Sony VAIO X-Series review

8 Oct 2009

A stunning piece of design matched by excellent battery life, and despite the Atom inside it can cope with everyday tasks. But Sony struggles to justify that price

Price when reviewed: 
1,300(£1,299 inc VAT)
3

The Sony VAIO X-Series is a laptop that divides opinion almost like no other. "Who," cry some on seeing it, "would buy that? It's just a glorified, overpriced netbook." Others pick it up and swoon. "It's so light! It's so gorgeous! I want one."

No-one can argue about the VAIO X-Series' design credentials. At 12.2mm, it's precisely as thick as an iPhone, and its matte-black finish is reminiscent of a sheet of graphite (the only design oddity is its brown bottom). Even the screen drew admiring gasps: it's wafer-thin, measuring 4.4mm when we clamped our callipers around it.

Sony VAIO X-Series

The main chassis is similarly slight. It's so skinny the D-SUB port on the right-hand side looks oversized. There isn't even room for a conventional network port, but rather than force people to lug around an adapter, Sony has cleverly created a hinged port: when you want to use it, the idea is to raise two tiny feet and this gives the hinge room to expand enough for you to slot in your cable. (See the gallery for a close-up.)

There are two USB ports on the left-hand side of the chassis, plus a headphone socket, while slots for Memory Stick media and SD cards occupy the front. And that's your lot. The rest of the design carries on this minimalist feel. Aside from a wireless switch, the only buttons to press are the two for the simple touchpad and the keyboard itself.

Power struggles
But what's most controversial about this laptop, and the reason so many people fall instantly out-of-love with it, is the processor. It's a 1.86GHz Intel Atom Z540, which may be the second fastest Atom around, and support Hyper-Threading, but the fact remains: it's an Atom. These have become so synonymous with netbooks that they almost define them, but we tried to be broad-minded: was an Atom fast enough to power anyone's main PC?

So we tried. We used the X-Series as a workaday machine for office tasks for a week. It had to power two screens and cope with Word, Excel, Outlook, Firefox, Internet Explorer and numerous other utilities - all using Windows 7 Professional rather than XP.

First impressions weren't fantastic. With all Aero's fripperies switched on, the X-Series felt sluggish, and even dragging windows around the desktop proved a chore. Once we optimised Windows for best performance, though, things improved markedly. Without Aero's overhead, menus snapped to attention, there was no lag and it became perfectly usable. It just looked a little bit like Windows 98. We were also impressed once inside a program. Despite using testing formulae in Excel, the X-Series never felt slow, and likewise in Outlook responding to emails was effortless.

Another point in favour of the Atom is a lack of fan noise: during an average working day, we didn't hear a single drone. It was only when we pushed this laptop to its maximum in our benchmarks that the fan came on (though note that it's loud).

Sony VAIO X-Series

Details

Price ex VAT £1,130
Price inc VAT £1,300
Overall rating 3
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 2
Performance 3

Warranty

Warranty 2yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 278 x 186 x 12.2mm (WDH)
Weight 766g
Travelling weight 1.1kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Atom Z540
Motherboard chipset Intel US15W
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 1

Screen and video

Screen size 11.1in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset Intel GMA 500
Graphics card RAM N/A
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 128GB
Hard disk usable capacity 112GB
Spindle speed N/A
Internal disk interface SATA
Hard disk Samsung MMCRE28GFMXP-MVB solid state disk
Optical disc technology None
Optical drive N/A
Battery capacity 4,100mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter yes
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
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 1
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
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Bottom
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case yes

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 7hr 9min
Battery life, heavy use 3hr 11min
Overall application benchmark score 0.36
Office application benchmark score 0.38
2D graphics application benchmark score 0.38
Encoding application benchmark score 0.33
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.34
3D performance (crysis) low settings N/A
3D performance setting N/A

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Professional 32-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition
Software supplied VAIO Video & Photo Suite