Sony Vaio SA41FX/BL review:

Sony Vaio SA41FX/BL

The new Vaio S is really an update in a slight way to last year's model. A slightly faster 2.5 GHz Core i5-2450M replaces the 2.3 GHz Core i5-2410M. The same graphics are in play. Performance is equivalent to other recent Core i5-2450M laptops such as the Sony Vaio Z, HP Pavilion dm4-3090se, and Dell Latitude E6220. The added AMD graphics give the Vaio S an edge in gaming, however: Street Fighter IV ran at 30 frames per second at native 1,600x900-pixel resolution and 2x antialiasing, while Metro 2033 ran at only 11.7 frames per second at 1,366x768 with graphics settings set to High. The Vaio SA is good enough to play games, but not all-around adept enough to be called a "gaming laptop," since cutting-edge games will chug.

Is the Vaio SA fast? Yes, as fast as most mainstream Core i5 laptops, and then some, thanks to the added AMD graphics. The Vaio SA 13-inch compared favorably to the HP dm4 Beats Edition. The added screen resolution adds up to another plus for those looking for a flexible, powerful laptop with enough screen real estate for multiple windows while still staying on the small side.

Juice box
Vaio SA41FX/BL Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.23
Sleep (10 percent) 1.04
Idle (25 percent) 11.16
Load (5 percent) 50.75
Raw kWh 48.79
Annual energy cost $5.54

If there's one disappointment to be had with the 13-inch Vaio SA, it's battery life. With AMD graphics on (physical switch set to Speed), the integrated battery ran under 4 hours: 3 hours and 24 minutes, to be precise. With Stamina selected over Speed--which turns off AMD graphics and uses integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics, like many 13-inch laptops--battery life climbed to 4 hours and 11 minutes, but that's still a far cry from laptops such as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which lasted over 7 hours. Sony does sell an extended sheet battery that docks nicely onto the bottom of the Vaio SA and recharges the internal battery when in use, but it costs $150. The sheet battery boosted battery life to 6 hours and 46 minutes with AMD graphics on.

Still, consider the Toshiba Portege or MacBook Pro, which run over 7 hours each. Consider ultrabooks. Consider most modern laptops. The Vaio SA battery life kills the equation a little for me, although I admire the screen, the construction, and the idea. Battery life is more than half of the reason behind a portable computing device. It matters. That sheet battery achieves excellent battery life, but it's costly and adds thickness to the Vaio SA.

The Sony Vaio SA41FX/BL comes with a standard one-year warranty, which can be upgraded at the time of purchase on Sony's website: pony up $179 for an extended three-year Express Ship service plan, or $329 for three years plus accidental damage protection. Sony's support Web site and toll-free customer service number offer better-than-average ease of use.

The 13-inch Sony Vaio SA41FX/BL is a solid all-around laptop with a nice balance of upgrade options, graphics, and size, but a higher-than-average starting cost and limiting internal battery life dampen what would otherwise be an excellent consideration for many. With a new generation of Intel Ivy Bridge laptop processors on the horizon and a continuing flow of surprisingly good 13-inch ultrabooks already on tap for the same price, the Sony Vaio SA as reviewed is a product that's more than somewhat transitional.

System configurations
Sony Vaio VPCSA41FX/BL
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6630M / Intel HD 3000; 500GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

HP Pavilion dm4-3090se
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 520GB Intel 7,200rpm

Dell Inspiron N411Z
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 750GB Western Digital 7,200rpm

Samsung QX411-W01
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 640GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Gateway ID47H02u
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Find out more about how we test laptops.

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

Adobe Photoshop CS5 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)

Annual power consumption cost
Sony Vaio SA41FX/BL

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