Sony upgrades two VAIO laptop lines

Sony has updated its S Series ultraportable and F Series desktop replacement adding Intel's second-generation Core processors and other new features.

Sony has updated two of its VAIO laptop lines adding Intel's second-generation Core processors and other new features. The S Series is a premium ultraportable while the F Series is a desktop replacement for media and gaming.

The S Series now includes two different designs. Both include the new Intel Sandy Bridge processors (specifically, the Core i5-2410M, Core i5-2520M or Core i7-2620M) and AMD Radon 6000 series discrete graphics with hybrid switching. The standard models, which are available in black or white, are the same size and weight as the previous S Series. The premium models, which are available in brown, jet black or silver, are thinner and lighter, and feature a higher-resolution display.

The standard S Series is just under an inch thick and weighs 3.8 pounds. It starts at $999.99 with the 13.3-inch 1366x768 display, 2.30GHz Core i5-2410M dual-core, 4GB of memory, AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics with 512MB, 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive and DVD drive. (If you configure it yourself, you can get it for slightly less with a 320GB hard drive.)

The premium model is 0.9 inches thick and weighs only 3.6 pounds, but still includes an integrated optical drive-a feature many laptops in this category have jettisoned (see Lenovo ThinkPad X1). It starts at $1349.99 with the same basic specs except with the 1600x900 display, Radeon HD 6630M with 1GB and a Blu-ray player. You can upgrade any S Series model to a Blu-ray player or Blu-ray burner. Other configuration options include the faster processors, up to 8GB of memory and multiple choices for hard drives and solid-state drives, including dual SSDs in a RAID configuration.

Sony is claiming some big numbers for battery life. The S Series is rated for up to 7.5 hours with the standard battery and up to 15 hours with an optional battery slice, which pushes the travel weight up to around 5 pounds. The battery slice can be charged separately. Other nice features include a backlit keyboard, a Webcam with an Exmor sensor that Sony says works better in low light and Intel's Wireless Display 2.0 technology for viewing content on a TV. (Intel recently updated Wireless Display to 2.1, so that it should now work with DVDs and Blu-ray movies.)

The closest direct competitors to the S Series are the Apple MacBook 13-inch and the Toshiba Portege R835-both of which have 13.3-inch displays and integrated optical drives. The MacBook is heavier, the display tops out at 1280x800, and it has neither HDMI nor Blu-ray. It starts at $1,199 with the same processor and 4GB of memory, Intel integrated graphics, a 320GB hard drive and DVD drive. Even thinner and lighter than the S Series premium model, the Portege R835 starts at $799.99 with a 13.3-inch 1366x768 display, 2.30GHz Core i5-2410M dual-core, 4GB of memory, Intel integrated graphics, 640GB 5,400rpm hard drive and DVD drive. The Portege R830 series does not offer a higher-resolution display, discrete graphics, a backlit keyboard or Blu-ray.

The F Series is an entertainment laptop with a 16.4-inch 1080p display, quad-core processor, Nvidia discrete graphics, Blu-ray and Dolby Home Theater sound. The new models start at $1,099.99 with a 2.0GHz Core i7-2630QM quad-core processor, 4GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce GT 520M graphics with 512MB, 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive and DVD drive. A Blu-ray player adds $70 to the price and a Blu-ray burner is a $150 upgrade. Other configuration options include a faster processor, better graphics and larger capacity hard drives.

The 16.4-inch display size is unusual, but all major computer companies offer similar laptops with either 15.6- or 17-inch displays. Here's CNET's review of the current Sony VAIO F Series.