Sony VAIO V505 Notebook Review

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Sony released the Sony VAIO V505 notebook series during the middle of 2003 and they have since been releasing updated configurations to keep up with the latest processor and component advances.  The design of the V505 has stayed consistent of course, sporting a purplish-gray magnesium alloy case that s stylish yet professional.  The V505 is a thin and light notebook, weighing in at 4.3lbs it s a cinch to carry around.  Our review is based on the Sony VAIO V505EX configuration that includes a Pentium M 1.50 GHz processor, 512 MB DDR SDRAM, ATI Radoen 9200 32MB graphics card, 12.1 XGA monitor and 60GB hard disk.

The Sony VAIO V505, notice the VAIO logo is upside down to the user but passers by can read exactly what notebook you’re typing away on — adding to the look at me aspect of the V505!

Sony VAIO V505 Design

The VAIO V505 certainly has a nice look with its trendy VAIO logo displayed on the purple-gray casing.  It s a uniquely shaped notebook, almost square in dimensions, it has a width of 10.9 and depth 9.54 (overall dimensions are 1.35 x 10.9 x 9.54 in regards to H x W x D).  All of the input and output ports lie on the right and left sides of this notebook, there are no ports whatsoever on the back. 

Since the VAIO V505 has no ports on back it created the odd problem of making it hard to initially figure out the front from back of the notebook.  This was aggrevated by the fact the Sony VAIO logo is placed upside down to the user and the power button is somewhat hidden on the front.  For the first week with the VAIO V505 I was constantly getting the notebook backwards when trying to find the latch to flip up the screen!

VAIO V505 left-side.  From left to right in this picture are the power input, VGA out (covered), Type II PC slot, USB 2.0, FireWire, microphone, headphone.

On the left-hand side of the V505 we have a USB 2.0 port, FireWire port, VGA out, headphone jack, microphone jack and a Type II PC card slot.  On the right hand side there s inputs for a phone line into the 56Kbps modem, Ethernet connection, another USB 2.0 port, Memory Stick reader, and CDRW/DVD ROM optical drive.  On the front side of the VAIO V505 are buttons for turning on and off the wireless receiver and the power button.

VAIO V505 right-side.  From left to right in this picture are the Memory Stick reader, CDRW/DVD ROM drive, USB port, 56Kbps modem phone line in, Ethernet in port.

The wireless on/off switch and power on/off switch are somewhat hidden by the lip of the keyboard that sticks out, but once you get used to finding these buttons they re easy to operate.  The latch release used to open the screen is somewhat discrete and hard to find initially, but once you re used to it you ll find it s easy to operate and the screen opening and closing mechanism is smooth and easy yet the hinge for the screen feels solid.

VAIO V505 front-side, the Wi-Fi switch is on the far left, screen latch in the middle and power button on the far right.

Once opened the thing you ll find most striking about the V505 is that, although it s thin and light it does seem to have quite a bit of keyboard area real estate and the square nature of the keyboard is rather unique.  The speakers on the VAIO V505 are great, but the large amount of real estate they take up on the overall keyboard area is rather puzzling.  There would have been greater benefit in pushing the speakers to the front and expanding the actual keyboard size.  The footprint for the VAIO V505 is 10.9 by 9.54 (width x depth) with a 12.2 screen, but contrast this with the Fujitsu S6000 notebook that has a 11.5 by 9.3 (width x depth) footprint and a larger 13.3 screen and you’re left scratching your head as to why the VAIO needs to be so deep.  On an airplane the depth is the key to making a notebook more usable, reducing the depth makes it easier to flip up the screen, but Sony pushed the screen back quite a way so the benefit of having a small notebook is somewhat reduced by the unnecessary depth.

The actual real estate taken up by the keys is small, the speaker and palm rests take up a good portion of the square base design of the VAIO V505.

Outside of my gripe with the odd shape of this notebook the design is quite good.  The ports are all easily accessible.  I like the fact they put one USB 2.0 port on the left and one on the right.  That way I don t get the problem of two USB accessories that bump into each other or don t both fit at the same time.  I can have a SanDisk Memory Cruzer plugged into the left hand USB port and a mouse in the right USB port and they don t get in the way of each other, which is sometimes a problem in thin notebooks that crunch ports into a small space.  I like the fact the Ethernet and Modem jack have covers on them to keep dust out of the inside of the notebook.  The FireWire port is a great option that will enable you to transfer video in a fast manner or attach external drives and get quick read/write performance.  The power input is on the left-side, I prefer that to be on the back of the notebook, just seems much more logical and standard.  Same with the VGA output, most notebooks put this port on the back but Sony chose to put it on the left-hand side.

