by Alexander Britvin
03/20/2008 | 03:39 PM
The conservative design trend used to prevail among PC manufacturers for many years as they used the same exterior and the same color scheme: light gray for desktops and black for notebooks. But as computers were getting simpler and more affordable, evolving into common household electronic devices, a more creative approach to the exterior design became necessary. The notebook I am going to test today – Sony VAIO VGN-CR11SR/P – differs from other notebooks with its very special color. Instead of trivial black or dark-gray, its case shimmers with a glamorous pearly pink. It is not a vulgar gaudy pink – the hue is indeed tender and eye-pleasing. So, the VGN-CR11SR/P has a chance to win the hearts of a much wider audience than the blondes from Hollywood comedies.
Besides this pearly pink, the VGN-CR11SR series comes in three more colors: blue, white and red.
These models differ not only in color, though. The pink, white and blue versions feature Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 while the red version is equipped with an ATI Mobility Radeon X3200 graphics adapter. That’s not the fastest solution on the market, yet it is superior to the integrated GMA X3100 core.
I will be discussing the pink version of the VGN-CR11SR/P in this review.
The specs are up to the modern level but not more than that. The CR11SR does not stand out among its opponents in technical parameters. The notebook is based on the Santa Rosa platform and has a Merom-core CPU with a rather low clock rate. Its weight and screen size are medium.
Notwithstanding the audacious coloring, CR series notebooks are packaged into classic black boxes with a blue band on the side and with bare cardboard at the top and bottom.
The notebook comes with a minimum of accessories which is typical of Sony. The company leaves it to the user to choose and buy the things he needs. Sony just doesn’t want to make the basic kit more expensive due to accessories some users don’t need. On the other hand, many people are willing to pay extra to have a universal notebook kit ready for any usage scenario.
Besides the notebook proper, the box contains: a 6-cell 4800mAh battery, a power adapter with LED indicator, and documentation (user manual, warranty, etc).
The small booklet that tells you how to replace the memory modules is obviously meant for inexperienced users. For example, the memory compartment cover is secured with five long and one short screw, and the booklet warns you against trying to put a long screw into the hole for the short one. I don’t think a user with that level of qualification should try to change the memory sticks at all!
Traditionally for the VAIO series, there are no system recovery discs in the kit. The manufacturer suggests that you create them yourself. It’s not a difficult or time-consuming operation but many users are likely to think about it only when they actually need to recover the system. It would be handier to have such discs already included with the notebook.
Besides the preinstalled OS (Windows Vista Home Premium), Sony offers a generous software bundle that includes:
Video and TV
Security and other
The notebook’s shape is up its tender color: the edges of the lid are rounded off, adding softness to the outline. The front of the base protrudes from below the lid: there is a chrome band encircling the notebook’s bottom half. By the way, this detail of the case gets soiled easily, collecting your fingerprints, whereas the pink gloss of the lid makes any greasy spots left by your fingers inconspicuous.
A large chrome wavy VAIO logotype can be seen in the center of the lid. The manufacturer’s name is written near the edge in white.
The lid lacks any kind of a lock. There is a special jutting piece at the edge of the lid for your fingers when you are opening the notebook up. The lid is held in the necessary position by the stiff hinges sticking out of the notebook’s bottom half. This allows unfolding the notebook by over 180 degrees, which is rather untypical for the VAIO series.
The protruding front part of the notebook’s base carries is not just a design feature. It is a functional element as well. There are four multimedia buttons in the center of it:
There are six indicators on the right:
The external block of multimedia buttons and the status indicators remain accessible when the notebook’s lid is closed.
Alas, the notebook is not so glamorous on the inside. The nice pearly color of its exterior is transformed into a dull and trivial lusterless pink that looks rather cheap as if meant for teenage girls. The style of an original, beautiful and luxurious solution is not maintained. I guess it would even be better if the interior surface were just silvery like the color of the keyboard. The dark-blue VGN-CE11SR/L is made exactly like that, actually.
