Sony VAIO K Series Review (pics, specs)

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by Howard Louis

I have always been a Sony fan for many reasons. Sony is often on the cutting edge of electronics and I find no exception to this with my new VAIO K series laptop. I find Sony styling to be superb and very appealing.  From walkmans to discmans to my TV, Sony has never let me down and so I do have brand loyalty. This was the main reason I looked to Sony for a laptop and I am happy to report that I am very pleased with the purchase I made. I purchased the VAIO PCG-K23 new in a sealed box on eBay for $999.  It was shipped to me last month. I was leery of a large purchase on eBay, but with the PayPal guarantee and positive feedback, I took the risk. I have no regrets on the the purchase method or product.

Sony VAIO K Series (view larger image)

Full System Specs for Sony VAIO PCG-K23

  • 2.8 GHZ  Pentium 4 533MHz FSB
  • 512 MB pc2100 RAM (2×256)
  • 60 GB Hard Drive
  • 15.4″ wide screen 1280 x 800
  • 24x CDR/8x DVD ROM
  • Built-in Memory Stick Reader
  • Wireless B/G
  • 3 USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 fire wire port
  • 1 parallel port
  • 1 VGA Port
  • ATI M345 Integrated Graphics

Appearance and Aesthetics

I was in the market for a desktop replacement that I could occasionally take with me. The Sony VAIO K model series hits the nail perfectly for my needs.  Although not the lightest laptop out there, this was not a concern for me. The laptop weighs just over 8lbs.  The weight combined with the 15.4 inch widescreen display and rather large footprint means you’ll not want to lug this laptop too far.  The VAIO K is also slightly bulky as far as thickness, coming in at 2.2 inches. One neat thing is the laptop is styled in a manner that it is angled downward from the rear to the front.  The case is an all plastic shell. Overall the unit is well built and sturdy considering it weighs over 8lbs. I personally have no problem holding it with one hand without it feeling like it is going to come apart by flexing.

Screen

The VAIO K sports a widescreen 15.4-inch LCD display. The native resolution is 1280 x 800 and comes with the XBrite option. XBrite seems to cause more glare than I have noticed on other laptops. It is noticeable outside or by a window, but as a desktop replacement in an evenly lit area it looks fine and suits my needs just fine. The widescreen feature not only gives you more screen real estate, but when watching a DVD, no more black bars at the top make watching the movie even more enjoyable.  Notice the glare below on the screen from the flash.

Sony VAIO K Series Front view (view larger image)

Below you can see the slanted style from the back to the front. Very sharp! From side to side, there is not much contrast loss, but as with most laptops, from up and down movements you can see a loss in picture quality. The screen has very little ghosting and this surprised me. Whether scrolling a text document or playing a first person shooter, the quality is above most other units.

Sony VAIO K Series Left View (view larger image)

CPU,  RAM, Hard Disk

The laptop came with an Intel Pentium 4 processor clocking at 2.8 GHZ and with a 533MHz Front Side Bus (FSB). This processor is good for speed, but as you would expect, it does run warm at times. Under normal usage, the fan can be noisy from time to time, but for a Pentium 4 I guess I have to live with that. The laptop shipped with 512MB of rather slow PC2100 SDRAM, and unfortunately it is 2 x 256MB configuration provided so all the slots are full, meaning upgrading the RAM is more expensive. It’s odd that Sony would include slow PC2100 RAM combined with a Pentium 4 processor, I’m perplexed by this as it causes a bottleneck in system performance.  The hard drive is a spacious 60GB drive, but only spins at 4200 RPM so it is not a power house for use in such applications as Adobe Photoshop. I am happy with a Pentium 4 processor choice as it will for the most part be sitting on my desk and I therefore have no need for centrino technology as this point.

Below you can see how the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 compares to other processors posted on the forum under  the hardware section Let’s measure our notebooks CPU speed (http://www.notebookreview.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=2657).

Calculating Pi to 2 million digits of accuracty with the Sony VAIO K (view larger image)

(view larger image)

Keyboard and Touchpad

The full-size keyboard is responsive, but it is not exceptional by any means. The touchpad on the other hand has much room for improvement. As you can see, there is no built in scroll feature on the touchpad. Also, at times, the touchpad flakes out and lags for a moment. This doesn’t happen very often, but is annoying when it does.  The touchpad problem is not a major concern though because when the laptop is on my desk, I stick with using a  USB optical mouse.

Sony VAIO K keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)

Sound

Also above you can see the speakers in the grey metal grill with the power button to the right. The speakers sound great for movies and all other general music needs. As with any laptop, this is no super sound system, but is good enough for most. One lacking feature is an external control for sound volume besides the function commands on the keyboard. If you listen to a lot of MP3’s and seeing how this is a desktop replacement that will be on your desk 90% of the time,  I would recommend buying a set of powered speakers. I personally have a cheap pair of Logitec external speakers.

