by Andrew Johnson, Alaska USA
Overview and Introduction
The Sony VAIO BX business notebook is packed with versatile features such as a biometric fingerprint reader, modular bay, and built-in camera that can video conference with an available wireless Bluetooth headset. It’s stylish yet subdued enough to be at home in any office.
Sony VAIO BX 3/4 above view perspective (view larger image)
It’s available in 14″, 15.4″ and 17″ screen sizes. The test machine is configured as follows:
- 15.4″ glossy “XBRITE-ECO” screen
- Intel Pentium M processor at 1.86GHz
- 80GB Serial ATA hard 5400 rpm hard drive
- 512MB RAM
- “MOTION EYE” built in camera
- Biometric fingerprint scanner
- Bluetooth wireless technology and 802.11b/g WLAN
- DVD-RW drive in the multi-function modular bay
Build & Design
Aesthetics are really a subjective matter, but Sony has a reputation of making good looking things. The BX notebook is a not too flashy gray and black, with a shiny VAIO logo on the back of the screen and a cool mirrored front panel with LED lights, the wireless switch, and flash media card slots.
Sony VAIO BX status light indicators (view larger image)
Build quality is middle of the road, and overall I would have liked to seen better for a business notebook. There is some general flex in the plastic case (although the 14″ model has a high quality magnesium alloy case and would be more rugged and strong than the 15.4″ version being reviewed). On the positive side, the screen seems to have nice sturdy hinges, and there is no “rippling” effect from pushing on the rear of the screen unless it’s really mashed.
A small annoyance I’ll note: The power cable is very short. You must be close to an outlet if you need to plug in.
This is what Sony calls its “unique modular approach.” I’m not sure it’s entirely unique, but it works well. What it means is that peripherals and accessories are standardized throughout the line so they are swappable and sharable. You can plug your laptop into someone else’s docking station to charge and connect to the intranet, or loan someone your modular DVD burner if they don’t have one. This could mean a significant cost savings potential if not just a boost of convenience.
The built in biometric fingerprint reader is more than just a cool feature. It offers a new level of data security, as well as some added convenience. It’s great for people like my dad who can’t remember their password (his is on a sticky note on the screen). Logging in to windows is now just a simple finger swipe. Your finger is now your password. In fact, you can associate any or all fingers with your account, just in case…
Biometric finger print reader (view larger image)
The Sony VAIO BX XBRITE-ECO screen is, in a word, fantastic! (view larger image)
The screen is Sony’s XBRITE-ECO, which is one of their names for glossy. It is fantastically bright and saturated, with deep, dark blacks and almost perfectly even illumination. The viewing angle performance won’t match a good desktop screen, but it is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen on a laptop. Heck, it’s not even that bad with brightness turned down.
Perhaps it’s a low priority for a business notebook, but to me the speakers sound little better than a good pair of headphones do…on someone else’s head 5 feet away that is. Meaning, the speakers are quiet. They do get loud enough for a few people in a room to hear, but they are pretty tinny and sometimes clip when turned up loud enough to hear. There’s a line-out/headphone jack so it’s recommended to use a pair of external speakers or your own headphones for better sound volume and quality.
Processor and Performance
Video and photo editors, artists, engineers, etc. might appreciate the power of the efficient Pentium M processor. For every day tasks the 1.86GHz of processor speed is more than enough, you could probably configure it at a slower speed and not notice the difference. The snappy performance is welcomed though. The 5400RPM hard drive is fast at loading programs and better than the stock 4200RPM hard drive many manufacturers will stick you with.
512MB of RAM at times proves to be inadequate for manipulating very large Photoshop files and extreme multi-tasking, I’d recommend upgrading to 1GB of RAM if you can afford to and feel it might help you.
With an integrated intel graphics accelerator, this is no gaming notebook, so I did not run any 3D benchmarks.
However, I did run Super Pi, a program that forces the processor to calculate the number Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy, we time how long it takes a processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits. Below is the results from the Sony VAIO BX and how it compares to other notebooks.
|Sony VAIO BX (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 41s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)||1m 53s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
Below is the HD Tune results, which test general hard drive performance. The deep spikes indicate random disk access which Windows does occasionally, which interrupts and slightly offsets the test, although it represents real world performance.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Above view of keyboard and touchpad with a size comparison to the author’s size 10 .5 foot! (view larger image)
All of the main keys are full sized and the keyboard is easy to type on. The keys are slightly “clicky” — not the silent type sometimes found on notebooks. While it’s never bothered me, it’s worth mentioning the keyboard has a fair amount of flex when the keys are mashed. There is both a touchpad and a pointing stick, each with its own buttons. The touchpad is a little on the small size, and occasionally it seemed to behave unusually. The pointer would jump slightly now and again, but was overall nice to have there for an alternative method of input and moving a cursor.
A look at the Sony VAIO BX power button and fingerprint reader (view larger image)
Input and Output Ports
The Sony BX has most of the modern connections, including 3 USB 2.0 ports, a mini-firewire, a VGA out, headphone and microphone, gigabit Ethernet, modem, and flash media slots for SD cards and Sony Memory Stick media.
It is also well connected wirelessly, with 802.11 B/G WLAN and built in bluetooth.
Below are images of each side of the notebook providing a tour of the ports located on each side.
Left side view of Sony VAIO BX (view larger image)
Right side view of Sony VAIO BX notebook (view larger image)
Sony VAIO BX back side view (view larger image)
Sony VAIO BX front side view (view larger image)
The 6 cell, 44 W/h battery lasted about 2 hours with moderately heavy use running some benchmarks, watching an hour of a DVD, and browsing the web with the screen mostly on high brightness. Light use can squeeze about 3 hours our of this battery.
I have a gripe and praise as well. The battery does not stick out of the back of the notebook, so it looks nice, but it is rather hard to remove if necessary to swap out if you have two batteries. It’s also a bit tricky to install.
Heat and noise
The Sony was very quiet. The fan turned on only during very CPU-intensive tasks. However, the laptop generated a fair amount of heat. Most was on the right palm rest area. The underside was warm as well, and especially so on the right side. It could get uncomfortable after an extended period of time on your lap, you’d need to use it on a smooth desktop area for optimal cooling. Better yet, get one of the many notebook coolers out there that use various methods to help a notebook run cooler.
Operating System and Software
Windows XP professional is standard. Sony includes a few bonus bits of software that some might just want to remove. There is special security software that integrates with the biometric fingerprint reader. Microsoft Office is also available, and various virus protection software is included.
While the VAIO BX is an overall good notebook, my expectations were a little bit higher. For a business style notebook, the VAIO BX doesn’t feel as sturdy as I would have liked, although it does look rather nice all the same. Other than this, the performance is great, and it is a pleasure to use because of the spectacular screen, full sized keyboard and dual input options.
- Nice looking
- One of the best notebook screens
- Well connected
- Fingerprint reader
- Build Quality doesn’t seem up to business notebook standards
- Short power cable
- No mechanical or manual volume control
Pricing and Availability: Sony VAIO BX 15.4″ Version