The screen bezel is pink, too. There are pink rubber pads all along it for a softer contract between the lid and the notebook’s body. A 1.3-megapixel web-camera is built into the center of the top part of the bezel. It cannot be moved, so you can only aim it by adjusting the display’s position. An activity indicator of the camera and a hole of the integrated mono microphone are placed to the left.
The silvery keyboard and the black screen stand out among the mass of pink. But as soon as you turn the notebook on, the display goes all pink, too. The CR11SR/P has a bright-pink wallpaper by default.
The notebook is equipped with a widescreen 14.1” LCD matrix that has a native resolution of 1280x800 pixels. The viewing angles seem quite large subjectively. The matrix has a “glassy” coating that yields high-contrast and lush colors but also produces flares and reflections of any brightly lit objects that happen to be behind your back.
I measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL 3.7.8 software. I selected the maximum brightness setting before this test. The display parameters remain the same irrespective of the power source as you can see:
AC power source:
DC power source:
The notebook’s keyboard is painted silver. It resembles the keyboard of the Sony VAIO VGN-TZ1RXN/B but larger because the 14-inch form-factor provides a wider base and allows to make the keys larger, too. The keyboard is nonstandard, though. I mean the width of its keys is smaller than their height. And the keys are placed with considerable gaps to avoid your striking a neighboring key by mistake. The keys move softly and do not rattle. The keyboard is built into a silvery tray, each key firmly fixed in its seat. There are 82 keys in total, which indicates one drawback. There is no vertical column of buttons including Home, Page Up, Page Down and End. This could be explained for the Sony VAIO VGN-TZ1RXN/B sub-notebook where each millimeter of the base was put to use, but here the case is wide enough to accommodate one more column of keys.
The mentioned keys are now combined with the functional ones and accessible via Fn. The arrow buttons are placed below the keyboard’s baseline to lower the risk of your pressing them accidentally.
The bottom left corner of the keyboard is occupied by a Control button – that’s convenient for people who are used to Control-involving shortcuts. A numpad (combined with the main keyboard) and two Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is placed over one key to the right of the spacebar; the Windows Logo key is to the left of the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Num Lock, Print Screen, Insert and Delete continue the row of functional keys. The letters are painted black while the functional buttons are painted blue (you should press them together with Fn to access their additional functions).
To the right above the keyboard there are three remaining indicators together with a Power button:
Six chrome-coated multimedia buttons are placed above the center of the keyboard (from left to right):
Stereo speakers are placed on both sides of the keyboard. It is impossible for you to block them with your hands at work. By the way, if it were not for these speakers, the keyboard would be large enough to accommodate one more column of buttons (Home, Page Up, Page Down and End).
The touchpad is as pink as the interior surface of the case. It is responsive and somewhat sunken into the case – you can see and feel its borderline. There are two buttons beneath the touch-sensitive panel. The touchpad lacks a scrolling zone or a scrolling joystick.
Being undoubtedly glamorous, the CR11SR/P is also functional. Its left panel carries the following components (from left to right):
The following can be found on the notebook’s right panel:
The back panel contains few connectors because most of it is occupied by the battery (from left to right):
The bottom panel has only two compartments: HDD and memory. The latter compartment offers access to almost all the internals of the notebook, though. Both memory slots are occupied by 1-gigabyte modules, providing the maximum amount of memory the notebook can support. Stickers with the model info and the OS serial number are glued to the memory compartment cover. The bottom panel is all drilled for ventilation – some of the vent holes are going to be blocked if you put the notebook down on your laps. This shouldn’t be a problem, though, because the CR11SR/P configuration doesn’t seem to be hot.
Also in the notebook’s bottom there is a special highlighting lamp that lights up when you turn the CR11SR/P on.
The silvery battery is painted the color of the notebook’s bottom. It has a capacity of 4800mAh (6 cells) and matches the notebook’s outline perfectly.
The manual and spring-loaded locks are located on the battery’s body to prevent it from slipping out of the notebook.
