Sony VAIO CS Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (90,276)
  • Pros

    • Good paint quality
    • Solid keyboard and chassis
    • Decent battery life
  • Cons

    • Plastic feels weak
    • No HDMI or eSATA

by Kevin O’Brien

The VAIO CS is a 14.1” multimedia notebook from Sony that offers a light bar that pulses with the music you are playing. This sleek colorful notebook is offered in a wide range of colors including Sangria red, Glossy or Matte Black, Cosmopolitan Pink, Seashell Beige, Copper Brown, and Dove White. No matter if you are listening to music or watching an HD movie with the optional Blu-ray drive, the Sony VAIO CS is designed to handle your needs with a splash of style.

Sony VAIO CS (VGN-CS220J/T) Specifications:

  • Windows Vista Home Premium (SP1, 64-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T6400 (2.00GHz, 2MB L2, 800gMHz FSB)
  • 14.1″ WXGA Glossy LCD display at 1280×800
  • Intel X4500 Integrated Graphics
  • Intel 5100AGN Wireless
  • 4GB DDR2-800 SDRAM (2GB x 2)
  • 320GB Hitachi 5K320 hard disk drive (5400RPM)
  • Pioneer DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive
  • 1.3MP MOTION EYE webcam, stereo speakers, music lights
  • 76W (19.5V x 3.9A) 100-240V AC Adapter
  • 6-cell  48.8Wh Lithium Ion battery
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 13.2” x 9.6” x 1.14” – 1.57”
  • Weight: 5lbs 6.4oz, 6lbs 2.5oz with AC adapter
  • 1-Year Standard Limited Warranty
  • Price as configured: $879.99

Build and Design
The Sony VAIO CS looks great sitting closed on your desk. Our review unit has a luxurious copper finish with gold-colored trim around the edges of the screen. Opening up the notebook you see the same glossy copper paint around the palmrest and keyboard bezel, with a matte black inlay for the keyboard. Even the touchpad uses a metallic copper finish, albeit matte instead of glossy. Underneath the front edge of the keyboard is a fairly unique feature, a pulsing LED light bar that adds a bit of flare to whatever music you are listening to. I am not sure I would use it if I owned this notebook, but if you are into strobing lights and techno it would probably be fantastic.

The build quality of the VAIO CS is a mixture of durable alloy panels and flexible plastic bezels. If you were only going to look at the bottom of the CS, you would see excellent build quality with very rugged panels covering vital components. The bottom shell is made entirely of a metal alloy, with a nice rugged plate covering the hard drive to prevent impact from damaging your data. Once you flip over the notebook your opinions on the build quality quickly change. The screen cover, keyboard bezel, and hinge covers use very flexible and weak feeling plastics. When you open up the notebook the hinges squeak and creak as the plastic covers flex.

Carrying the notebook around closed the screen cover exhibits quite a bit of flex, but thankfully even strong pressure on the back of the screen doesn’t distort colors on the LCD. The paint quality is excellent with a nearly perfect glossy surface. Our review model has a metallic copper finish, which I might say is one of the nicest paint jobs I have seen on a notebook.

Screen and Speakers
The VAIO CS has a glossy 14.1 display using the 1280×800 16:10 aspect ratio. Colors appear bright and vibrant with very good levels of contrast thanks to the glossy surface. Black levels could be a tad deeper, but this is normal for a notebook in this price segment. Backlight brightness levels are adequate for viewing in bright office conditions, but with the glossy surface outdoor computing is limited to late at night. Viewing angles are average with colors quickly inverting about 20 degrees forward or back vertically. Horizontal viewing angles are much better, with colors staying accurate, only dimming until reflections off the glossy surface overpower what is on the screen.

The speakers are about average for a notebook of this size. Bass and midrange are weak, with only higher frequency sounds coming through. Peak volume levels are good, but don’t expect to start a rave with only this notebook providing the tunes. The LED light bar located beneath the touchpad buttons on the front edge of hte notebook only appears to work when using the Sony suppled “VAIO MusicBox” software. In a dark room it will slightly illuminate the desk in front of you. I think a better position would have been above the display so it would light up the keyboard and a larger area around the notebook.


Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is a VAIO-style chiclet layout (a similar keyboard layout is used on all Apple notebooks) that is comfortable to type on, but awkwardly sized compared to a normal notebook keyboard. Even with the 14.1” frame Sony condensed the keyboard slightly, making finger placement for blind typing difficult at first. Once you get used to it there are no problems, but it does have a slight learning curve.

