Sony VAIO S360 Review (pics, specs)

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by Sean Donohoe, California USA

The Sony VAIO S360P is a number crunching, long lasting, amazingly small and light weight machine.  It is very well suited for mobile business users and busy students running around school.  Featuring the ATI Radeon Mobility 9700 packing 64MB of dedicated video memory, even the mobile gamer will be pleased.

Sony VAIO S360 Notebook (view larger image)

Choosing the S360

My criterion for a new laptop was simple, I needed to replace my heavy and aging eMachines M5310 with something light, and fast.  My search eventually lead me to compare 4 different models including: Toshiba Portege R100, IBM ThinkPad T42, Dell Inspiron 700M, and Sony VAIO S.  I went to different shops in the Sacramento, CA area looking for all 4 of these notebooks as well as reading various reviews on the internet.  Finally I came to the conclusion that the VAIO S was my best option.  I must confess my decision was helped by the fact that there were rebates totaling $250 on the S360P from CompUSA.com (where I purchased the notebook) and Sony.

Sony VAIO S360P Specs as Received:

  • Intel Pentium M 735 (1.7 GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 400 MHz FSB) 
  • ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 w/64MB dedicated RAM
  • 512MB PC2700 333MHz DDR memory
  • 13.3″ WXGA (1280×800) XBRITE screen
  • DVD-ROM / CD-RW (8X, 24X, 24X)
  • Intel Pro/Wireless 2200BG wireless network card
  • 80GB 4200rpm hard drive
  • Integrated V.90 modem w/RJ-11 interface
  • 10BASE-T/100BASE-TX Ethernet w/ RJ-45 interface
  • 1x firewire, 2x USB 2.0, 1x PCMCIA type II/I card slot, 1x memory stick slot
  • VGA out w/ Smart Display Sensor
  • Mono mini microphone jack, stereo mini headphone jack
  • Weight 3.9 lbs with standard battery
  • Size (WxHxD) 12.3″ x 1.16″-1.39″ x8.85″

Sony VAIO S360 Above view, lid closed (view larger image)

When I first picked up the package from FedEx I started wondering if maybe the store gave me an empty box, it really is that light!  Don’t panic though, open the box and packed neatly inside you will find the notebook itself, 1-standard battery, power cord/supply brick and a short quick start manual.  Mine also came with a disk that had a few movies on it and a code to unlock only one of those movies.  What you will not find however are any backup disks at all (more on that later).  After plugging the notebook in you can turn on the laptop immediately, the first thing you will be greeted with is Sony’s custom startup screen followed by the familiar Windows boot screen.  If you have the “P” version you will then be greeted by Windows XP PRO (w/ SP2).  The software package is a bit on the weak side considering most of the big name titles are 30 to 90 day trials.

Software Installed:

  • WinDVD 5
  • Picture Gear Studio
  • Quicken 2005 (new user edition)
  • Microsoft Works 8.0
  • Microsoft Office 2003 60-Day trial (student/teacher edition)
  • Norton Internet Security w/ 90-day Norton anti virus
  • Intermute SpySubtract 30-day trial
  • AOL (trial)
  • AOL instant messenger
  • VAIO Update, Recovery Wizard, Help and Support

Instead of including any kind of backup disks at all Sony has instead decided to include two things.  One they created a backup on the hard drive taking up valuable space, two they included a utility that lets you burn your own backup disks and save the hard drive space.  Since the laptop does not have a DVD burner you will be expected to use no less than 7 CD-R disks.  There is also an option to purchase the disks from a web page.

