Sony VAIO FS Review — Part 2

by Reads (41,863)

Page 1 | Page 2

Audio & Video Performance

Another thing you will notice after boot up but before you do anything else is how bright the screen is, leading to probably the strongest suit for the FS680. Sony XBrite laptop LCD’s are definitely the brightest and, in my mind, the most beautiful screens out there and the FS certainly does not disappoint in this regard. I think the most common complaint that I have heard is that it is too bright, which I could see as a problem if you are working on white background a lot — such as a Word document. I will talk about the brightness more in a bit, but first let’s us go back to my opening statement of Sony making a mistake in FS680’s specification about screen.

Originally when Sony was rolling out XBrite LCDs across their product lines, every LCD was called XBrite, but not every one was the same. Of course there is size difference, but the actual detailed specification of the LCD is slightly different as well, with the 17″ VAIO A Series having the best one with two back lights. In the second generation that is now available, the technology becomes more diversified in the spectrums and Sony started giving different names to different monitors. Therefore, you will see ErgoBrite on the A Series now and there is XBrite and XBrite-ECO as the options for FS Series.

For the FS Series, the bottom line is XBrite screens are brighter than XBrite-ECO and the FS680 uses the brighter XBrite. I am not sure if the drive to develop an XBrite-ECO is for cost reduction, eye strain reduction, or battery preservation, but it is an option if you think the regular XBrite on FS680 will be too bright.

Speaking of too bright, let’s see how incredibly bright the FS680 XBrite is. I have four pictures here of my S170P, which has the first generation XBrite, along side the FS680, both showing the same picture.

 

(larger image)

 

(larger image)

 
XBrite vs. XBrite: (Left) S170 9/9 vs. FS680 9/9 brightness; (Right) S170 9/9 vs. FS680 5/9 brightness

 

(larger image)

 

(larger image)

 XBrite vs. XBrite: (Left) S170 9/9 vs. FS680 5/9 brightness; (Right) S170 9/9 vs. FS680 0/9

Basically, for all four pictures the S170 is set at maximum brightness level, but the maximum brightness level of the FS680 far out of league with it. In fact, some might argue that FS680 is too bright and that it actually loses some details and color in the bright region on the VAIO wallpaper. On the other hand, in a regular picture with no large area of white color, the new XBrite looks very lively even when the brightness level is minimized. You could also see that at the minimum level of brightness on FS680, the S170P is finally able to catch up on brightness.

Depending on what people would like to use their laptops for, I could see some would be interested in the XBrite-ECO LCD. For entertainment purpose, XBrite is great (I want a new one myself, seeing how my S170 got outclassed), but doing work may be tiresome (I have no problem with S170’s XBrite at 8/9 level for an 8-hr work day, but I am not sure I can say the same about FS680). If you do want to get an XBrite-ECO machine, you should be very careful in choosing the right laptop as Sony puts XBrite-ECO on several places that should have XBrite. Your best bet is to look at the PDF version of the specification then follow up with a call (or visit) to the sales.

The FS680 comes with the nVidia GeForce Go 6200 with 32 MB TurboCache (plus 96 MB shared main memory to make 128). This card is designed for the DirectX 9 environment and has some newer capabilities that older AGP cards do not. On the other hand, it is the low end card that is designed for smaller laptop or lighter graphical power situations. You wouldn’t find any problem using it watching DVD or playing some games.

For gaming, I have some benchmark numbers in the next section for reference, but my son and I did play LEGO Star Wars on it with 1024×768 and all the effects for long time. The system runs smoothly with no apparent lag (and by the way, no excessive heat as well). I know it doesn’t sound like much, but LEGO games usually have much higher system demand, probably because the programmers do not try to make their code resource efficient that much. I wouldn’t vouch the FS680 and nVidia 6200 for Doom 3, at least not in relatively high resolution, but I think FS680 should be able to handle most light games smoothly and demanding games in lower settings.

Matching the beautiful screen for enhanced entertainment experiences are the two built-in speakers and the two speakers that come with the TV tuner dock. I am not sure if there’s  I use the four of them to create a somewhat surround-sound setup, but both pairs are great speakers. The speakers in the laptop have a very health volume for its size and the sound is clear — definitely not the sound of those speakers used in the $10 radio. On the other hand, I guess there isn’t any special strength (such as good bass) that can be found in some laptop with specialized speakers. The two speakers from the TV dock, on the other hand, are very good speakers for computer, with decent volume and bass. Unless you have very high-end TV and associated audio equipment, your typical run-of-the-mill TV speakers probably only beat the speakers in volume.