The Sony VAIO VGN-CR11SR/P is based on an Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 processor with a clock rate of 1.80GHz (65nm Merom core with 2 megabytes of shared L2 cache). The FSB frequency is 800MHz.
Intel Core 2 Duo T7100: cache-memory
The Core 2 Duo T7100 supports Intel’s 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture and also features Intel Wide Dynamic Execution technology which means more decoders and execution units in the CPU core. The speed of processing SSE and FP instructions is increased, too.
Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 in two power modes without FSB Switching
Besides Intel’s traditional Enhanced SpeedStep technology that gives the notebook’s software and BIOS the control over the CPU frequency multiplier (to reduce it under low loads), this CPU supports Dynamic Power Coordination (the power consumption of the cores can be independently adjusted depending on the current load; one core may even slip into Deep Sleep mode with the lowest power consumption possible), Dynamic Cache Sizing (unused segments of the CPU cache can be turned off to save power), and FSB Frequency Switching (the FSB clock rate is automatically lowered at low loads). For more information about Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors refer to our article called Santa Rosa + Vista: Three Notebooks Reviewed or to the manufacturer’s website.
This implementation of the Santa Rosa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 4965AGN adapter and an Intel Crestline GM965 chipset. The 965 series chipsets support a FSB frequency of 800MHz. The GM965 offers a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card and also features an integrated graphics core called Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100. Connected to the North Bridge via a special-purpose Direct Media Interface, the South Bridge (ICH8-M) supports three Serial ATA-300 ports, ten USB 2.0 ports and Intel High Definition Audio. It also offers six PCI Express x1 lanes to connect external devices. For more information about the platform, visit the manufacturer’s website.
GMA X3100 is the first graphics core from Intel to support shaders on the GPU. As a result, the new integrated chipset features improved performance and compatibility with 3D applications, particularly with Windows Vista’s Aero interface. The X3100 can also support DirectX 10 using the recently released driver. The new core is clocked at a frequency of 500MHz and incorporates 8 unified shader processors for 3D rendering as well as for video playback acceleration. Thanks to them, the X3100 provides hardware acceleration and post-processing for video content in MPEG-2 and WMV9 formats. The core doesn’t support the new compression standards H.264 and VC-1 (Blu-ray and HD-DVD), though. Besides higher performance, the new graphics core has acquired more advanced power-saving features, mostly meant to reduce the consumption of the LCD panel which is the main power consumer in a notebook together with the CPU. The X3100 supports Display Power Saving Technology 3.0 that is automatically adjusts the brightness and contrast of the screen to reduce power consumption yet keep the image quality high. The Display Refresh Rate Switching technology can be used to reduce the refresh rate of the screen when the notebook works on its battery.
The notebook comes with a Toshiba MK1234GSX hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 120GB capacity, ATA-7 interface) and a Matsushita UJ-850S DVD-burner with the following speed characteristics:
The CR11SR/P works with DDR2-667 SDRAM, the fastest memory available on the Santa Rosa platform. Both memory slots are occupied by 1GB modules. This is in fact the highest amount of memory the notebook can support. The memory works in dual-channel mode as reported by the CPU-Z tool.
Dual-channel memory mode
I measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after it had worked for half an hour in Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the ambient temperature remained constant at 23°C during this test) and got the following numbers:
The temperature parameters are good. The notebook is unlikely to overheat.
The table below shows the detailed specs of the tested notebook from Sony in comparison with its opponent Dell Vostro 1400 that has a similar hardware configuration:
I had the opportunity to test the Santa Rosa platform under two OSes, Windows XP and Windows Vista because Sony’s website offered Windows XP drivers. So, the CR11SR/P was tested alone under Windows XP and together with the Dell Vostro 1400 under Windows Vista.
In the first part of the tests the notebook’s hard disk was formatted in NTFS. Then I installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 with DirectX 9.0c and system drivers (from the manufacturer’s website), and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0. We also install Windows Media Player 10.0 for such tests as PCMark 2005.
