Small but Stylish: SONY VAIO VGN-T2XRP-S Notebook Review

We would like to introduce to you an economical, yet sufficiently high-performing configuration with a wide screen display, which won’t call for an upgrade in near future. This is a notebook from SONY based on the Ultra Low Voltage processor with the highest clock rate, i.e. on Pentium M ULV 753 with the default frequency of 1.2GHz.

by Nikita Nikolaichev
11/26/2005 | 09:33 AM

It is now hard to recall the time when a portable computer was a rare, extraordinary thing. Today’s notebooks are steadily approaching the moment when they will surpass desktop computers in the total sales volume, which will be the natural consequence of their development. Notebooks have been getting ever cheaper and improving in battery life and performance (which is now comparable with that of desktop machines). The trend towards miniaturization of digital devices can be seen clearly today – desktop computers are being ousted by thin and light notebooks, and the number of the so-called sub-notebooks is on the rise, too, although at a smaller rate.

 

Intel Corp. is currently the main player on this field. Two years ago the company announced its Centrino platform that included a chipset and a Pentium M CPU (with a TDP of less than 27W), specifically designed for use in portable computers. Unlike AMD that can’t yet boast such CPU modifications, Intel expanded the Pentium M series further by releasing Low Voltage and Ultra Low Voltage models meant for sub-notebooks that have a smaller-capacity battery. Working at a lower voltage and lower frequency, these CPUs feature very low power consumption and heat dissipation.

The clock rate of Pentium M Low Voltage and Ultra Low Voltage processors ranges 1.4 to 1.6GHz and 1.0 to 1.2GHz, respectively. The thermal design power of the “hottest” LV model is 10W, while the ULV modifications have a TDP of 5W. The “coldest” model in the Pentium M series works at as low voltage as 0.96-1.05V. CPUs of both these series work with a 400MHz FSB and their processor number looks like that of the Pentium M, i.e. “7xx”, the last digit being 8 for Low Voltage and 3 for Ultra Low Voltage.

Today we are going to test a notebook based around the Ultra Low Voltage processor with the highest clock rate, i.e. around Pentium M ULV 753 with the default frequency of 1.2GHz. This processor along with the Intel 855GME chipset are the main constituents of the Centrino platform the VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S, a tiny sub-notebook from Sony, is based upon.

Exterior Design

The Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S ships in a rather typical cardboard box that shows that the enclosed device belongs to the VAIO series. The sheer size of the box is an unambiguous indication that there is a very, very small computer inside.

So, it’s a Sony and it looks like an elegant silver-colored powder-box, just a little larger than usual, with the chromium letters “VAIO” in the center of the lid and “Sony” along the edge. The case material is a bit rough, so the notebook is unlikely to slip off your hands. I should confess this material gets dirty in no time, but it is also easy to clean it.

At the top of the lid, near the screen hinge, there are two groups of system indicators, a few control buttons for a software DVD player, and a Power-On button which is highlighted in green when the notebook is turned on and thus does double duty as a Power indicator (it is colorless and transparent when the notebook’s off). All of this is visible even when the lid is down and, for example, you can keep track of the battery recharging without opening the notebook.

The two groups include the following indicators:

The DVD playback controls include the following buttons (from left to right):

The VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S lacks a lid latch, using spring locks built into the hinges instead. When the lid is shut, the locks keep it down quite tight. So, you can just lift the lid up and see that the color scheme and the overall style are continued inside the notebook. Even the touchpad is of the same silvery color as the whole case of the VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S. The buttons are an exception as they have a special chromium shine. The words “VAIO” and “Sony” are scattered all around, but they are neat and inconspicuous and are not distracting at all.

The screen bezel matches the overall color scheme of the notebook. Small rubber pads are placed along the bezel for the lid not to heat against the computer’s body.

The touchpad is small, but quite handy. A larger touchpad wouldn’t just fit into the limited room on the panel, but I think they might have made it a bit wider. The sensor area is sunken a bit below to the level of the notebook’s top panel. Two chromium-plated buttons that replace the mouse’s left and right buttons are a little elevated and rounded. There is no joystick for scrolling text and no scrolling zone for that matter, but you can scroll text and pages using the right part of the sensor panel.

The keyboard is smaller than typical “desktop” keyboards. The keys are smaller, too, but their irregular shape (they are wide) makes them easy to use. The arrow keys are shifted a little below the keyboard baseline. The Fn button is most appropriately placed the second key in the bottom row, with only a Ctrl key on the left of it (this is handy for using shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V because you are unlikely to unintentionally press Fn down). The Windows key is located in the bottom row, too, one key over from the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than the others. Home, PgUp, PgDn and End are combined with the arrow keys; Num Lock, Print Screen, Insert and Delete are located in the functional keys row. The numeric pad and one special Windows-oriented key are also available. The symbols are painted in white, the functional keys (used in combination with the Fn key), in light gray.

The Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S is equipped with a 10.6” matrix with a native widescreen resolution of 1280x768 pixels or WXGA as the manufacturers like to call it. The viewing angles seem to be wide enough, at least subjectively. The matrix features Sony’s X-BLACK LCD technology that ensures high brightness, saturation and contrast of the image.

Before you turn the notebook on you can notice mirror reflections on the screen which do not vanish completely even when it is working. So, if light falls on the screen at a wrong angle, you’ll see your own face on the screen.

The VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S offers nine screen brightness grades, the lowest of which is comfortable enough for work.

I measured the screen brightness with a Pantone ColorVision Spyder tool and OptiCAL 3.7.8 software. The glass coating of the screen didn’t allow me to measure the contrast ratio since external light still found way and interfered with the measurement tool. The level of black varied from acceptable to downright poor depending on the external lighting, so I won’t publish the numbers I got. The brightness of the screen, on the contrary, varied very little between the power sources:

The Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S doesn’t have too many interfaces, yet it does have everything necessary for comfortable work. The I/O interfaces are also properly placed around the case.

A Wireless switch and a wireless connection activity indicator are in the left part of the front panel:

Closer to the center of the panel, there are two speakers. Their maximum volume is still rather low, so the headphones output is most appropriate, especially considering that the notebook is positioned as an outdoor digital companion.

The following connectors and controls are located in the left part of the front panel:

The left panel of the notebook is the most densely populated one:

The right panel of the SONY VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S looks like that:

It carries a DVD-burner (an Eject button, an emergency disc extraction hole and an activity indicators are located on the tray), a modem (RJ-11) and a network (RJ-45) connector. The modem and network connectors are neatly gagged with plastic caps that are attached to the case with plastic braces. So, if you don’t need the connectors, you can just keep them shut.

On the rear panel you can only find a power connector and a battery that matches the overall design of the VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S sub-notebook. The battery consists of two cylinders with a smooth transition from one to another which makes the notebook look even smaller visually. The casing of the cylinder the hinges of the lid are located in was a bit loose under my touch, but I hope this is only a minor defect of the particular sample of the notebook.

When I turned the notebook upside down, I could not find covers of memory and hard drive slots. There was nothing there except for a sticker with the notebook’s specification and a vent opening (by the way, this means that you should put the notebook on a solid surface to prevent overheat). To access the notebook’s innards I would have had to take the bottom panel off altogether, and I didn’t want to lose the warranty by doing so. Well, the owner of a Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S this notebook model won’t need to bother about upgrade for a long time because the notebook is equipped well enough. And when the need to upgrade will really arise, buying a completely new notebook will probably be a better decision. :)

Accessories

The sub-notebook was accompanied with the following accessories: accumulator battery, external power adapter, specification booklet, user’s manual, system restore manual, troubleshooting guide, warranty and other documentation, VAIO club brochure that listed some optional accessories to the computer, and a Microsoft product identifier.

A software bundle is also included with the VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S. It consists of:

Configuration

The heart of this computer is Intel’s Pentium M 753 Ultra Low Voltage processor with a heat dissipation of 5W and a clock rate of 1.2GHz. This CPU is based on the Dothan core which is manufactured on 90nm tech process with strained silicon technology, has a 2MB L2 low-latency cache and a 400MHz FSB. The processor also features Intel’s Enhanced SpeedStep technology which gives the BIOS and software applications the control over the CPU frequency multiplier, so the CPU clock rate can be reduced to 0.6GHz at low loads. This brings its power consumption down and, what is very important for a notebook, results in a longer battery life. We can also note the processor’s support of Execute Disable Bit technology which prevents certain buffer-overflow attacks if also supported by the OS.

  

The Pentium M processor is part of the Centrino platform which also includes a chipset, and the VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S uses the popular system logic Intel 855GME. The frequency of the graphics core integrated into the chipset’s North Bridge is 250MHz. Despite various power-saving technologies, the heat dissipation of the 855GME is rather high, 4.8W. This chipset is equipped with an AGP 4x controller and supports external graphics processors. The mobile modification of the ICH4 chip acts as the South Bridge here. It supports two ATA-100 channels, six USB 2.0 ports, PCI bus, and AC’97 audio interface.

An interesting feature of this sub-notebook is that it uses a tiny, 1.8” MK6006GAH hard drive from Toshiba with a spindle rotation speed of 4200rpm and a capacity of 60GB.

The SONY VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S is also equipped with a DVD±RW driver Matshita UJ-822Da which has the following speed characteristics:

The notebook has two memory slots, one of which contains a 512MB module and the other is empty, giving you an upgrade option (the maximum amount of system memory supported is 1024MB).

The VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S remained very quiet and cold during my tests. I measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after 30 minutes of work in the Classic mode of Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the room temperature remained at 23°C during this test). Here are the numbers I got:

The next table summarizes the technical characteristics of the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S sub-notebook:

Testing Methods

The hard drive of the VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then I installed Microsoft Windows XP professional with DirectX 9.0c and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0. Power-saving services, the audio subsystem, network services were all disabled for the duration of the tests. The notebook was tested at the maximum brightness and resolution (1280x768) of the screen.

