Sony VAIO VGN-CS11Z/R review

1 Oct 2008

Decent power and a solid spec, but the garish design and poor value limit its appeal.

Price when reviewed: 
978(£999 inc VAT)
4

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £850
Price inc VAT £978
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 3
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 332 x 246 x 41mm (WDH)
Weight 2.500kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo P8400
Motherboard chipset Intel P45
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 14.1in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,280
Resolution screen vertical 800
Resolution 1280 x 800
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 320GB
Hard disk usable capacity 298GB
Internal disk interface SATA
Optical disc technology Blu-ray writer
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 100Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no

Other Features

Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 1
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 3
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel 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
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no

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