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Sony VAIO VGN-TT190 review: Sony VAIO VGN-TT190


Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman

Sony's newly revamped ultraportable laptop, the 11-inch Vaio TT, is a well-needed reminder that not every tiny laptop needs to be a low-cost, low-power Netbook-style system.



The Good

Sleek, carbon-fiber chassis; includes Blu-ray drive and HDMI port; twin 128GB solid-state hard drives, 16:9 display; excellent battery life.

The Bad

Painfully expensive; faster than Atom-powered Netbooks, but still not a speed demon.

The Bottom Line

Small laptops have become synonymous with low-cost Netbooks, but Sony's Vaio TT reminds us why some ultraportables can cost almost 10 times as much (hint: the 256GB SSD helps).

In fact, the $4,344 Vaio TT is about as far from the standard $500 Netbook as possible, given the relative physical similarities. Our review unit represents the TT's highest-end configuration, the TT190UBX, and includes an Intel ultralow-voltage processor paired with an internal Blu-ray-recordable optical drive (making it the smallest available Blu-ray laptop).

The real star power, however, comes from a pair of 128GB solid-state hard drives, which jacks the price up over the $4,000 mark. Naturally, less expensive versions are available, which ditch the Blu-ray and SSD drives and start at $2,094. It's clearly a high-end prestige piece, but if you've got the money to burn, we've seen few laptops as crave-worthy as the Vaio TT190UBX.

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Price as reviewed / Starting price $4,344 / $2,094
Processor 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400
Memory 4GB, 667MHz DDR2
Hard drive 128GB SSD (x2)
Chipset Mobile Intel GS45 Express
Graphics Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)
Operating System Windows Vista Ultimate
Dimensions (WDH) 13.0 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 11.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2.8/3.5 pounds
Category ultraportable

Not too long ago, high-end ultraportable laptops were considered desirable status symbols, and many consumers were willing to part with more than $2,000 for a smart-looking, small, easy-to-carry system. With the advent of Netbooks, which covered a lot of the same basic ground (Web surfing, sending e-mail, etc.), everyone's expectations were lowered, and a much more workmanlike industrial design took over.

But the Vaio TT eschews the cheap, plastic look of most Netbooks (and for $4,000, it had better), instead presenting a slick carbon-fiber chassis, incredibly thin LED-backlit display, metal accents, and rounded curves. It's an evolution of the previous Vaio TZ model, which was one of our favorite ultraportables, and shares that model's large, circular hinge, with the power button and A/C jack located at opposite ends of the hinge. Even with its 11-inch screen (Netbooks range in size from 7 to 10 inches), the Vaio TT boasts a Netbook-like sub-3-pound weight, while measuring less than an inch thick.

A handful of other companies are still putting some effort into the high-end ultraportable market--notably Lenovo, with its attractive IdeaPad U110, and Toshiba with its Portege R500, which makes up for a somewhat bland design with some impressive engineering to save space and weight.

The Vaio TT's MacBook-like keyboard has flat, widely spaced letter keys, making for a surprisingly comfortable typing experience, considering the actual keys are hardly larger than those found on something like Dell's 9-inch Inspiron Mini 9 Netbook. Volume, optical-drive eject, and assignable shortcut buttons sit along the bottom edge of the wrist rest, and Sony has managed to fit in both VGA and HDMI outputs, and a mini-FireWire jack, in addition to the usual USB 2.0 ports and SD-card slots.

The Vaio TT's 11-inch screen follows the 16:9 aspect-ratio trend we've seen in new 16-inch and 18-inch laptops. The 1,366x768 resolution isn't too far removed from the 1,024x600 found on most Netbooks, but the slightly larger screen size and finer resolution combine for a much larger work (or play) space. And while the 16:9 aspect ratio matches that of movies and HD content, the small screen and resolution doesn't get you 1080p playback; but the system's HDMI port will have you viewing at 1080p, with an external display that does 1920x1080.

  Sony Vaio TT190UBX Average for category [ultraportable]
Video VGA-out, HDMI VGA-out
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 ExpressCard/34
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive Blu-ray burner None, or DVD burner

We've always knocked expensive ultraportable systems in the past for their relatively slow, low-voltage processors. But comparing the dual-core 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 in the Vaio TT with Intel's single-core Atom N270 CPU, found in systems such as the Dell Mini 9 and the Asus Eee PC, shows us there's a significant difference in the user experience of an ultraportable versus a Netbook. With integrated graphics, however, the Vaio TT's graphic abilities are limited, but ultraportables and high-end gaming have never been synonymous.

It may seem obvious that an 11-inch laptop that starts at around $2,000 would be faster than a 9-inch laptop that costs around $500; but in our iTunes encoding test, the one benchmark we were able to run on the Dell Mini 9 (because of the Dell's tiny 16GB SSD), the Vaio was more than three times as fast. It's also able to handle Windows Vista with ease, unlike Netbooks, which are generally restricted to XP or Linux.

In anecdotal use, the Vaio TT handled general multitasking well, especially compared to Netbooks. Its performance was on par with other recent ultraportables, the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 and Toshiba Portege R500, which both use slightly older versions of Intel's low-power Core 2 Duo processor.

Vaio laptops have always impressed with their battery life, and the new TT190UBX is no exception. At 3 hours and 52 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, it's got more than enough power for extended on-the-road use. The Toshiba Portege R500 has a similarly long life, and the fact that neither system needs a bulky extended battery is even more impressive.

Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $349, but includes accidental damage protection (and might be a good idea for the $4,000 laptop). Support is accessible via a toll-free phone line, available Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, and a support Web site with FAQs, driver downloads, and tutorials.

Multimedia Multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VGN-TT198U/B

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance )
Sony Vaio VGN-TT198U/B

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VGN-TT198U/B

Video-playback battery-drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VGN-TT198U/B

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Sony Vaio VGN-TT198U/B
Windows Vista Business SP1; 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel X4500; 128GB Solid State Drive (x2)

Toshiba Portege R500-S5007V
Windows Vista Business; 1.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7700; 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 532MHz; 256MB Mobile Intel 945GM; 128GB Toshiba Solid State Drive

Lenovo IdeaPad U110
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 965GM Express; 120GB Toshiba 4200rpm

Dell Inspiron Mini 9
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel 945



Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 7Battery 7Support 6