26 August 2009

Sony Vaio W111XX Review

CNET editors' review

  • CNET editors' rating: 3.0 stars Good
    Detailed editors' rating
      Design : 8.0
      Features : 8.0
      Performance : 7.0
      Battery life : 5.0
      Service and support : 7.0
      Overall score: 6.7 (3.0 stars)
  • Reviewed on: 08/24/2009
  • Released on: 08/01/2009

Sony's first foray in to the world of Atom-powered laptops was the Vaio P-series Lifestyle PC, which sported a unique miniaturized design (about the same footprint as a standard business envelope), but was hampered by input issues (no touch pad), and the use of Windows Vista as its OS.

At the time of that product's release, Sony was adamant that despite the Atom processor and small size, it was most definitely not a Netbook. The new Vaio W, on the other hand, is very clearly a Netbook, with Windows XP, a 10-inch display, and a familiar Netbook form factor.

While the $499 price may cause some sticker shock, as the base components aren't too much different from what you'd find in a $299-$399 Netbook, Sony is hoping the inclusion of a 1,366x768 high-definition display is enough to push the Vaio W over the line into the elusive "premium Netbook" category--perhaps the holy grail of PC makers looking to escape the price-cutting wars at the lower end of the Netbook biz.

If the hi-res display is worth a $100 (or more) premium to you, than the Vaio W is one of the nicer overall Netbook packages out there, but the same basic combo of an Intel Atom N280 CPU, 1GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive, and Windows XP is definitely available for less. Dell's less snazzy-looking Mini 10 can also be outfitted with a similar hi-def display for around the same price, and offers more configuration flexibility.

Price as reviewed $499
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Atom N280
Memory 1GB, 533MHz DDR2
Hard drive 160GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel 945GM Express
Graphics Intel GMA 950 (integrated)
Operating System Windows XP Home SP3
Dimensions (WD) 10.6 inches wide by 7.3 inches deep
Height 0.8-1.0 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 10.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.5/3.0 pounds
Category Netbook

While not the thinnest or lightest 10-inch Netbook around, the Sony Vaio W offers a solid, well-constructed chassis that feels sturdier than some of the less expensive Netbooks we've seen. Our unit was decked out in an all-over pink color scheme, from a rich, darker pink on the lid, to a pale pink on the patterned keyboard tray, to a subtle pink crosshatch on the touch-pad surface. If pink's not your color, brown and white versions are available as well.

With the recent (and welcome) trend toward oversized keys on Netbooks--relatively speaking, of course--we were a little surprised by how diminutive the keyboard on the Vaio W felt. It looks and feels like a shrunk-down clone of the standard Vaio laptop keyboard, with flat-topped, widely spaced keys. But this leaves the individual keys smaller than we'd like, and the Function, Tab, and right shift keys are especially tiny.

Sony includes its custom Media Plus software for organizing and playing media files. It's a well-done app, but we're usually wary of investing the time to learn a proprietary software package that's only used on one brand of laptops.

The real star here is the 10.1-inch wide-screen LED display. It has a 1,366x768 native resolution, which is higher than the Netbook standard of 1,024x600. We've also seen this higher resolution on a couple of 11.6-inch Netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC 1101HA.

While it's arguably a better fit on those 11-inch screens, it also works nearly as well on the smaller 10-inch display, and we didn't find text or icons too small to see. Of course, your mileage with HD video files with a Netbook's anemic video capabilities may vary; we were able to load up HD versions of TV show episodes on Hulu, but they stuttered in full-screen mode.

Sony Vaio W Average for category [Netbook]
Audio headphone/microphone jacks headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

Being a Sony Vaio, it's not surprising that there's a second media card slot for the proprietary Memory Stick format. And being at the top end of the Netbook price scale, it's also not surprising to find Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi included (but not HDMI, as found on the similarly priced Dell Mini 10).

With an Intel Atom N280 CPU, the Vaio W is a bit zippier than Netbooks with the N270 version of the Atom (or the even slower Z520 version). The difference isn't major, but in a system with little processing headspace as it is, every little bit counts. We found the Vaio W perfectly usable for basic Netbook tasks, from Web surfing to e-mail to working on office docs--and it's much easier to use than Sony's P-series non-Netbook.