Sony uses a large Synpatics touchpad on the VAIO CS, with is comfortable to use, but shows signs of some lag. Making quick movements side to side or around in a circle it almost seems like the refresh rate isn’t high enough. It isn’t too noticeable, just something that stuck out at us. The surface texture is a smooth matte finish, with two buttons located directly beneath it for the left and right mouse triggers. The buttons require greater than average pressure to activate, and have shallow feedback when pressed.

Ports and Features
Port selection on the VAIO CS as a multimedia notebook is lacking without HDMI out, especially considering that you can configure it with a Blu-ray drive. Not having HDMI means no digital video or audio out to connect the laptop up to a stereo for surround sound. Another feature missing is eSATA, which is becoming very common on most consumer notebooks. The ports offered are VGA, audio jacks, three USB ports, Firewire, LAN, and modem. The CS also sports a SD multi-card reader and MS slot.


Front: MS slot, SD multi-card reader, activity lights, wireless on/off


Rear: Modem


Right: Optical drive, ExpressCard/34, 1 USB, LAN


Left: AC Power, VGA, 2 USB, Firewire, audio jacks

Performance and Benchmarks
System performance was average compared to other mid-range notebooks with integrated graphics. The Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor helped keep system lag to a minimum while compressing music or video for a portable media device, and even allowed the system to play 720p and 1080p HD video. The notebook is also designed to handle Blu-ray movies with configurations that have that drive, which is fine for the X4500 graphics chipset. Outside of gaming the notebook handled everything we threw at it without bogging down. I think the only area that could see some improvement is the hard drive, which is easy to swap with a 7200rpm model when configuring the notebook on the Sony website, or upgrading after the purchase.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

HP Pavilion dv4t (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz) 26.972 seconds
Toshiba Satellite E105 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz) 33.961 seconds
Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz) 34.628 seconds
Toshiba Satellite U405 (Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.1GHz) 37.500 seconds
Sony VAIO CS (Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 @ 2.0GHz) 38.314 seconds

 

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

HP Pavilion dv4t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, NVIDIA 9200M GS 256MB) 5,463 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9300M GS 256MB) 5,173 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite E105 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, Intel 4500MHD) 4,836 PCMarks
Sony VAIO CS (2.0GHz Intel T6400, Intel X4500) 4,428 PCmarks
Toshiba U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100) 3,052 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 measures video and gaming performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9300M GS 256MB) 2,211 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv4t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, NVIDIA 9200M GS 256MB) 1,741 3DMarks
Toshiba Satellite E105 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, Intel 4500MHD) 1,030 3DMarks
Sony VAIO CS (2.0GHz Intel T6400, Intel X4500) 899 3DMarks
Toshiba U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100) 539 3DMarks

*All 3DMark06 benchmark tests are set at 1280 x 800 screen resolution.

HDTune storage drive performance results:

Heat and Noise
Thermal output from the VAIO CS was minimal, with little heat output from the Intel T6400 processor and Intel integrated graphics. All sections of the notebook that make contact with your legs or hands stayed just above room temperature, never getting hot. Noise from the notebook was minimal while the fan was spinning, but the noises that the fan made starting and stopping did get annoying. It would make a low pitch chirp each time it cycled, which happened frequently under normal use.

Battery
Battery life with the 6-cell battery was pretty good for a 14.1” multimedia notebook. With Windows Vista set to the Balanced profile, wireless active, and brightness set to 70% the VAIO CS managed 3 hours and 51 minutes before turning off. Sony also offers a higher capacity battery option for this notebook, but we were unable to test this battery in our review.

Conclusion
The Sony VAIO CS is a nice multimedia notebook with good looks and some pretty cool features. The pulsing light bar adds a bit of flare to this notebook, with the closest alternative being LED’s on some large gaming rigs. Build quality could be better, with a lot of flex in the upper half of the notebook. The plastic creaks when you are opening and closing the lid … not really the sound you want coming from your notebook. Sony also limited the amount of ports on the notebook, not even including eSATA or HDMI. With an optional Blu-ray drive it is inexcusable not to offer an HDMI to hook it up to a stereo and HDTV. Overall I think if you like the design and the pulsing lights this notebook is worth checking out in retail stores like Best Buy, but still look at other VAIOs above and below the size of the CS.

Pros:

  • Good paint quality
  • Solid keyboard and chassis
  • Cool pulsing light bar
  • Decent battery life

Cons:

  • None of the plastic used feels durable
  • No HDMI or eSATA


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