So, overall, the audio and video performance of FS680 is definitely a notch above other laptops and is the strength of FS680.

Performance & Benchmarking

Now that we have admired the splendid screen for enough time, let us try to actually use the laptop as a computer. Unfortunately, I found two very annoying problems during normal operations very quickly: slow shut-down time and constant warning from the anti-virus and anti-spyware software included. The FS680 does not boot up very quickly, but I kind of expected that with the included software suite and I didn’t want to temper it so I can feel how the computer performs as is. However, the shut-down time is simply ridiculous, with 2-3 minutes as normal time and sometimes more than 5 – one time I walked away to brush my teeth for bed and when I came back, just about to manually turn the power off thinking the system has hung up, it finished whatever it was doing and completed the shut down.

My prime suspects were the Norton Internet Security and Trend SpySubtract, the included anti-virus and anti-spyware softwares. The two software programs were contributing to the other problem that I encountered: constant alarms. While it is their job to report any suspicious activity and I must say both were very diligent since they constantly warn you, the fact that what triggered them were the included Sony softwares meant that you will be bombarded by that warning all the time unless you know how to tweak the software settings. Again, for the purpose of evaluating the laptop as is, I just kept the two suspects there without doing anything for a while. In the end, I did remove the two suspects from the system and, indeed, both turned out to be the culprits.

For general usage, the FS680 does not feel slow, but it does not feel any faster than my S170P, either. Both machines have 1 GB DDR333 RAM and 4200 RPM HDD (FS680 has 100 GB and S170P has 60 GB), but there is a big difference in processor speed — 1.86 GHz Alviso in FS680 vs.1.5 GHz Dothan in S170P. Since most general or light business applications are not very CPU demanding, clearly this result is expected.

On the other hand, a Super PI test showed the CPU performance of FS680 to be completely eroded by other factors. Below is a comparison table between the FS680 and some other laptops.

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 54s
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M, no Norton and Trend) 1m 53s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)
1m 45s
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 48s
Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 52s
Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 1m 57s
Sony VAIO S170P (1.5 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 07s
Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 42s

From the table, it is quite clear that the CPU in FS680 is not pumping out the juice it should pump. The time for FS680 is longer than all other Alviso laptops. Usually, the reason for degraded performance in Super Pi between similar hardware configurations is that the software suite running in the background is preventing CPU to live up to its full potential. Since my S170P with clean install of Windows and own selection of softwares was able to beat the Dell 600m with faster CPU, I tried to see if I can tweak the software suite in the FS680. Unfortunately, I saw the below picture in the Control Panel.



The infamous Sony-ware. Unfortunately, you will need most of them to use the TV tuner dock (larger image)

Believe it or not, most of the software you can find in the control panel is from Sony. They are the little parts that make up the “VAIO Zone”, which controls a bunch of AV functions as well as the TV tuner dock. Since I don’t know which Sony stuff can be removed without damaging the functionality of VAIO Zone, I removed the two suspected troublemakers mentioned earlier: Norton Internet Security and Trend SpySubtract.

As you can see in the previous table, the result was not encouraging, but house keeping did get rid of the three minute shut down time and the constant alarm (boot up time also improved). I don’t recommend living without some anti-virus and spyware protection, but you do not want either of the two in your FS laptop that’s for sure (I guess you can remove the Sony-wares completely as an alternative).

Oh well, I guess I could live with the slow Super PIicalculation since I don’t plan to run my work spreadsheets on this test unit. I ran several benchmark tests to get some scores so the readers can do necessary comparison to other laptops if desired or to see if a particular game is playable. These results are summarized below.
 
Unless otherwise noted, all benchmarks below were done when Norton and Trend were still in the system, or “out-of-the-box” condition. Also, all the benchmark software are trial version, so all the options are default.

3DMark05 (1024×768, 32bit)

3D Marks: 812

CPU Marks: 3177

(results: http://service.futuremark.com/compare?3dm05=945493)

3DMark05 Scores

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86GHz)

Fujitsu N3510 (1.73 GHz)

3DMark Score

812 3DMarks

721 3D Marks

CPU Score

3177 CPUMarks

3242 CPUMarks

Gaming Tests

GT1 – Return To Proxycon

3.6 FPS

3.7 FPS

GT2 – Firefly Forest

2.6 FPS

1.8 FPS

GT3 – Canyon Flight

3.7 FPS

3.5 FPS

CPU Tests

CPU Test 1

1.6 FPS

1.6 FPS

CPU Test 2

2.7 FPS

2.9 FPS

3DMark03 (1024×768, 32bit)