A look at ports on the left side of the VAIO S (view larger image)

After using the system for 2 full months I can say it is one of the best laptops I have ever owned.  The 13.3″ widescreen is perfect for working with large excel spreadsheets as well as multitasking with a video conference and word documents at the same time, this brings me to performance.  Below are some benchmarks for your comparison:

Performance and Benchmarks

We use the program Super Pi to get a benchmark of processor speed.  The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy.  Calculating to 2 million digits is our benchmark.  Below is a comparison chart of how the VAIO S360 with it’s 1.7GHz processor stacked up to other notebooks when running this calculation:

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 1m 57s
Dell Inspiron 6000 (1.60GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 52s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 45s
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 48s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 28s

Other Benchmarks

  • 3DMark03: 2628
  • Min Battery Eater 05: 83 minutes (max screen brightness, power management turned off)
  • Test Notes: Super PI and 3DMark03 were run using AC power, all default settings were used with 3DMark 03.  Battery Eater 05 was run on battery power with all power management features turned off, screen on maximum brightness, and OpenGL resolution of 1280x800x32.

    The S360P has enough power to run multiple office apps at once without breaking a sweat, and I can even play Doom 3 with medium detail levels.  While it may not be the fastest notebook on the market, I would argue it is the best balance of power, weight, and battery life.  I take the S360P to classes and meetings every day and use it to take notes.  On a normal day I use Microsoft Word for about 4 hours and spend 20 or 30 minuets checking e-mail all while running on the standard battery (with screen brightness as low as it goes).  The size and weight are nearly perfect, being about the size of an engineering textbook it fits perfectly on small college theater style desks and in my backpack it does not feel much heavier than 1 or 2 books.

    A close look at the top row of keys, and notice two configurable short cut buttons above the F6 and F7 keys (view larger image)

    The audio system is very good considering the size of this notebook.  The audio quality is similar to that of a standard 20″ TV, making it very possible and even enjoyable to watch DVD’s on long trips without any headphones.  The uses for this notebook do not end here.  Recently I have found myself choosing to use my laptop instead of my desktop, even when my desktop is just as convenient to use at the office.  While using it in the office it has just about every kind of port and type of connectivity you could ask for (although it could use Bluetooth).  There are 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 fire wire, LAN, and of course my favorite “wireless g” 54Mbps wifi.  The keyboard is a nice size and it is a breeze to type even very long documents.  Near the screen there are 2 “S” keys that are basically short cut keys; you can change them to do any number of things.  Speaking of wifi, I have found the radio in this laptop to be very nice.  In places that my old eMachines notebook had troubles and often had low signal strength, the Sony still pulls down a reliable signal.  It also seems to experience less interference from 2.4GHZ cordless phones.  There is a switch on the front to turn the radio on and off that I find very convenient when I want to save battery life, although the switch itself seams a bit cheaply made.

    It’s easy to turn wireless on/off via a button on the front right of the VAIO S (view larger image)

    As long as we are on the topic of build quality and design this laptop with a few exceptions (more on that later) is very nice.  The screen is amazing, even in direct sunlight it is still relatively easy to see clearly and continue working.  The case is built out of some sort of alloy making it very rigid and I can tell it will wear very well.  There is next to no screen flex, you have to push on the back of the display with a good amount of force to see any distortions.

    USB and FireWire ports on the front right side can be easily concealed by a door (view larger image)

    Now on to some things I wish could be improved upon.  My particular notebook I got at CompUSA.com (because the store in town was sold out) and it had 1 dead sub pixel at the edge of the screen.  I must say it is never noticeable except on dark backgrounds but it just bugs me to know it is there.  The battery design is a bit strange as well; it fits loosely into the compartment!  You would think the engineers could come up with a better solution but it does not affect usability in any way.  Also it seams to shutdown very slowly, after the blue windows is shutting down screen comes on it seams to just stay and stay and stay.  Finally I really wish Sony would include backup disks not just a utility to burn your own disks.

    Under side of the VAIO S (view larger image)

    Pros:

    • Fast (both CPU and Graphics)
    • Long battery life
    • Light weight and strong
    • High build quality
    • Bright screen even in sunlight

    Cons:

    • Lack of software backup disks
    • Poor international warranty
    • No serial or parallel port
    • Loose fitting battery
    • Expensive

    Conclusion

    Even with its flaws I would still highly recommend this laptop to anyone that needs to be very mobile and yet maintain a high level of performance.  Because of the minor improvements I suggested I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, a very good buy!

    Pricing and Availability



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