Sony VAIO VGN-SR41M/S review

2 Sep 2009

A featherweight with good battery life and even a modicum of gaming ability; shame about the build, though

Price when reviewed: 
995(£995 inc VAT)
5

The world of notebooks is one of extremes: tiny, weakling netbooks squat at the bottom of the food chain, while giant gaming laptops and portable workstations loom above with their daunting price tags and performance figures. But there are precious few laptops capable of walking the knife-edge between portability, practicality and sheer power. Sony’s VAIO VGN-SR41M/S is one of that rare breed.

Its vital statistics don’t give its ultraportable cousin, the VGN-Z31MN/B, much to worry about, but this laptop still has a svelte allure all of its own. The rounded hinges, tapered lid and the large logo plastered across it give bags of character, and if you fancy something even more extrovert, you can also get that lid finished in white or pink. Whichever colour you choose, the interior remains all-silver, interrupted only by the Scrabble-tile keys.

Float like a butterfly

Cajole the Sony onto a set of scales and it’s impressively light. Other 13.3in laptops might be lighter – Apple’s MacBook Air or Lenovo’s IdeaPad U350, for example – but few can match the Sony's feat of weighing 1.83kg without sacrificing its optical drive. Factor in the 6hrs 27mins of light-use battery life, and you have an ideal travelling partner.

There is a thorn in the Sony’s side, though, and that’s its insubstantial build quality. Pick it up by the corner and you can feel the chassis droop slightly under its own weight. The slim lid doesn’t afford the display much protection either, and pressing down on the right-hand wrist-rest sees it give way all too easily. The flexibility might help the Sony shrug off lighter blows, but we’d make sure to invest in a well-padded laptop bag if you intend to travel with the VGN-SR41M/S as a constant companion.

It is a real shame, as it is generally a pleasure to use. The 13.3in display keeps weight and size to a sensible minimum. Image quality is punchy thanks to the panel’s strong contrast but, as with the VGN-FW41E, somewhat muted colours and pale skin tones failed to make the very best of our test photographs. The 1,280 x 800 pixel resolution is ample, though, and marks a good compromise between a spacious desktop and easy legibility.

The isolation-style keyboard is a pleasure to use, too. Each key has a light, positive action and the unfussy layout makes it easy to tap away comfortably for long stretches.

Sting like a bee

The VGN-SR41M/S teeters right on the brink of the £1,000 mark, but scanning quickly through its specifications might leave you wondering why. The 2GHz Intel processor and 4GB of DDR2 memory is par for the course in many cheaper machines, and a result of 1.03 in our real-world benchmarks is equally unremarkable.

Fire up a game on the Sony, though, and it has a surprise in store. The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 graphics chipset is pretty nippy by any standards, but particularly so for a sub-2kg notebook. Of course it’s no match for the likes of the Nvidia Geforce GTX 260M in the Asus G60Vx, but an average of 57fps in our lowest quality Crysis benchmark isn’t bad at all. Up the ante to a more challenging test – run at 1,280 x 1,024 and medium detail – and it still manages 18fps.

Conclusion

There are faster laptops on the market, but none of them blend power and portability quite like the 1.83kg VGN-SR41M/S. Indeed, if it weren’t for the iffy build quality and high price, we might have been tempted to honour the Sony with an award. As it stands, though, while the VGN-SR41M/S might impress with its technical achievements – we know of few, if any, 1.8kg laptops with any significant gaming prowess – we just can’t bring ourselves to completely forgive its flaws.

Details

Price ex VAT £865
Price inc VAT £995
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 3
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 316 x 234 x 37mm (WDH)
Weight 1.830kg
Travelling weight 2.3kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T6400
Motherboard chipset Intel PM45
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset ATi Mobility Radeon HD 4570
Graphics card RAM 512MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 320GB
Hard disk usable capacity 298GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Seagate Momentus 5400.5
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical drive Matshita UJ862AS
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

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

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem yes
ExpressCard34 slots 1
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 6hr 27min
Overall application benchmark score 1.03
Office application benchmark score 1.05
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.16
Encoding application benchmark score 0.89
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.83
3D performance (crysis) low settings 57fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
OS family Windows Vista
Recovery method Recovery partition, burn own recovery discs