3D Marks: 2472

CPU Marks: 656

(results: http://service.futuremark.com/compare?2k3=4053353)

3DMark01 (1024×768, 32bit)

3D Marks: 9053

3D Marks: 4646 (2X AA)

(results: http://service.futuremark.com/compare?2k1=8619840)

PCMark04

PC Marks: 3152

PC Marks: 3196 (No Norton & Trend)

(results: http://service.futuremark.com/compare?pcm04=3007493)

 PCMark04 Scores

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz)

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz, no Norton & Trend)

Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz)

Fujitsu N3510 (1.73 GHz)

Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression

3.23 MB/s

3.25 MB/s

3.366 MB/s

3.24 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption

25.74 MB/s

25.66 MB/s

27.667 MB/s

25.58 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression

22.44 MB/s

22.37 MB/s

24.104 MB/s

22.72 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing

10.17 MPixels/s

10.38 MPixels/s

11.046 MPixels/s

10.03 MPixels/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning

1759.8 MB/s

1738.85 MB/s

1726.7 MB/s

1752.97 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check

2.5 KB/s

2.67 KB/s

2.876 KB/s

2.8 KB/s

File Decryption

51.26 MB/s

51.49 MB/s

55.425 MB/s

51.45 MB/s

Audio Conversion

2354.71 KB/s

2368.23 KB/s

2552.67 KB/s

2346.96 KB/s

Web Page Rendering

5.09 Pages/s

5.20 Pages/s

5.693 Pages/s

5.25 Pages/s

DivX Video Compression

45.32 FPS

48.24 FPS

47.043 FPS

46.08 FPS

Physics Calculation and 3D

155.09 FPS

155.63 FPS

166.72 FPS

168.02 FPS

Graphics Memory – 64 Lines

449.48 FPS

449.86 FPS

478.29 FPS

1486.18 FPS

HD Tune 2.10 Results

 HD Tune Benchmarks Sony VAIO S380 (5400 RPM) Sony VAIO FS680 (4200 RPM)
 Minimum Transfer Rate 17.7 MB/sec 6.9 MB/sec
 Maximum Transfer Rate 34.6MB/sec 30.3 MB/sec
 Average Transfer Rate 27.4 MB/sec 22.7 MB/sec
 Acess Time 18.4 ms 20.0 ms
 Burst Rate
 CPU Usage

Compared to the S380 that we reviewed earlier, we can clearly see the 4200 RPM P-ATA HDD in the FS680 is not as fast as the 5400 RPM S-ATA in the S380. Also, overall as a system, the S380 enjoys some advantages, but the difference is small. These values kind of echo my impression on how the FS680 performs in games and in general productivity work when compared to my S170P — despite the CPU difference, the actual performance is not much.

When compared to the Fujitsu N3510 reviewed earlier, which also has a 4200 RPM HDD (although it is a S-ATA one), the PCMark04 is almost identical, with the exception of the last item in which N3510 enjoys an enormous lead (most likely because it’s an ATI X300 graphics card that has 64 MB dedicated Video RAM). Interestingly, the FS680’s CPU Mark in 3DMark05 is actually lower than N3510, despite having a faster CPU, while the overall 3DMark is higher.

In summary, I would say FS680 is definitely not as fast as you’d expect if you just look at the 1.86 GHz CPU and 1 GB RAM that it has, but it is by no mean a slow machine. The 4200 RPM HDD could be replaced with a higher RPM to boost certain performance, but the software environment must also be tweaked to maximize performance.

Battery Life

When I first opened the box for the FS680 and saw the battery, I immediately knew the battery life of FS680 was not going to be impressive because the battery is exactly the same as the one used in the smaller S series. Actually, let me correct that, it is designed to be the same and built to the same external dimension, but these Made-in-China, cost-reduced BPS2A batteries actually have about 10% less juice than the Made-in-Japan BPS2 battery in my S170P. In short, we have a bigger and more powerful laptop, a much brighter LCD, and a smaller capacity battery — it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the battery life is not going to be good.

