After the first wave of laptops specifically designed for Windows Vista, such as the HP Pavilion tx1000 and the Toshiba Portege R400, major PC vendors are releasing updated versions of workhorse systems, nearly identical to previous iterations with the exception of Windows Vista. Sony has added Windows Vista Business Edition to its popular mobile-broadband-enabled ultraportable model, the VAIO TXN17 P/T. For $2,699, you get one of the smallest ultraportable systems that comes with an optical drive on the market, although the Intel Core Solo processor is going to be a step down for anyone used to dual-core computing. Expensive but attractive is the VAIO mantra, and fashion-conscious titans of industry will like this high-end conversation piece, as will anyone who needs Sprint-powered mobile broadband in the smallest possible package.
Measuring 10.8 inches wide, 8 inches deep, and 1.2 inches high, the TXN17 is among the smallest ultraportables we've seen. It's tiny enough to carry around without much hassle, but the small screen and the cramped keyboard will be uncomfortable for extended use. The Sony VAIO TXN17 weighs 2.9 pounds (3.6 pounds with the AC adapter), which is extremely light when you consider the system has a built-in optical drive, something many smaller laptops omit to save on weight and bulk. The Asus S6F features a similar footprint and an optical drive but is noticeably thicker.
The tradeoff with using an ultraportable laptop is the miniaturized keyboard, and the VAIO TXN17 is no exception. The flat-topped keys are an acquired taste, similar to those on a MacBook, and those without nimble fingers will find themselves hitting the backspace key often. The touch pad, by comparison, is plenty ample for every day use, and the media control buttons built into the hinge are accessible, even when the lid is closed.
The 11.1-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768, which translates into small text and images when Web surfing, but not more so than other ultraportable systems. The display is nice and bright, thanks to new LED backlight technology, and displays video and image files nicely.
You'll find fewer ports on the Sony VAIO TXN17 than on larger laptop. The compact size leaves room for two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire jack, VGA output, SD card and Memory Stick readers, and headphone and mic jacks. There's also a Type II PC Card slot, but no room for ExpressCards. Like last year's TXN15 model, this system offers a complete set of connectivity features: LAN, modem, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Sprint WWAN. The only caveat is that the laptop's rather large cellular antenna is attached, via rotating hinge, to the side of the system.
With only a 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 processor, you're not going to get a lot of horsepower from the TXN17. It does improve on the TXN15's specs by adding a second gigabyte of RAM, which is highly recommended for Vista use. Rounding out the basic, nonconfigurable specs are an 80GB hard drive, running at 4,200rpm, and integrated Intel Mobile Express 945GM graphics--the bare minimum graphics muscle you'll need for Vista.
Taking its single-core processor into account, we were impressed with the VAIO's performance. Compared to the Windows-XP-powered TXN15, the Vista-powered TXN17 scored significantly better in our Microsoft Office productivity test, while matching the earlier system's performance on the iTunes encoding and Photoshop CS2 tests. The Fujitsu LifeBook P1610 shares the same Core Solo U1400 CPU but only half the RAM yet offered similar performance. The extra RAM, which would usually boost a system's scores, is seemingly consumed by Vista's increased overhead.
The Sony VAIO TXN17's biggest plus is its battery life. In our battery-drain test, we got 4 hours and 54 minutes from the system--making this one of the longest-lasting laptops we've seen. When we tested the previous model, the TXN15, last year, we got around 9 hours of battery life from it, but that was with an older, less taxing test. The included battery does stick out slightly from the back of the system, but it's a fair trade-off for the extended running time. Working on tasks less battery intensive than playing a DVD will yield even more uptime, making this a great system for long plane trips or all-day on-the-road use.
Sony backs the VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W with a one-year warranty--the industry standard for consumer laptops, but not the lengthy three years most businesses demand. After the warranty expires, support calls cost $20 per incident. Warranty upgrades are expensive: $200 to extend the warranty to three years and $250 for three years of onsite service. The company's Web site provides a thorough knowledge base, and you have the option of e-mailing Sony technicians for support.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)