Sony VAIO S Series VPC-SA21GX/BI review: Sony VAIO S Series VPC-SA21GX/BI

There are a number of configuration options available for the Vaio SA and SB models on Sony's site. Processors start at a second-generation Core i3 and move up to a 2.7GHz Core i7-2620M. RAM can be expanded up to 8GB, and hard drives up to 750GB. On the highest-end Vaio SA models, SSD options are available starting at 128GB and capping at a massive 1TB (for a whopping $2,700 extra). Graphics options are limited to two AMD Radeon GPUs: the Radeon 6470M or 6630M. Screen resolution can also be bumped to 1,600x900 pixels on some models, and a Blu-ray player/burner can be added for an extra $100/$400. It all boils down to there being few configuration restrictions on the Vaio S; you could easily trick one out to the price and near feature level of a Vaio Z.

Our $1,299 Vaio SA configuration included a 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive, a 1,600x900-pixel screen, and AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics, but no Blu-ray drive; we had a standard CD/DVD burner instead. The price/feature breakdown on ours works out pretty well when compared with a MacBook Pro, but it's high compared with most other Windows laptops. Then again, you're clearly paying a premium for the Vaio S' build quality and size. The Toshiba Portege R835, while starting off less expensive, doesn't offer the graphics options or screen resolution that the Vaio S does.

We've seen this particular second-generation Core i5 processor in action many times before, on many laptops. It performs equivalently here, too. It's more than fast enough for any mainstream tasks or multitasking. Paired with AMD graphics, it's plenty for video editing or any general-interest media creation, too.

Though the AMD Radeon 6630M graphics represent a significant improvement over Intel's integrated HD 3000 graphics, they're not as robust as some Nvidia GeForce graphics cards we've seen recently. Unreal Tournament III played at 63.3 frames per second at native 1,600x900-pixel resolution. Street Fighter IV, meanwhile, crawled along at 19.7fps in native resolution. Bringing resolution down to 1,366x768 pixels, we got the frame rate up to a more playable 30.5fps, but it still wasn't a smoking result for hard-core gamers. The Vaio S can play games, but it's not spectacular at it.

Juice box
Sony Vaio VPCSA21GXSI Average watts per hour
Off (60%) 0.23
Sleep (10%) 0.91
Idle (25%) 10.93
Load (05%) 46.1
Raw kWh number 46.13
Annual power consumption cost $5.24

Annual power consumption cost
Sony Vaio VPCSA21GXSI
$5.24 

With its integrated 4,400mAh battery, the Vaio SA21GX lasted for 3 hours and 44 minutes using our video playback battery drain test, with the performance switch set to Speed. With performance set to Stamina (dedicated graphics off), battery life improved to 5 hours and 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can add a slice battery for $150 that significantly improves battery life. The slice battery is relatively thin, but it does bulk up the Vaio S to 1.4 inches thick. That's not abnormal for a mainstream laptop, but it's no longer thin.

With the slice and performance set to Speed, battery life climbed to 7 hours and 27 minutes. With performance set to Stamina, the slice battery got a massive 10 hours and 34 minutes of playback. With the Vaio S's integrated battery, you can expect at least a solid 4 to 5 hours of playback, depending on how you tweak the settings. The slice battery offers true all-day performance (and then some), but the added battery bulk and price of the battery might deter some. The slice battery does have a clever advantage: the battery charges the Vaio S' internal battery first, then depletes, allowing the slice to be removed and the Vaio S to have a full charge much like the battery pack cases on some smartphones.

The Sony Vaio EB is backed by an industry-standard, one-year warranty. Support is accessible 24-7 via a toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and a Web site with driver downloads. Sony's support sites are clean and easy to navigate, but information about your exact laptop configuration may be hard to find.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

System configurations:

Sony Vaio VPCSA21GXSI
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 512MB AMD Mobility Radeon HD 6470M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 320GB Western Digital 7,200rpm

HP ProBook 5330m
Windows 7 Professional w/ SP1; 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-2310M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1315MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Toshiba 7,200rpm

Toshiba Portege R835-P56X
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1696MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 640GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Samsung Series 9
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-2537M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB(Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 128GB Samsung SSD

Acer Aspire Timeline X 3830TG-6431
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1,024MB Nvidia GeForce GT540M 128MB(Dedicated) Intel HD; 500GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad X1
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2520M; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) / 1696MB (Total) Intel HD 3000; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Sony VAIO S Series VPC-SA21GX/BI

Part Number: VPCSA21GX/BI

MSRP: $1,299.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Resolution 1600 x 900 ( HD+ )
  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Color jet black
  • Weight 3.7 lbs
  • Optical Drive DVD-Writer - fixed
  • Graphics Processor AMD Radeon HD 6630M / Intel HD Graphics 3000 - 1 GB
  • CPU Intel Core i5 (2nd Gen) 2410M / 2.3 GHz
About The Author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.