One thing that should be mentioned in terms of design is that this notebook runs very cool due to its Pentium M processor and it’s very comfortable to use sitting in your lap if you so choose.

Input Devices for VAIO V505

Here you can see the touchpad, mouse buttons and keyboard that serve as the input device for the VAIO V505

The keyboard on the VAIO V505 is necessarily scaled down due to its small size.  In order to use the PgUp, PgDn, Home or End keys you ll need to hold in the Fn key and strike the up, down, left or right arrow keys accordingly.  This is a common feature in smaller notebooks, it s a sacrifice you make in order to achieve the smaller size.  However, as I mentioned before, it seems that while Sony reduced the actual area the keyboard takes up they then forgot to scale down the depth accordingly.  A generous area to rest your palms is provided and the speakers take up about 20% of the depth of the base area.  I say forget the speakers in a small notebook, if you can find a way to make the keyboard more friendly and give me the keys I m used to having on a regular keyboard, then do it!  Overall the keyboard is decent though.  The travel on the keys provides adequate feedback.  I was overjoyed to see the Windows shortcut key was included still, on my IBM Thinkpad T40, which is a larger notebook, IBM took out that key, chalk it up to IBM stubbornness, at least Sony included it.

In addition to the keyboard the other form of input we have with the VAIO V505 is the touchpad.  I had heard some user complaints in regard to the functioning of the touchpad prior to receiving the V505 so I certainly wanted to see for myself if this was just novice users not used to such an input device as the touchpad or a true flaw in the notebook.  Unfortunately, I m an experienced notebook user and the touchpad on the VAIO V505 drove me buggy.  It s just plain hard to use at times.  The cursor seems to be reacting smoothly to your thumb or finger movement, but then all of a sudden it will jump.  And then at other times the cursor won t react period to movements you make on the touchpad.  And then at other times when using the touch pad for browsing the web the back button will be activated when you’re trying to scroll the screen.  I prefer to feel in control when using a touchpad, and not some Christmas Elf inside the computer.  I highly recommend using a wireless mouse to get around the not so hot touchpad on the V505.

Sony VAIO V505 Screen

The 12.2″ XGA display screen on the VAIO V505 is bright and text is crisp and easy to read

Sony knows screens, there s no doubt about that.  Although the V505 doesn t come with the new XBrite technology that they are including in their newest notebook releases, I find that the screen for the VAIO V505 is as bright as it needs to be and with the machine I have there s not a dead pixel to be found.  There s just not much to complain about with the 12.2 XGA TFT the VAIO V505 presents.  The native resolution is 1,024 x 768.  You won t be able to work on multiple applications at the same time with this resolution on a 12.1 screen, but that s just a given when you re using a smaller notebook.  The XGA resolution is the best way to go with smaller screens, it allows you to see everything clearly within the space you have, you ll just have to do a little more scrolling to see all of a web page or document.

Sony VAIO V505EX Processor

If you configure the VAIO V505 with a 1.50 GHz Pentium, Intel 855 chipset family processor, you ll have no problem whatsoever blowing through normal document editing and web browsing tasks.  The Pentium M processor is designed to save on power while still providing good processing performance.  The processor used in the VAIO V505EX is specifically the Intel 855PM Chipset.  For those more familiar with desktop processor performance, the Intel Pentium M 1.50GHz chip is about equal to the performance of a Pentium 4 2.4GHz chip (ignore the processor GHz speeds, it s no longer a reliable indicator of actual processor performance).  Here s a list of features and benefits provided by this 855PM chipset architecture:

Pentium M 855PM Chipset  Benefits:

  • 400MHz low power processor system bus – Supports 400MHz system bus for single processor configurations
  • Support for up to 2GB of DDR 333/266/200 memory technology – Higher performance & flexibility (the VAIO V505EX comes with the fastest 333 MHz memory bus speed available for this chipset)
  • Integrated high speed USB 2.0 – Support for USB 2.0 peripherals for 40X faster data transfer rate and backward compatible to support USB 1.0 devices
  • AGP4X Interface – High-bandwidth interface to provide flexible support for high performance mobile discrete graphics solutions
  • Intel Stable Image Technology – Enables chipset HW changes, minimizing impact to IT SW image stability
  • Dynamic input/output buffer disabling for processor system bus & memory – Reduces chipset power consumption by Intelligently activation or power-down of the processor system bus or memory

To save money you can configure the V505 with a 1.4 GHz Pentium M chip, which will have similar performance to the 1.5 GHz chip.  I don’t recommend slower than this chip though, and Pentium M is definitely the right chip to choose for this notebook.

