 - link

    Sony provides a Fresh Start option for free (for the most part) for all their CTOs without the Sony bloat. Not sure if them not sending a unit configured like that is a good thing or bad thing.
  • I am as mad as hell - Saturday, September 10, 2011 - link

    First off, we don't own any Apple products in my household, except an old iPad Nano.

    Now to the rant: All of those Windows PC based OEM's are spineless and make super boring products. The notable exceptions are ACER and Samsung.

    Gosh, can any of them make a decent laptop that puts Apple to shame?

    It's not that hard. There is just lack of creativity and commitment to excellence.

    A good PC Laptop should have the following mandatory specs besides the obvious ones:

    High Quality NONE GLOSSY! IPS or better LCD display
    Non-Glossy Bezel
    1x SSD boot drive with at least 64GB Ram
    1x HDD with at least 500GB capacity
    Back-lit Keyboard
    Built-in Logitech/Microsoft Mouse
    Wireless RF Headset receiver for Sony, Sennheiser, etc... wireless RF sets)
    Built-in 3D cameras (1 one the front, 1 on the back)
    External SATA port
    HDMI port
    One Laptop model option with optional external Blu-ray burner (don't need to use an optical drive all the time)
    High Quality Speakers (making good use of the saved space, by not having an internal optical drive)
    External Speaker port on the backside
    USB ports away from the left/right front side of the base. They should be placed more to the back left/ right side of the laptop (2 on each side)
    Paint that won't wear off!

    Dear Windows OEM's,
    Got that, good!

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