The following settings are used during the tests:
There were two exceptions: I returned to the Windows XP desktop theme for PCMark 2005 since the program required that. And for SYSMark 2004 SE to work normally, I had to roll each parameter back to its default (as they are set right after you install Windows).
Two power modes were used. First, I selected the Always On power mode for maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then I switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.
There are three test modes in Battery Eater:
I used the first two modes as they are in Battery Eater, but in the Idle mode (when the test utility doesn’t put any load of its own on the notebook) I played a DVD movie.
In the second part of the test I installed Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate x86 and drivers (from a prepared system recovery disc) on the notebook’s hard disk formatted in NTFS.
The following settings were used:
Two power modes were used. First, I selecteded the High Performance power mode for maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then I switched to the Power Saver mode for the maximum battery run-down time.
There are three test modes in Mobile Mark 2007:
As usual, I will first run the synthetic benchmarks.
The SiSoftware 2007 suite features an updated enhanced-functionality interface, runs on three platforms (Win32 x86, Win64 x64, WinCE ARM), contains 13 tests and 34 informational modules, and supports a large range of devices thanks to the developer’s collaboration with Intel, AMD, ATI, SiS and VIA. The program is supported in six languages and has a free Lite version for personal and educational purposes. SiSoftware Sandra measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems.
PCMark benchmarks the computer performance in office and office-related applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem). PCMark 2005 carries on the tradition of complex benchmarks of the series and uses fragments of real-life applications as tests. This makes it somewhat more relevant for end-users as opposed to fully synthetic benchmarks. After running a series of 11 tests on the different components of the system, the program calculates an overall performance score in units called PCMarks. PCMark 2005 can check a computer out at processing HD video and encoding audio, and offers enhanced tests of the CPU and hard disk under multi-threaded load. The overall score is calculated by the formula: PCMark Score = 87 x (the geometric mean of the basic tests), where the geometric mean is calculated as (Result 1 x Result 2 x…) divided by the number of results.
The results are close to those of the older Napa Refresh platform. This could be expected because the CPU is the same, the higher FSB frequency being the only difference. The CPU performance is lowered in the battery mode due to the activation of the power-saving features implemented in the Merom core, from old SpeedStep to new FSB Frequency Switching. The CPU frequency drops below 1GHz, and the test results get much lower. As for the graphics subsystem, Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 looks preferable to GMA950. The memory subsystem behaves typically for the Santa Rosa platform: the memory performance is half lower in the battery mode. The Napa Refresh platform didn’t have such a serious performance hit because it didn’t have such aggressive power-saving technologies.
I didn’t benchmark the notebook in Business Winstone 2004 and Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 because they wouldn’t start on the new platform.
SYSMark 2004 SE is intended to reveal a system’s performance under different types of load. It simulates a user who is solving practical tasks in a few popular applications. Multithreading is taken into account. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads. SYSMark 2004 SE is mainly positioned as a tool for testing desktop systems and includes applications that are not often run on mobile computers. That’s why the results for each test load are shown separately.
The 3D Creation script simulates a user who is rendering an image into a BMP-file in 3ds max 5.1 and is also working on web-pages in Dreamweaver MX. After these operations are done, a 3D animation is created in a vector graphics format.
SYSmark 2004 SE is sensitive to the CPU performance. The notebook delivers a typical result of a 1.8GHz Merom when powered from the mains. When powered by the battery, the Santa Rosa platform proves to be slower than the Napa Refresh with the same CPU due to its more advanced power-saving technologies. You’ll see a similar picture in almost all of the SYSMark tests.
The 2D Creation script simulates a user creating a video out of a few RAW-format fragments and audio tracks in Premier 6.5. Waiting for the operation to complete, the user is also modifying an image in Photoshop 7.01 and then saves it to the hard disk. When the video clip is ready, the user edits it and adds special effects in After Effects 5.5.