Sony VAIO V505 Graphics Card

A word to the wise, don t buy a thin and light notebook for gaming or CAD design purposes.  That s not what this type of notebook is made for.  Having said that, the ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 32MB card that comes standard with a V505 is actually pretty decent for this style of notebook.  The Fujitsu S6000 does not contain a separate graphics card, it uses an integrated graphics/processor chipset.  Having a separate graphics card will give you better performance when using multimedia applications.  Here s an overview of the ATI 9200 card:

ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 Features

  • Fast graphics performance with support for AGP 8X
  • Ready for the latest and hottest games
  • SMARTSHADER technology enables pixel and vertex programmable shaders, providing the most complex and realistic texture and lighting effects
  • SMOOTHVISION technology gives antialiasing and anisotropic filtering for clearer, more robust image details
  • Multi-display support for CRT monitor, TV or Digital Flat Panel
  • Send and watch home videos over the internet with clarity
  • POWERPLAY technology for longer battery life dynamically adjusts power consumption based on user activity, resulting in longer battery life.
  • Full hardware support for DirectX 8.1 programmable pixel and vertex shaders
  • Provides users with exceptionally clear text, characters and images in every application; even when scaling down to lower or non-native resolutions.

Please be warned though, the V505 is not a gaming machine and if you want to play games like Unreal Tournament 2004 then you re barking up the wrong tree with a 32MB graphics card, you need at least a 64MB card to play such games, and a larger screen!

Sony VAIO V505 Software

The Sony VAIO V505 comes with a number of music, photo, and video applications. Sony is pretty big on installing its own applications on notebooks and PDAs it produces, that s true with the VAIO V505 too.  Included Sony applications include

  • DVGate Plus, this allows you to import video from a digital video (DV) camera, then edit and save the video streams to your systems hard drive or to a writable disc;
  • PictureGear Studio gives you the ability to arrange pictures in online photo albums, on digital postcards, plus more
  • SonicStage, provides tools for splicing together music clips.
  • Sony Power Management Utility Sony includes a pretty cool battery management tool that allows you to define various system settings for power saving mode, such as what screen brightness to switch to and how the system should react on battery power depending on what applications you re using.

Sony also installs Netscape 7.0 and Real Player by default, doing an end run around Microsoft who has kept these applications out of Windows XP by default.  If you pay a little extra you can get the V505 with Adobe Photoshop and Premiere installed.  You can choose between XP Home and XP Professional as the OS.  Microsoft Office Small Business and Standard Editions are also available for extra money, if you want to save cash then you can just select Works 7.0 minisuite as your Office application tools.  I highly recommend getting MS Office preinstalled if you don t already have the software on disks.  After all, a business notebook without good Office application tools won t be a very functional notebook.  Sony also includes Quicken 2004, a program that allows you to manage your finances.

Overall the software included with the V505 is a decent package, the one glaring item that s missing is system recovery CDs.  I really like to have a CD in hand that I know if all else fails I can just insert into a notebook and it will be restored to the same setting and configuration as the day I bought it.  It s pretty standard to get such a disk with a notebook these days, but Sony left it out.  You can request these CDs from Sony, but you have to pay for them.

Sony VAIO V505 Wireless

As a mobile machine the V505 of course offers wireless, the V505EX is an Intel Centrino notebook, meaning it carries the Pentium M processor and an Intel branded PRO/Wireless internal network card.  Anytime you choose a V505 with integrated wireless you get a card that’s 802.11 b/g compatible, so you ll be set to access almost any standard wi-fi network.  I ve had very good experience using the VAIO V505 for wireless.  Using two notebooks in the same room, an IBM Thinkpad T40 and the VAIO V505, the V505 always performed better and was able to pickup more connections than the IBM.  I live in an apartment block where multiple people have wireless setup, and usually the VAIO would find 10 networks while the IBM would find maybe 5-6.

As an aside, I m a huge fan of purchasing a notebook with wireless, I don t know why anybody these days would leave this option out, furthermore the 802.11 b/g dual compatibility is the right way to go so you can take advantage of a faster 802.11g network if it s available.  So thumbs up on the VAIO V505 wireless options and implementation.

Sony VAIO V505 Configuration Options

When you order the Sony VAIO V505, you can configure its single internal bay with either a DVD/CD-RW combo drive or a DVD-RW drive.  The model I have does not have DVD burning capability, but this would be a pretty cool, although more expensive, option to go with.  Careful what you choose though.  One design flaw with the Sony VAIO V505 is that the optical drive is fixed and not modular.  Meaning whatever you configure it with is what you re stuck with, and if the drive breaks you ll have to ship the entire notebook back to Sony and not just the broken drive.

As far as processors go you can configure the system with a Pentium M, Pentium 4-M, or mobile Celeron processor rated with processor speeds anywhere between 1.2GHz to 2.4GHz. The DDR SDRAM memory included with all VAIO V505 notebooks runs at a snappy 333MHz and is available in configurations that range from 256MB to 2GB. Hard drive size can be configured to 40GB, 60GB, or 80GB.  Unfortunately, the hard drive is a speed bottleneck for this machine because the fastest you can get is a rather slow standard of 4,200rpm speed.  The advantage of a slower drive is of course longer battery life though, so I consider this a trade off for longer battery life.  All V505 notebooks come with a standard 12.1 inch XGA display, ATI 9200 32MB graphics card and if you order internal wireless it will be the Intel Pro/wireless 802.11b/g mini-PCI card.

Sony VAIO V505 Battery Life

The Sony VAIO V505 provided decent battery life.  Equipped with a generous 11.1V, 4,400mAh (49WHr) battery the VAIO is ready to run unplugged for a period of 3.5 hours if you don’t use processor intensive applications.  When dimming the screen all the way, turning off wireless and using basic applications such as Word or just letting the machine idle I received just over 4 hours of battery life.  I forced the screen to remain on for this battery drain test.  However, when turning on wireless, cranking screen brightness up all the way and playing a DVD movie the battery died in about 2 hours.  Remember, when running in battery mode you can really increase the battery life by dimming the screen and turning off wireless if you don’t need it.  That’s true for any notebook.  Overall when compared to other notebooks in its class, such as the Dell Inspiron 600m or Fujitsu S6120, the VAIO achieves on par battery life.  It’s not exceptional but not poor.

Conclusion

The VAIO V505 is a nice notebook in that it s light, stylish and offers excellent performance if you configure it with a Pentium M chip that s 1.50 GHz or greater.  It comes with many of the input and output ports you ll need, the FireWire is a nice extra to have.  A great screen and decent graphics performance for such a small notebook are big pluses.

I find that the usability of the keyboard and touchpad are detractors from the V505 though.  The touchpad was rather frustrating to use, I just couldn t manipulate the cursor in a smooth manner.  The keyboard is small, but it could have been bigger because if you look at how deep the notebook is there s a lot of extra space left over in which more keys could have been placed.  The overall squarish design of the notebook just doesn t provide optimal space usage and, while the shape may look kind of cool, it s not totally functional.

Pros

 Good Pentium M processor performance with fast 333MHz RAM included
 Nice screen, bright and easy to read XGA format
 It s light at 4.4lbs, easy enough to palm in one hand and punch keys with the other
 Cool purplish-grey case color, the square like shape of the notebook is unique.

Cons

 Hard to use touchpad, get a mouse.
 The footprint is actually quite large for a 12.2 screen notebook, some 13.3 notebooks are less deep and use space better.
 Secure Digital and CompactFlash memory cards are shunned in favor of only a Memory Stick reader.  Most competing notebooks support all three types of cards.
 Fixed bay for the optical drive means no upgrading the optical drive, ever.

Pricing and Availability

Click the below links to find pricing for the various flavors of each VAIO V505, the EX is the most recent release so I recommend starting there.

Since the V505 comes in a myriad of configuration options, the price can vary widely.  A base configuration of a Mobile Intel Celeron 2.0 GHz, 256MB RAM, 40GB hard drive, CD-RW/DVD-ROM, No Wi-Fi and 1-year warranty will cost you $1399.99.  If you go all out and purchase a VAIO V505 with an Intel Pentium M 1.7 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, 80GB hard drive, DVD-RW and 802.11 b/g wi-fi the price tag becomes $3879.99.  Ouch!  That s just a one year warranty and XP Home and no MS Office configured, so you easily surpass $4,000 on this notebook if you start adding features.

So, the V505 is by no means a cheap notebook if you buy it through SonyStyle.com at least, I suggest using our price search engine to find better prices!  The VAIO V505 can be found at many online retailers, or if you prefer bricks and mortar purchases then it is available from large retailers such as BestBuy, Circuit City, J&R, Frys Electronics, and many other such stores.

 


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