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Sony Vaio S5VP review: Sony Vaio S5VP

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The Good Lightweight chassis; excellent keyboard and mouse touchpad; great screen.

The Bad Cramped, recessed USB ports; can get hot and noisy during CPU-intensive operations.

The Bottom Line The S5VP is yet another worthy addition to the VAIO range. Aesthetically it's a little more subdued than the excellent VAIO TX1XP, but it is slightly larger, and therefore more usable. Its extra bulk doesn't affect its portability -- you'll hardly realise it's in your bag. It offers strong performance (perhaps a little too much given the heat it dissipates), but we think it's still an excellent choice for any road warrior.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.3 Overall

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The VAIO S5VP is the latest addition to Sony's S series -- a line of laptops that are thin and light, but not quite as petite as the diminutive T series. This laptop sports similar dimensions to the VAIO S4M, which it replaces. However, it's now finished in matte black instead of silver and uses more modern components including the Intel 915GM chipset and the latest iteration of Centrino. It is therefore ideal for those who want a truly portable laptop that can still deliver strong performance. It's not perfect (it runs hot, it's occasionally noisy and it's pricey), but it's still very worthy of consideration.

Design
The VAIO S5VP makes a positive impression straight out of the box. Sony's familiar VAIO logo, embossed into the lid of the laptop, will definitely receive a few admiring looks from anyone in sight. As with all new VAIO laptops, Sony has chosen not to include a latch on the screen. Instead, it uses a spring-loaded rear hinge that locks the lid in place. This is a welcome design feature, as previous VAIO laptops were prone to broken latches.

The size are weight of a laptop are often huge factors in its suitability for a given user. This offering weighs in at a respectable 2kg and is 313mm wide. That extra width allows it to sit more comfortably on your lap, and its keyboard buttons are more evenly spaced, reducing the chances of making an error while typing quickly.

The mouse touchpad on the S5VP was impressive, providing accurate input throughout. Stroking the bottom or far right-hand edges of the touchpad will let you scroll horizontally or vertically through documents, but Sony doesn't publicise this feature by printing the familiar directional arrows seen on touchpads from rival manufacturers. This is probably because Sony wants to preserve the S5VP's minimalist design, but some users could become confused as to why their documents suddently start scrolling for no apparent reason.

The laptop has a front-facing MagicGate Memory Stick port, but as ever with Sony laptops, we were disappointed by the lack of compatibility for more widely used memory cards. Its USB and FireWire ports are shielded behind rubber flaps, which reduces the chances of them being clogged or damaged by foreign objects. Unfortunately Sony's decision to recess these ports seems misguided. Some USB devices, including the iPod Shuffle, won't fit in one of the ports because the overhanging body of the laptop gets in the way. It's possible to plug bulky devices in one of the ports, but you'll probably end up obscuring the remaining port as they're so tightly spaced.

The S5VP has a hardware switch for the integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless adaptor. This makes it easy to enable or disable the wireless LAN feature, which can serve as an extra measure of security, or a means of slightly extending battery life when you're low on juice.

Sony has included two programmable shortcut keys, but we'd prefer to have seen a few more. Also, the lack of a dedicated volume controller means adjusting the sound levels can be tricky if you're using the laptop in the dark.

Features
The VAIO S5VP is a second-generation Centrino laptop. It uses the Intel 915GM chipset, which in this case is paired with the nippy Pentium M 770 CPU, clocked at a respectable 2.13GHz. This is joined by 1GB of fast DDR-2 533Mhz memory. Rather than rely on the integrated graphics solution of the 915GM chipset, Sony has opted to emply the far more capable services of an Nvidia GeForce Go 6400 graphics chipset. This isn't a common inclusion in laptops, but it's slightly faster than the standard Intel offering. Our only real gripe in this area is that the laptop only features a standard analogue D-Sub port. We'd like to have seen a DVI-I output port for digital connections to an external monitor, and a TV-out port for more flexibility.



Many ultra-portable laptops share the familiar trait of lacking storage space, but the SV5P uses a massive 120GB hard drive, which should be enough to keep all but the most avid of file sharers wallowing in digital multimedia content for some time. The laptop also contains an integrated dual-layer DVD rewriter drive, so you'll be able to make backups of up to 8.5GB in size when using compatible media.

One of our favourite features on the VAIO S5VP is its widescreen (1,280x800 pixels) 13.3-inch display. It uses Sony's X-Black screen coating, which is designed to provide improved brightness and contrast. The effect is quite startling, particularly when playing DVD movies or viewing digital images. Some users argue that X-Black is a little too reflective and can render a laptop unusable in direct light, but the same can be said of screens that do not use reflective coating. In our tests, the S5VP worked very well both indoors and outdoors in a variety of lighting conditions.

As well as the aforementioned 802.11a/b/g wireless compatibility, this laptop also features Bluetooth. This makes it easy to synchronise your contacts or calendar in Microsoft Outlook without having to fool around with messy cables. Bluetooth also gives you the option of getting online via a mobile phone if you aren't within the coverage area of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Like most VAIOs, you get a strong software bundle with the S5VP. Windows XP Professional is standard, as are copies of Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0, Acrobat Elements, Premier Standard and Microsoft Works. These packages are handy since you can start working within seconds of unpacking the laptop. As a bonus, buying the S5VP directly from the Sony Style Web site will also get you 12 months of free broadband from BT, including the router -- a saving of over £215.

Performance
The VAIO S5VP is surprisingly quick given its diminutive stature. Its use of the fastest available mobile Intel CPU makes it a force to contend with in everyday office productivity and Internet content creation tasks. It racked up a strong Sysmark 2005 score of 151, which isn't a million miles behind the Alienware Area-51 m5700 gaming laptop, so you should have no complaints whether working with spreadsheets, large multimedia files or databases.

The VAIO S5VP's gaming abilities aren't as impressive, inevitably, but it's not as bad as it could have been. Sony could easily have opted for the onboard graphics adaptor on the Intel 915GM chipset, but its use of the faster Nvidia GeForce 6200 Go adaptor means the laptop will actually play some 3D games. At a resolution of 1,024x768, Far Cry ran at an average of 31.73 frames per second and Doom 3 at 19.8fps.

Sony claims a battery life of up to three hours, which is fairly good for a laptop of this specification. We're currently running our own independent battery tests and will update this review shortly with the results.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide

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