Below you can see the audio connections. There is an iLink, microphone, and audio output. Also below you can see two of the three total USB 2.0 ports. The fire wire port is also shown with the LAN port here as well.

Sony VAIO K left view (view larger image)

Wireless

This laptop features a robust 802.11b/g wireless card built in. Reception with my D-Link brand router is flawless at both 54 mbit and 11 mbit speeds all throughout my house. You can certainly expect to get good wireless reception for those times when you go mobile or just want to sit around on your couch or table free of cords. below you can see the wireless switch located on the front of the laptop. Also pay attention the the memory stick reader on the left (sorry about it being a little out of focus). Also visible is the wireless on/off slide switch below 

Sony VAIO K front view (view larger image)

Battery

The battery on this unit is not impressive, however it falls right in the range you would expect for this style of laptop. I found that running time can be as low as 1.5 hours to 3 hours. Some longer DVD’s may fall short as you may not make it 2 hours with the screen contrast turned up all the way. I found the MAX battery option under Windows XP to work well, but as stated before, this is a desktop replacement, not an ultra long battery mobile unit. Of course we all want more battery life, but if this was a major factor to me I would not have looked at a P4. More likely a Pentium M Dothan would have been my CPU of choice if looking for battery life.

CD-DVD ROM

Sony combined a 24X cd burner and a 8x DVD rom into this unit. Burning CD’s so far has been error free and all of my DVD’s play fine on the DVD rom. It does seam though there is a high MS access time from when your first insert the disk. Here you can see the optical drive. Notice the non standard bezel, this may be a dilemma if I ever decide to upgrade the bezel may need modified. Either that or I will buy a external DVD burner. The drive though is pretty quite except when installing software when the spindle gets going.

Sony VAIO K right view (view larger image)

Playing Games

Don’t expect to play DOOM 3 of Far Cry very well, but the ATI Radeon IGP 345M although integrated graphics, provides better than expected results from games. GTA Vice city plays flawlessly. 64 MB of system ram are dedicated to video. This is not my ideal choice, but as I am not a heavy gamer, should still suit my needs nicely.

Other Ports/Views

Below you can clearly see the  power connector on the left followed by the internal 56k modem.. Then you have a VGA output port (one of the few times I have seen one that is not colored blue?) Then you have a parallel port. Not sure why this is still on the laptop , yet no PS2 port? It seems like those two would come together. Yet, no s video output? What’s with that? Who needs parallel???? Oh well, thank goodness for 3 USB ports. The final one is here on the far right with the other two around the corner on the right.

Sony VAIO K back side view (view larger image)

Sony VAIO K back side view (view larger image)

Software

The normal bundled software comes with this unit.  Windows XP Home came installed as the OS, but since getting the laptop I have installed Windows XP Pro with SP2. Everything you need comes with the laptop. Sony Click to DVD, Sony DVGate Plus, Sony SonicStage, Sony PictureGear Studio, Sony VAIO Media, Sony VAIO Update, Sony VAIO Recovery Wizard, Sony VAIO Help and Support, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Google Toolbar, Intuit Quicken 2004 New User Edition, EasySystems Dragn’ Drop CD+DVD, Microsoft Works 7.0, Microsoft Office 2003 60-Day Trial, Norton Internet Security 90-Day Subscription, AOL Online 90-day Trial are all found here. 

Customer Service / Tech Support

Thankfully at this point I have not had a reason to contact Sony as this laptop has been trouble free. As stated above, the mouse is iffy at times, but I still think it is a driver issue.  I guess that speaks for itself as far as Sony quality. If the Customer service is anything like their notebooks, I assume it would be first rate.

Likes

  • Sleek modern looking style
  • Wide screen display is flawless
  • Great wireless reception
  • Sturdy Quality materials
  • Excellent overall performance

Dislikes

  • No S-Video
  • Slower PC2100 RAM
  • Rather heavy
  • Average battery life
  • Poor gaming ability

Summary and Conclusion

As a desktop replacement, this Sony laptop not only looks good, but performs quite well.  Although not top of the line now, this Pentium 4 2.8GHz laptop is good enough for my needs.  One thing I should note is that I am perplexed as to why Sony would put a higher end 533FSB Pentium 4 CPU with slower PC2100 RAM.

As before, Sony has not let me down and I am willing to pay a slight premium for the brand and the faith I have in it. I do miss the S-Video feature, but I was aware of this and still purchased it anyway as I don’t need output as of now. Downfalls include an iffy touchpad, but this may be driver related. The screen is great and I am glad I went for the widescreen model. Watching DVD’s has never been so enjoyable. If your notebook PC will not be leaving your desk very often, look to the Pentium 4 of AMD 64-bit processors. If you want a good battery life, go for an Intel Pentium M based notebook. If you are looking for a name brand desktop replacement laptop that won’t break your wallet, look to the lower priced Sony units.


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