Sony VAIO VGN-CS11Z/R review
Decent power and a solid spec, but the garish design and poor value limit its appeal.
Sony's newest addition to the VAIO range has been drawing stares from the PC Pro troops since it arrived - largely because it's lipstick red. Whether this is a plus or not is open to interpretation, but you'd better learn to live with it, as the only other colour on offer is an even less appealing brown.
There's a touch of blue in there too, though, as this is a Sony laptop - cramming its own Blu-ray technology into even the least likely of chassis seems to be the strategy du jour. It's a strange inclusion, not least because the CS11 has a 14.1in screen with
a resolution of just 1,280 x 800 - hardly a prime HD environment - and the only video output for external display is VGA.
Thankfully, there is also a CS11 available without the Blu-ray writer, and at £765 (exc VAT) it looks a better bet. The choice of black or white finishes on that version is also a relief. The rest of the specification is the same as this review system, and it's pretty impressive.
With a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo P8400 and a hefty 4GB of DDR2 RAM, the Sony coasted through our application-based benchmarks with a score of 1.15. For a relatively portable laptop - it weighs just 2.5kg - this is a decent level of power; you won't have to worry about slowdown when multitasking.
Despite this processing grunt, the Sony is no slouch when it comes to longevity. While a time of just an hour-and-a-quarter under intensive use isn't great, when we switched to our light-use test it stretched to a much more impressive four hours.
We may have knocked the screen for not being an ideal HD Blu-ray companion, but if you lower your expectations to normal DVD levels it's up to Sony's usual standards - bright and glossy with vivid colours and plenty of detail in both light and dark areas of photos and video. It's perhaps too reflective for prolonged use under harsh office lights, but we can't see many IT departments equipping staff with bright red Blu-ray laptops.
The red finish extends as far as the mouse buttons and the touchpad, which is large and responsive. The Scrabble-tile keyboard, with the wide spaces between keys, takes some getting used to, but after a few days you won't even notice.
Above it sits a row of touch-sensitive media controls, and this was the one area of bendy weakness on the chassis. Otherwise, the lid is strong but with a bit of give in the middle to protect it in a bag, and the build of the base is solid.
Sony makes much of the "Merlin sensor" - a small pressure-sensitive area around the latch. When the laptop is powered but closed, a light brush of this sensor brings a small strip light under the base to life. But it's as pointless as it sounds.
More useful is the physical wireless switch on the front edge, along with card readers for Memory Stick, MMC and SD formats. There's an ExpressCard/34 slot for expansion, and a reasonable three USB ports, but the Ethernet isn't Gigabit.
Gaming is handled by a discrete Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS - which means you won't be doing much of it, as it's a low-power card intended for boosting video decoding. It may help out when watching those Blu-ray discs, but it won't have you charging through Crysis Warhead at anything quicker than an agonising, bullet-ridden crawl.
And that sums up the CS11. Why would anyone pay £850 (exc VAT) for a 14.1in laptop with a Blu-ray drive? The cheaper, non-Blu-ray version is more appealing, but still looks limp next to the Toshiba Qosmio F50-10Z, which packs in everything but the 4GB of RAM and weak Nvidia graphics - and an extra inch of screen - for almost the same price. The Sony is pretty, but has little else to win us over.
|Price ex VAT||£850|
|Price inc VAT||£978|
|Features & Design||4|
|Value for Money||3|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||332 x 246 x 41mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo P8400|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel P45|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||2|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,280|
|Resolution screen vertical||800|
|Resolution||1280 x 800|
|Graphics chipset||Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Hard disk usable capacity||298GB|
|Internal disk interface||SATA|
|Optical disc technology||Blu-ray writer|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||100Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless key-combination switch||yes|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||3|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial ports||0|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||0|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||2|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||yes|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||yes|
|Smart Media reader||no|
|Compact Flash reader||no|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||4hr 3min|
|Battery life, heavy use||1hr 17min|
|Overall application benchmark score||1.15|
|Office application benchmark score||1.26|
|2D graphics application benchmark score||1.30|
|Encoding application benchmark score||0.99|
|Multitasking application benchmark score||1.08|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||20fps|
|3D performance setting||Low|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|OS family||Windows Vista|