The mains result is for a CPU frequency of 1.8GHz; the battery result is for 0.8GHz.
The next test simulates the work routines of a professional web-master. The user unzips the content of a website while using Flash MX to open an exported 3D vector graphics clip. Then the user modifies it by including more pictures and optimizes it for faster animation. The resulting clip with special effects is compressed with Windows Media Encoder 9 to be broadcast via the Internet. Next, the website is compiled in Dreamweaver MX while the system is being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0 in the background.
The results depend on the CPU frequency again, and this frequency is lowered in the batter mode due to the reduction of the FSB clock rate.
The next script simulates an ordinary user who’s receiving a letter with a .zip attachment in Outlook 2002. While the received files are being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0, the user looks through his e-mail, enters some comments into the Outlook calendar, and then opens a corporate website and some documents with Internet Explorer 6.0.
This is the only test from this suite that does not depend directly on the CPU frequency and, accordingly, on the power mode. However, there is a huge difference in the notebook’s performance in the two modes because the Santa Rosa platform can lower the memory frequency, too.
In the Document Creation script the user is editing text in Word 2002 and is also using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to convert an audio file into a text document. This text document is then converted into PDF format with Acrobat 5.0.5. And finally, the document is employed in a PowerPoint 2002 presentation.
Again, the results depend on the frequencies.
The final script from SYSMark 2004 SE includes the following: the user opens a database in Access 2002 and creates a few queries. Documents are archived with WinZip 8.1. The results of the queries are exported into Excel 2002 and are used to construct a diagram.
The final SYSMark 2004 test agrees with the previous ones.
I tested the notebook’s graphics performance in four versions of 3DMark: 3DMark 2001 SE Pro, 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.3.0 and 3DMark 2006 1.1.0.
3DMark is a set of 3D scenes rendered by a unique engine that can load the computer’s graphics subsystem in various ways. Compared with the previous version, 3DMark 2005 uses Shader Model 2.0x/3.0 instead of Shader Model 1.x, provides full compatibility with Shader Model 2.0, includes more complex tests (over a million polygons per each frame), and employs normal maps. 3DMark 2006 brings support for HDR, Uniform Shadow Maps, and multi-core CPUs. It is overall oriented at Shader Model 3.0, but two out of its four graphics tests work within the Shader Model 2.0 framework.
Perhaps its driver is not yet optimized well, but the X3100 is no better than GMA950 in Windows XP. Here is a couple of real games to prove the point.
I tested the notebooks in two modes in Quake 3:
And in one mode in Quake 4:
There was no standard demo record in Quake 4, so we had to create one by ourselves. We will use it in every following review of notebooks on our site so that different notebooks could be compared under identical conditions.
The integrated core of the Santa Rosa platform is faster than the Napa’s solution in Quake 4 when powered from the mains, but this is still not enough for comfortable play. The Sony VAIO VGN-CR11SR/P is obviously not a gaming notebook.
The notebook’s battery life was measured with Battery Eater Pro 2.60. The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:
Three hours with something is quite a high result. The CR11SR/P does not offer the longest battery life possible, yet it is indeed better than many other notebooks in this respect.
Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.
This round of tests begins with SiSoftware Sandra 2007 and PCMarks. You can read the descriptions of these tests in the previous section.
The two notebooks deliver similar performance in the CPU tests. This performance lowers in the battery mode due to the reduction of frequencies like in Windows XP. The Dell Vostro 1400 has only half the amount of memory available on the VAIO, but this has little effect on its results. A difference between the disk subsystems can now be seen.
The new version of SYSMark is intended to reveal a system’s performance under different types of load. It simulates a user who is solving practical tasks in a few popular applications. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads. The results for each test load are shown separately.
The CR11SR/P is ahead as it has two times more memory. Let’s check out the individual tests.
The E-Learning test emulates the creation of an educational website with diverse media content. This script makes use of the following applications: Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Macromedia Flash 8 and Microsoft PowerPoint 2003.