Sony Vaio W
Off (watts) 0.36
Sleep (watts) 0.6
Idle (watts) 7.52
Load (watts) 17.09
Raw (annual kWh) 26.37
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $2.99

The Sony Vaio W ran for 2 hours and 19 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included three-cell battery. That's disappointing for a Netbook, especially as these are systems designed for on-the-road use. Our battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect somewhat longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.

Sony includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Upgrading to a three-year plan is an extra $169. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, and a well-designed support site with a knowledge base and driver downloads.

Multimedia Multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Jalbum photo conversion test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Sony Vaio W
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Toshiba 5400rpm

Lenovo Ideapad S10-2
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Western Digital 5400rpm

Asus Eee PC 1005HA
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 224MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Hitachi 5400rpm

Acer Aspire One AOD250
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 224MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Seagate 5400rpm

HP Mini 5101
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 224MB (Shared) Mobile Int


05 August 2009

Gateway NV5214u Review

Reviewed by: Catharine Smith
Review Date: August 2009

Computer Shopper - Tired of paying for features you don’t need? Gateway has a notebook for you. At $499, the 6.8-pound NV5214u is priced like a netbook but functions like a mainstream laptop. Its sleek design, 15.6-inch wide-screen LCD, and 1,366x768 native resolution give the impression of a high-end notebook. But when you’re paying half the price of the average mainstream laptop, you should expect to sacrifice some on performance, and this model does demand this. The $499 price is the best thing the NV5214u has going for it, followed closely by its design. But those with undemanding computing needs and an eye for style should seriously consider this notebook.

The NV5214u's sleek design has the flair of a much pricier mdoel. This model is coffee-brown, with a honeycomb pattern. The metallic Gateway logo stands out against the neutral tones.

With a matte-black keyboard, a silver rim, and a subtle honeycomb pattern, the NV5214u keeps in step with current laptop design. Our model came in coffee brown, but cherry red, nightsky black, and midnight blue options are also available.

The extra-wide keyboard features a dedicated number pad; neither, thankfully, puts any of the major keys in odd places. The letter keys are broad and flat, which takes some getting used to but doesn’t affect typing ease. The space bar is small, compared with the other keys, though it's not reduced enough to be bothersome. The touch pad is roomy, and the long, thin button below it functions as both a right- and a left-click button, depending on which side of it you press.

Above the keyboard is a row of indicator lights. The four lights to the left are for hard drive activity, Caps Lock, Num Lock, and Bluetooth. To their right are seven LED indicators that double as touch buttons, glowing red when activated. These touch controls govern a power-save function, the MyBackup function, the Wi-Fi enabler, a touch-pad-lock feature, and volume levels. (The MyBackup button lets you copy and store important files with one press.) Above the screen are a built-in microphone and an integrated Webcam.

To test display and sound, we watched The Matrix via the NV5214u’s DVD drive. In dim light, picture quality was beautiful (and viewable even from off-axis). However, the glossy screen was prone to glare in bright light. Unless you’re sitting directly in front of the screen, don’t try to watch movies in a well-lit room. Volume levels were an issue, as well. The Dolby-quality sound was best appreciated with headphones on; without headphones, we found ourselves continually pressing the volume controls for more oomph, even when we knew volume was at 100 percent. Gunshots and musical swells were quite loud, but dialog-filled scenes sounded very soft. The NV5214u's cooling system runs quietly, however, so the internal fan noise doesn’t interfere with the sound, as it does on some laptops.

The keys are broad and flat. A number pad occupies the right side of the keyboard.

The NV5214u offers laptop-typical connectivity. On the left side are an AC adapter port, a Kensington-lock slot, VGA and HDMI connectors, two USB ports, microphone and headphone jacks, and a five-format memory-card reader. The front edge sports a power light, a battery light, and a ventilation grille for the fan inside. The right side sports the DVD drive, two more USB ports, and a modem jack. The power on/off button caps the right side of the hinge.

