Sony revamps its mobile range

Sony has launched the feather-light VAIO X505, the businesslike S-series and the well-featured A-series, the latter two ranges using Intel's new Dothan processor. We take a first look.

Miniaturisation and elegant design have always been Sony's strengths, and both have been combined with impressive results in the new VAIO VGN-X505VP, which the company claims is 'the thinnest and lightest Windows PC ever made'. Launched in Brussels last week, the X505 looks set to be the notebook for style-conscious mobile professionals to be seen with.

Sony VAIO VGN-X505VP: the thinnest and lightest Windows PC ever, at 850g and 9.7mm thick.
Measuring just 9.7mm thick at the front, and weighing around 850g, the X505 feels feather-light when picked up, although its footprint is large enough to accommodate a 10.4in. XGA (1,024 by 768) display. The system's extreme slimness is made possible by the use of a highly integrated 10-layer motherboard the size of a MiniDisc. One curiosity is the fact that wireless networking is not integrated into this design: instead, 802.11b/g wireless is provided by a PC Card, which seems a retrograde step. The X505 is built around an ultra-low-voltage 1.1GHz Pentium M processor (the original Banias core, not the most recent Dothan), the 855GM chipset with integrated graphics, 512MB of DDR RAM and a 20GB hard disk (the latter being a tiny 1.8in. drive). The keyboard is a membrane-style unit with an embedded pointing stick rather than a touchpad. Given its dimensions, there's little room on the system for ports and accessories, and so most of these are external options. The X505 comes with an external DVD-RW/+RW drive, an adapter housing VGA and RJ-45 (Ethernet) ports and a multi-format flash card adapter that handles Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, SmartMedia and SD/MMC media. Sony claims that the fan-free X505 runs almost silently, and will last for up to four hours on a single charge.

VAIO S-series
If you require more performance and built-in features than the ultra-portable X505 provides, but still seek something more elegant than your average corporate workhorse, then the new S-series VAIOs should appeal.

The VAIO S-series comprises three Dothan-based notebooks with ATI graphics and 13.3in. wide-screen displays.
The three S-series models all use Intel's latest Dothan-core Pentium M processor, which features 2MB of Level 2 cache and clock speeds up to 2GHz. All three models weigh around 1.9kg, feature a 13.3in. WXGA (1,280 by 768) 'x-black' high-contrast display, and come with 512MB of DDR RAM as standard. The entry-level VAIO VGN-S1HP uses a 1.5GHz Pentium M 715 processor while the graphics, as in the 1.7GHz 735-based S1VP model, are handled by ATI's 32MB Mobility Radeon 9200 chip. The S1HP has a 40GB hard disk and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, while the S1VP has a 60GB drive and a DVD (-RW) writer. The top-end S1XP model uses ATI's flagship 64MB Mobility Radeon 9700 GPU, but is identical to the VP model in all other respects. All three models come with 802.11b/g wireless networking and Bluetooth built-in. Battery life is quoted at four hours on a single standard battery charge; an extended-life battery is available as an option, along with a docking station.

VAIO A-series
The largest and most feature-rich of Sony's new line-up is the A-series of Centrino notebooks, which includes systems aimed at both professionals and consumers. High-end models use Intel's Dothan-core Pentium M processor and come with an 80GB hard disk; the screen is a massive 17in. wide-screen WUXGA (1,920 by 1200) 'x-black' unit, driven by ATI's flagship 128MB Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics chip. The top-of-the range VGN-A197XP comes with 1GB of DDR RAM, while the remaining models have 512MB.

High-end A-series models use the Dothan-core Pentium M and ATI's 128MB Mobility Radeon 9700 driving a 17in. wide-screen display.
Lower-spec A-series models use the Banias-core Pentium M, have a 60GB hard disk and feature ATI's 64MB Mobility Radeon 9200 GPU driving a smaller 15in. XGA (1,024 by 768) screen. All systems use Intel's 802.11b/g wireless networking module, high-end models adding Bluetooth as well. A-series notebooks come with a three-part software bundle comprising Microsoft Works 7.0, the usual Sony suite of multimedia-orientated applications, and an Adobe Companion Pack containing Premiere Standard, Photoshop Elements 2.0 and Photoshop Album Starter Edition.

And there's more…
The remainder of Sony's Brussels announcements were more consumer-orientated, but interesting nonetheless. Sitting at the centre of Sony's home networking plans is the new RA-series of desktops, the first representative of which, the RA104, is a very highly-specified beast. The RA104 is powered by a 3.6GHz Prescott-core Pentium 4 with 1GB of 400MHz DDR RAM, uses the new Grantsdale chipset, has 250GB of Serial-ATA hard disk storage and features PCI Express graphics courtesy of ATI's Radeon PCI Express X16 GPU. The DVD burner is a double-layer unit, capable of writing 8.5GB on a single disc. Connection to audio-visual equipment is provided by Sony''s Network Media Receiver augmented by an 802.11b/g adapter, with an access point attached to the PC. A TV tuner, Sony's GigaPocket PVR software and an electronic program guide courtesy of completes the picture. Sony also showed a prototype of the VAIO Pocket, a handheld hard disk-based audio/video player. After the obligatory intervention by the demo gremlins, Keiji Kimura, president of Sony's IT and Mobile Solutions Network Company, was able to demonstrate the VAIO Pocket downloading video content wirelessly from the RA104 and then playing it both standalone and wirelessly on a large flat-screen TV.