I set the Windows Taskbar to hide automatically and also chose the following settings: “Classic” Desktop theme, no background image, no screensaver.

Two power modes were used. First, I selected the Always On power mode for the maximum performance and the shortest battery run-down time. Then, I switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.

Our tests:

  1. Performance benchmarks: synthetic (SiSoftware Sandra 2005, PCMark 2004), office and multimedia (Business Winstone 2004, Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004), games (3DMark 2001SE Pro , Quake 3, Unreal Tournament 2003);
  2. Battery life tests (Battery Eater Pro 2.60).

There are three test modes in Battery Eater:

In the Idle mode (when the notebook bears no load at all) I began to play a DVD movie. Generally speaking, DVD playback is one of the hardest operational modes for a notebook’s battery: high power consumption of the optical drive combines with a high brightness of the screen and a very high sound volume. And since DVDs are so popular today, we need to know how much time the notebook can last on its battery under such conditions.

Performance

You can’t really expect a mind-blowing performance from such a small computer with a 1.2GHz processor and the integrated graphics from the first version of the Centrino platform. Do not forget, however, that it is a Pentium M, rather than an ordinary desktop Pentium, and it has a difference frequency/performance ratio.

Well, let’s get closer to the tests now. As usual, I will first run the synthetic SiSoftware Sandra 2004 and PCMark 2004. The former benchmark measures the performance of the system at large as well as that of each of its subsystems. PCMark 2004, in its turn, measures the performance of the computer at running office and multimedia applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, hard disk).

The results are not very high, but it is a sub-notebook after all. When the notebook is powered by its own battery, the CPU frequency is stepped down to 0.6GHz and the computer’s results go down as a consequence.

The Business Winstone test runs scripts of the following real applications, several scripts at a time: Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Project, PowerPoint, FrontPage, WinZip, and Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition.

The Multimedia Content Creation Winstone test determines the performance of a computer in the following multimedia applications: Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, NewTek LightWave 3D, Steinberg WaveLab, Dreamweaver MX, and Director MX.

The results of these two tests are tabled and diagrammed below:

Again, the results are not high, but expectable considering the configuration of the given sub-notebook. Note also that the performance of the computer when it is powered by its battery is about half its normal performance.

The Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S is equipped with an integrated graphics core Extreme Graphics 2 that uses some of the system memory to store textures. 3DMark 2003 would be too hard an ordeal for such a weak graphics subsystem, so I tested it with 3DMark 2001 SE Pro:

 

As you can see, the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S may be good for running office applications, for watching movies, etc., but it is not meant for playing 3D games. Game 4, Environment Bump Mapping, Pixel Shader 2.0 and Advanced Pixel Shader subtests are not supported at all – and this is a 4-years old benchmark! The results go down again as the notebook switches to its own battery, but not as greatly as in the previous tests.

Next, I tested the notebook in Quake 3 with two graphics quality presets:

The game looked like a slideshow at times, especially when the notebook was powered by its battery. This is yet another confirmation of the non-gaming orientation of this sub-notebook.

The integrated graphics shows its weakness once again. I think no comments are necessary here.

And now we’ve got to the last test. Since Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S is positioned as a sub-notebook, it is expected to travel a lot and for long with its owner and must last as long as possible without an external power source. Let’s check it right now with Battery Eater Pro 2.60.

The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:

The numbers are up to my expectations – this notebook is a truly mobile device! The Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S didn’t last for 7 hours on its battery as promised by the manufacturer (they must have measured the battery life time when the notebook was absolutely idle), but it allows you to watch one movie or read continuously for more than 5 hours – at the maximum brightness of the screen and without an external power source! That’s impressive, I think.

Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the three test modes:

VAIO System Restore

The Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S features a restore-from-the-drive system which is a nice safety measure against serious failures in the notebook’s operation. There is a special hidden partition on the hard drive, called a recovery disk. If you want to roll back the OS, drivers, utilities and software to the state everything was in when you bought the notebook, you should press F10 after you turn it on. You’ll see a menu with the following options:

You are asked to create your own VAIO recovery aids when the notebook boots up – I don’t know why the manufacturer didn’t include such discs with the system. You’ll need up to 8 CD-Rs or up to 2 recordable DVDs for that purpose (it took me one DVD-R disc to create my own version).

Conclusion

I can’t but praise the engineers who managed to put such an economical, yet sufficiently high-performing configuration into the 272x205x34mm dimensions. The notebook is fast enough for running office applications, and its configuration won’t call for an upgrade in near future. There are few areas the Sony VAIO VGN-T2XRP/S wouldn’t succeed in, one of which is today’s 3D games, but otherwise this sub-notebook is head above other models. It can really make a good traveling companion, being very small and light. It will readily take in the contents of the flash card from your digital camera during your vacation. Its battery life time is so long that you don’t feel tethered to the wall socket. Besides office applications, this notebook with its widescreen display suits well for watching movies during your trips.

Highs:

Lows: