Sony's VAIO S11 wins our A-list award with solid all-round business performance

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This article appeared in the June, 2010 issue of CRN magazine.

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Sony's VAIO S11 wins our A-list award with solid all-round business performance

Intel's innovative Core series of CPUs, along with its accompanying chipsets, has allowed Sony to refresh several of its most popular families, and the VAIO S Series is no exception.

Aimed at the business user who also likes a little entertainment, the S11 is a tough but lightweight 13.3in laptop that packs discrete graphics.

The big step forward is the move to Intel's HM55 Express chipset and Core i5 processor. The Core i5-520M inside our version of the S Series, the S117GGB, runs at 2.4GHz, with Turbo Boost dynamically pushing the two cores up (to 2.93GHz) or down, depending on your needs. It's one of the new batch of 32nm processors, and supports virtualisation technology and Hyper-Threading.

Paired with 4GB of DDR3 memory, the VAIO S11 coasted through our benchmarks with a score of 1.55 - just a fraction short of the 45nm Core i7-equipped Dell Studio 15, which demonstrates how advanced these latest CPUs are.

But speed isn't the only intended benefit. The 32nm Core i5s have a TDP of 35W, and with a six-cell, 5000mAh battery in the S11 we were hopeful of good battery life. We had to disable Sony's Battery Saver option, which restricts the charge to 80% of capacity to prolong the battery's life (we'd rather get the extra 20% and take our chances in the long-run) and without this limit, the Sony managed five hours of minimal use, and 1hr 24mins under full load.

The latter figure is partly due to the GeForce 310M graphics - Sony hasn't made the graphics switchable, despite this Core i5 CPU having graphics built into the chip. It does give the Sony another dimension, though. The S11 effortlessly decodes HD video and managed an acceptable 56fps in our Low quality Crysis test.

The rest of the laptop is every bit as gorgeous as the VAIO Z11 (see opposite). The grey finish is more moody than dull, with a rock-solid wristrest, a smooth hinge and a lid that flexes a little, but never to the point of concern.

The 13.3in screen is excellent, with vibrant colours, deep blacks and a 1366 x 768 resolution that fits the screen size a little more comfortably than the Full HD of the Z11.

Sony is one of the few manufacturers to have perfected the Scrabble-tile keyboard, and it's a joy to use here. There's no unnecessary miniaturisation of keys, the travel is ideal, and the backing is firm and even across its whole width. The large touchpad and buttons are responsive, and there's a fingerprint reader too.

It boasts a magnesium-alloy body for durability and some sensibly-placed mottling for extra grip, yet the S11 weighs just 1.97kg. That isn't close to the 1.41kg Z11 but it's portable enough to bring home from the office every night, and the preinstalled Windows 7 Professional 64-bit suits that purpose.

Inside, the S11 isn't quite as flamboyant as its quad-SSD cousin, but one could argue its 500GB hard disk is more useful than a fancy SSD array of only half this capacity. There's also a DVD writer on the right side, which can be set to power down to conserve the battery, and a 3G modem.

There's a dual-band 802.11abn adapter and Bluetooth chip, as well as an ExpressCard/34 socket and card slots for SD, MMC and Memory Stick formats. Three USB ports and a mini-FireWire are spread around the chassis, with HDMI and D-SUB outputs for external displays.

The Sony VAIO S11 ticks all the right boxes for an 80% work/20% home laptop, but the best news is that the usual VAIO issue - the price - is only a small one here.

At $2041 for this particular model, it's around $400 dearer than our previous favourite, Lenovo's ThinkPad T500, but it bests its ageing rival in almost every area of specification. We haven't yet seen Lenovo's Core i5 and i7 ThinkPad updates, but until we do, the Sony VAIO S11 takes the business laptop crown with ease.

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Copyright © Alphr, Dennis Publishing

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