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Sony VAIO VX series review:

Sony VAIO VX series

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MSRP: $1,699.99
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The Good Compelling design; long battery life; includes external DVD/CD-RW drive; integrated wireless.

The Bad Slow for its class; limited tech support; short warranty.

The Bottom Line Business travelers and consumers alike will admire the VAIO PCG-VX88's chic looks, portability, and long battery life.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.9 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Battery 9.0
  • Support 7.0

The thin-and-light, 4.4-pound VAIO PCG-VX88 is the latest in a long line of pioneering laptops from Sony. It boasts a combination of cutting-edge features, light weight, and long battery life that travelers will love, although they might not enjoy its less than stellar speed. The nice touches here include a slick, magnesium-alloy case measuring a mere 1.3 inches at its thickest point and 0.7 inches at its thinnest. Those svelte dimensions still don't prevent the VAIO PCG-VX88 from offering ample features such as a 14.1-inch display and an integrated 802.11b (Wi-Fi) mini-PCI card that features its own power-conserving on/off switch. But since there's no integrated Bluetooth, you'll need to add a separate PC Card solution. Sony has ditched most of the trademark purple of its VAIO notebooks in favor of a more sophisticated shade of charcoal gray. The VAIO PCG-VX88's magnesium-alloy and plastic case is shaped like a wedge, measuring 12.3 inches wide, 10.3 inches deep, 0.7 inches tall at the front, and rising to 1.3 inches at the rear. It weighs 4.4 pounds (5.1 pounds with the AC adapter). With this construction, Sony had more in mind than a nice keyboard tilt; the extra height in the back allows for a bigger battery than the average thin-and-light's cell. You can also add an optional, double-capacity battery for an astronomical $499.

The PCG-VX88 features other notebook novelties, such as a power-conserving on/off switch for the integrated 802.11b (Wi-Fi) mini-PCI card and decent-sounding speakers that run the entire width of the laptop underneath the keyboard.



The wireless on/off switch and other ports.


The jog dial is a fixture on many Sony products.


Sony doesn't offer an integrated Bluetooth option with this notebook, so your only choice is to add a compatible PC Card from a third-party vendor.

Sony also doesn't provide a pointing stick with the VAIO PCG-VX88. Sony's jog dial sits centered in the wrist rest below the purple touchpad, which is smooth and responsive. The wheel-like jog dial, which is a fixture on VAIO notebooks and other Sony products, stands in for the dedicated quick-launch buttons that the notebook lacks.

You can use the dial to scroll through an onscreen application menu, press it once to launch an app, or hit a button next to the dial to backtrack a step or more in your search. Two sculpted mouse buttons flank the dial, and the keyboard is wide and comfortable.


The VAIO PCG-VX88 may offer a unique case design, but its features are limited, and there aren't that many ways to configure it. It runs on only one processor: the 850MHz Pentium III-M. It also includes a hard drive with just one size and speed (30GB and 4,200rpm, respectively), as well as one graphics chip choice, the Intel 815EM. This low-end graphics chip borrows up to 11MB of main memory to use as video RAM. That type of system can't come close to the performance of chips such as the ATI Mobility Radeon with as much as 64MB of dedicated DDR RAM. One of the few configuration options is in main memory, where you can order your PCG-VX88 with either 256MB or 384MB of 133MHz SDRAM.



The external DVD/CD-RW combo drives.
Due to limited space in the single-spindle case, Sony has also curtailed internal storage to a 30GB hard drive. The external, iLink DVD/CD-RW combo drive is included in the price, while an external USB floppy drive ($79) is optional.

Fortunately, enough room is left over for a sizable, 14.1-inch, active-matrix screen. The display's solitary native resolution of 1,024x768 pixels isn't high enough for extremely detailed games or graphics, but it makes for large, readable text.

It wouldn't be a Sony without a Memory Stick slot, located in the right corner of the front edge. This technology lets you transfer files back and forth on chewing-gum-sized media between the notebook and compatible digital cameras, MP3 players, and other gadgets. The iLink port (a.k.a. FireWire), another Sony standby, is located on the left edge. This port is accompanied by a limited list of additional ports and slots. The left edge also features slots for Ethernet, VGA, USB, and one Type II PC Card. On the right edge are headphone, microphone, USB, and 56K modem ports.




A plethora of ports lines the edges.
Setting up the VAIO PCG-VX88 is easy enough, although Sony doesn't include detailed posters or guides. The manual is average, not containing as much helpful information as the beefed-up paperwork of many other manufacturers.

Sony features three standard software choices with the VAIO PCG-VX88: Microsoft Word 2002, Office XP Small Business, or Office XP Professional. But Sony also throws in its cool multimedia pack with apps such as DVGate for video editing and creation, as well as SonicStage for MP3 manipulation. Last but not least, you're protected against viruses for 90 days with a trial version of PC-Cillin.


While the Sony shines in case design, its performance is pretty dull. Unsurprisingly, the 850MHz Sony came in last against two other thin-and-lights with faster processors, the IBM ThinkPad T30 and the Compaq Evo N800c. The Sony scored an 88 on MobileMark2002, while the 1.8GHz IBM tied the 1.7GHz Compaq for first place with 123. The IBM's extra 100MHz of CPU power and its 5,400rpm hard drive just weren't enough to put it over the Compaq.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
IBM ThinkPad T30
123 
Compaq Evo N800c
123 
Sony VAIO PCG-VX88
88 
 
System configurations:

Compaq Evo N800c
Windows XP Professional; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 64MB; Toshiba MK3018GAP 30GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad T30
Windows XP Professional; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 16MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-VX88
Windows XP Home; 850MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82815 graphics controller 4MB; IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm


The Sony VAIO PCG-VX88 surprised us with stellar battery life. The Sony, with its 11.1-volt, 3,600mAh lithium-ion battery, cranked out the longest time in our battery test. Its 229 minutes easily beat the IBM's 177 minutes and the Compaq's 105 minutes. The Sony undoubtedly benefited from its low-voltage CPU, which was designed to conserve power in superslim notebooks.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate longer battery life)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 battery life (in minutes)  
Sony VAIO PCG-VX88
229 
IBM ThinkPad T30
177 
Compaq Evo N800c
105 
 
To measure application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. MobileMark measures both applications performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5).

System configurations:

Compaq Evo N800c
Windows XP Professional; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 64MB; Toshiba MK3018GAP 30GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad T30
Windows XP Professional; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 16MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-VX88
Windows XP Home; 850MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82815 graphics controller 4MB; IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm


Unlike most major notebook manufacturers, Sony does not offer a long list of warranty options. Rather, the company has just two choices: a standard one year for parts and labor, or you can beef up the coverage to three years for $200. You can also add international warranty coverage for an extra $50. The toll-free, 24/7 phone support lasts for the duration of whichever warranty option you choose. But Sony falls in line with most manufacturers regarding software, providing only 90 days of free support for your applications and operating system.

The company's Web support is also weak, consisting of only a searchable knowledge base, a handful of Windows XP drivers, and a Hot News section, where Sony has lumped together information about all of its computing products. These Web resources pale in comparison to the much more comprehensive offerings of Dell, Gateway, and IBM, which offer user forums and the ability to chat in real time with a tech rep.

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