We noted a few out-of-the-box glitches when test-driving our review unit, namely overall sluggishness and an unruly touch pad. But, oddly, these problems began to smooth themselves out after a few hours. At the end of a full day of testing, the glitches had resolved themselves, likely because the NV5214u had automatically downloaded some Windows updates. By the time we had conditioned the battery, the NV5214u was running like normal. This isn't the kind of observed behavior we would say should prevent you from buying this system, but if you've already bought it and are experiencing the same thing, give it time to run Windows Update, and it should be fine.

Equipped with a 2.1GHz AMD Athlon X2 QL-64 processor, a whopping 4GB of DDR2 RAM, and ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics with 256MB of dedicated video memory, the NV5214u returned decent benchmark-test scores for the price. We ran our iTunes encoding test first; the laptop converted our 11 iTunes test tracks from MP3 to AAC in 5 minutes and 50 seconds, which is on the slow side for a mainstream notebook (defined as those with 15.4- or 15.6-inch displays) but not far behind the score achieved by the average budget notebook. (We define budget models as $800 or less, and most of them we've tested have taken at least 5 minutes to complete this test.) Our Windows Media Encoder test, which, like the iTunes test, measures CPU performance, took 9 minutes and 53 seconds, 2 minutes slower than the average mainstream system, and about a minute longer than the $549 Acer Extensa 4630z, the Gateway laptop's closest price competitor in the mainstream-laptop category.

On the left, you'll find a Kensington lock slot, AC adapter port, VGA, HDMI, two USB ports, microphone and headphone jacks, and a five-in-one memory card reader.

On our PCMark Vantage test, which evaluates overall system performance, the NV5214u scored 800 points below the mainstream-notebook average, which is still fine for the typical Web surfer. It even managed to beat out the $999 Gateway MC7803u's score of 2,202. On our 3DMark06 test, which measures gaming performance, the NV5214u returned scores that were far below the mainstream-notebook average but about double what other budget systems deliver. Thanks to ATI’s integrated graphics, at 1,024x768, the NV5214u managed a decent score of 1,668 on 3DMark06; that score dropped to a still-respectable 1,452 at its native resolution of 1,366x768. The results of our Cinebench 10 (3,523) test, which measures how well the CPU and graphics work together, were right on target for its price and class.This means you could play some older titles or even some newer ones with the eye candy turned off —not bad for a budget notebook.

Battery life was disappointing. On our DVD rundown test, the system lasted just 1 hour and 44 minutes, about 30 minutes shorter than the laptop average, including budget systems. (To be fair, battery life is almost always a casualty of decent graphics performance.) At 6.8 pounds, however, the NV5214u likely won’t allow you to stray too far from an AC outlet.

Our NV5214u came with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium installed. Gateway also includes Adobe Flash Reader, Adobe Reader, Gateway's MyBackup Solution, Gateway's Recovery Management, Microsoft Works, and 60-day trial versions of Norton Internet Security, Microsoft Windows Live, and Microsoft Office Home & Student 2007. Gateway tops the bundle off with a one-year warranty and a free upgrade to Windows 7 for notebooks purchased between June 26, 2009 and January 31, 2010.

All told, the NV5214u is a remarkable deal at $499. Those looking for a notebook to check e-mail, surf the Web, and tote from the living room to the kitchen (and to Grandma’s once in a while) will be more than pleased with this model. It looks like it costs three times as much as it does; it performs decently; and it won’t break the bank. If your needs are simple and cash is tight, this is a great bargain buy.

Sleek design and robust specs for a budget price; dedicated number pad; free Windows 7 upgrade

Mediocre performance; some out-of-the-box performance quirks; glossy screen is glare-prone; low maximum speaker volume

Editors' Take
Looking at first glance nothing like a $499 laptop, the AMD-based NV5214u is a steal, though its performance is more telling.

Gateway NV5214u

Best Price

Best Buy

Key Specs
Processor: 2.1GHz AMD Athlon X2 QL-64
Memory: 4GB RAM
Storage: 320GB hard drive
Optical Drive: DVD±RW
Screen: 15.6 inches (1,366x768 native resolution)
Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 3200 (256MB)
Weight: 6.8 pounds
Dimensions (HWD): 1.5x14.6x9.8 inches
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)