Using Battery Eater Pro 2.51, I get about 85 minutes average battery life in the Classic Mode (1280×800, 32bit resolution) with brightness setting at 5/9 and everything on. In reality, also with brightness at 5/9, wireless and everything on and doing regular Office applications with Internet Explorer in the back, the battery life is around 1 hr 40 min, so about 100 minutes. Compared to my S170P, this is about 55% of the life I get in a similar setting — I get at least 3 hrs with wireless, Bluetooth and everything on in 8/9 brightness setting. I could probably give FS680 some slack on the brightness settings (we have seen in the above that even in the 1/9 setting, FS680 is not noticeably darker than my S170 at 9/9), but I can’t imagine any one can get much more than 2 hrs even if the brightness is set to the lowest, 1/9, setting.

Again, I hope you remember what I have said earlier: FS680, and FS Series, is designed to move around in your house.

Welcome to VAIO Zone

I have said earlier that there is something called “VAIO Zone” that is slowing down the system, but I can’t remove it because it controls the functionality of the TV tuner dock. Since I do get a TV tuner dock with FS680, testing the dock and this software is mandatory and I must say this is the most enjoyable part for the whole review process — except playing game with my son, of course — not because I get to use the remote control, but because Sony really did their job well with VAIO Zone. Because FS Series is designed to be beginner friendly (there is actually a dedicated support line in Japan for FS users that consider them to be beginners so they can get special technical support), Sony definitely focus all their energy on developing the VAIO Zone so that you don’t even feel FS680 is a computer.

To connect to the TV, you launch VAIO Zone and just follow the screen instruction. You can connect to the A/V composite output from the TV or digital receiver or just plug in directly to the co-axial port on the wall. Obviously, there will be some different setting and I can see your cable or satellite company be a little upset for not able to charge you to rent their digital receiver (if they allow you to use your laptop to such function). For me, since I just plugged the included co-axial cable into the wall outlet to get basic cable channels so I can have an extra TV in the bed room.

After some scanning for channels performed by the VAIO Zone, which took a minute or so, everything was done and I was lying on my bed flipping channels on FS680 with FS680 still sitting on my desk. If I want to watch the family photos or listen to MP3, all I need to do is use the remote control to switch between functions. If I want to record a particular program, I just choose record and VAIO Zone will record the program and save it to the hard drive. You want to burn the recorded program to DVD, no problem; you can do that, too.

The only time you need to get up to go to the computer is to change the CD (or DVD) or if you want to use your computer as a computer. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the feeling of popcorn on your left hand and remote control on your right hand. When you are done, there is a button on the remote control that put the laptop into stand-by mode directly — you don’t even see the nasty three-minute shut down I complained about earlier because you don’t have to shut down the computer.

All multimedia functions are integrated nicely in this main menu of VAIO Zone. You only need to go to the laptop to change CD or DVD. Otherwise, just sit back and use the remote control (view larger image)

In simplest term, VAIO Zone transforms the FS680 from a computer to your home entertainment center — not just in functionality, but in a complete system make over that makes you think the FS680 should be placed where your TV and DVD player are rather than on your desk. For this purpose, VAIO Zone does an awesome job and the FS680 really shines.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Sony FS680, and FS Series in general, is designed to be a home-use, user-friendly, mobile entertainment and productivity center. The audio and the video performance is certainly way above the average laptop designed with business use in mind and should compare well with other laptops designed for similar purpose. The VAIO Zone software successfully emulates the functionality and feeling of a home entertainment set in the FS680, but pays the price of reduced computing performance. It is thin and light for ease of carrying around the house instead of in and out of the house. Consequently, it does not have a good battery life.

I recommend the FS Series to people that desire to use the laptop as the above design goal of the FS Series. However, I believe purchasing the FS660 (or even FS640) and the TV tuner dock separately is a better choice than purchasing FS680. There are two considerations here. One is that you pay the premium for the 1.86 GHz CPU in FS680, but it is a complete waste considering the VAIO Zone is dragging the system anyway. The other reason is that there usually are larger discounts on the FS640 and FS660 than the FS680, making the lower spec machine plus dock option more attractive.

For people who would like to use FS Series more as a computer, you should have no problem handling general productivity tasks, once you have found a better anti-virus and anti-spyware suite than the ones included. To improve the performance, making recovery CD/DVD kit then conduct a clean install of Windows is probably the best route unless you can accept the reduced performance. Adding a faster RPM hard drive will also help.

PROS:

  • Stylish, thin, and light design
  • Beautiful and bright screen
  • Complete home entertainment functions (with TV Tuner dock)
  • User-friendliness of VAIO Zone

CONS:

  • Specification is not performance oriented (4200 RPM HDD and GeForce Go 6200)
  • Short battery life
  • Software suites conflict with each other
  • VAIO Zone eats up resources for regular computing needs

Pricing and Availability

Page 1 | Page 2


LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.