The amount of system memory must be the decisive factor here. Otherwise, the two notebooks are identical, and the Dell Vostro 1400 even has a somewhat faster disk subsystem.
The next script is about creating video clips using special effects. The clips are combined out of several sources, including static images. The result is prepared in two formats: HD and for online viewing. The following software is utilized here: Adobe After Effects 7, Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9, and Sony Vegas 7.
The pink notebook has an advantage, again, due to the same reasons.
The Productivity test models typical office activities such as sending e-mail, processing data, managing a project, working with documents. Applications employed: Microsoft Excel 2003, Microsoft Outlook 2003, Microsoft PowerPoint 2003, Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Project 2003, and WinZip 10.0.
It is the disk subsystem that is important for this test. That’s why the Dell Vostro goes ahead.
The final script from SYSMark 2007 is about creating an architectural presentation including a photorealistic image of the building and a clip with a flyby of it. Two applications are used: AutoDesk 3ds Max 8 and SketchUp 5.
The notebooks are both equipped with integrated graphics cores and produce similar results in both test modes.
Next I tested the notebooks in a few real-life applications.
The identical CPUs produce almost identical results at encoding video.
MP3 encoding is performed at the same speed when the notebooks are powered from the mains. When powered from the battery, the VAIO is somewhat faster, probably due to its larger amount of system memory.
This test script from Adobe Photoshop emulates the processing of five 5-megapixel photographs. It is sensitive to the amount of system memory and the CR11SR/P wins again.
The notebooks have similar results in the Microsoft Excel test as they have similar hardware configurations.
Data compression is performed at the same speed, the minor advantage of the Sony notebook is due to the difference in the memory amount.
In the next test a script is used that prepares a video clip for uploading to YouTube. The clip was made out of four video fragments captured from a digital camera. There is nothing to comment on – the notebooks deliver similar results.
The results of the final rendering test are proportional to the CPU frequency.
Next I tested the CR11SR/P and the Dell Vostro 1400 in four versions of 3DMark: 3DMark 2001SE Pro, 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0 and 3DMark 2006 1.1.0.
The CR11SR/P is even somewhat slower than the Dell. Perhaps the driver for Intel’s new integrated graphics core is not yet thoroughly optimized. Moreover, 3DMark may be using the hard disk actively.
Let’s now see what we have in modern games.
The games agree with 3DMarks: the CR11SR/P is always slower than its opponent. There is no difference from Windows XP – the notebook is meant for office applications rather than games. It is only at a resolution of 800x600 pixels that this notebook can provide a more or less acceptable speed in a 3D game.
Battery life is just as important a parameter of a notebook as its performance. The notebook’s battery life was measured with MobileMark 2007. We disabled standby and hibernate mode for the test.
The first scenario, Productivity, emulates the user’s working in typical office applications. The load is not constant as the user is frequently distracting from his work. The second scenario measures the notebook’s battery life when the user is reading text from the screen in Adobe Reader. The third scenario is about DVD playback in InterVideo WinDVD.
The Sony CR11SR/P does not boast a very long battery life in MobileMark 2007. The Dell Vostro 1400 lasts up to 1 hour longer on its battery in some applications, which is a considerable difference for notebooks that are intended for frequent voyages.
It’s no secret that Sony doesn’t produce entry-level solutions. The “lightest” versions of notebooks from this brand belong to the medium price segment at least. On the other hand, the Japanese company comes up with original computers, each of which has a special feature and shows a care about the future user. The Sony VAIO VGN-CR11SR/P, and the entire CR series, follows the same policy. This notebook is meant for an active user who is far from conservative when it comes to the exterior design. Red can give you vitality, blue represents a dynamic and cool mind, white stands for immaculacy and confidence, while pink is just romantic. Sony offers you to choose from these colors so that your digital companion would match your own personality. But you have to pay quite a lot for that, just as for every other notebook with the VAIO logotype, especially as the VGN-CR11SR/P does not stand out among its numerous opponents with its technical parameters.