Sony VAIO PCG-C1MGP

vaio-c1mgp-lead.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.3 Very good

Pros

  • Ultra-compact and stylish design, including integrated still/video camera
  • built-in Bluetooth adapter and hardware MPEG2 encoder
  • high-resolution TFT display.

Cons

  • Moderate performance
  • disappointing battery life.

Sony's latest C1-series notebook, the C1MGP, is even lighter than its VFK predecessor, tipping the scales at just under a kilogram (998g). It also features a faster 733MHz Transmeta Crusoe 5800 processor than the VFK model, which was powered by a 667MHz 5600 chip. As well as an integrated Motion Eye camera, Memory Stick slot and built-in Bluetooth adapter, the new MGP model adds an integrated hardware MPEG2 encoder, making this diminutive ultraportable almost certainly the smallest video-editing platform available. The resolution of the 8.95in. TFT display has also been increased from 1,024 by 480 to 1,280 by 600 pixels.

Transmeta's low-power Crusoe processor has not been the runaway success that either its creators or legions of battery-life-hungry notebook users hoped it would be, but Sony has remained faithful to the cause ever since introducing the first Crusoe-based notebook in the shape of the 600MHz C1VE back in October 2000. Generally speaking, performance has been moderate and battery life disappointing in the C1 range -- a pattern that the latest model fails to disturb.

Although we were unable to run the mainstream application-based Business Winstone 2001 benchmark due to lack of memory (the Crusoe chip reserves 16MB of the system's 128MB of DDR SDRAM for its upgradeable Code Morphing software, taking it below the benchmark's minimum requirement), processor-level tests show the C1MGP lagging behind Intel-based systems with similar clock speeds. For example, the 750MHz Mobile Pentium III-M-based Toshiba Portégé 2000 delivers a CPUmark 99 score of 64.4, compared to the 733MHz C1MGP's 52.2. Floating-point results show an even wider gap, the Portégé 2000 recording 4,100 under FPU WinMark 99 while the C1MGP managed only 1,950.

When it comes to battery life, the C1MGP is frankly disappointing, the system's 1,800mAh Li-ion unit delivering just under two hours' run-time with power management features turned off -- 18 minutes less than we got from its VFK predecessor. Sony claims that you can get up to three hours from the standard battery, and with power management turned on that's not unreasonable. However, this is nowhere near the 10-hour-plus lifetimes that were bandied about before the Crusoe launched. Anyone expecting to use a C1MGP away from mains power for any length of time would be well advised to consider buying a second battery.

Apart from its 733MHz processor and 128MB of DDR SDRAM (upgradeable to 256MB), the C1MGP's headline specifications include a graphics subsystem powered by ATI's 8MB Mobility Radeon-M chip and a wide-screen-format TFT display with a native resolution of 1,280 by 600 pixels. You can display a more conventional aspect ratio on an external monitor via the supplied port replicator, which in addition to a VGA port carries Ethernet, USB and AV in/out connectors. Hard disk capacity is up to 20GB from 15GB, and there's a MagicGate Memory Stick slot. No media are supplied for the latter, and you'll have to pay extra for external floppy or optical drives. Other on-board I/O and expansion facilities include i.LINK (IEEE 1394), USB, Type II PC Card, RJ-11 modem, microphone and headphone, plus a proprietary connector for the port replicator.

The C1MFG's design has been updated, although its overall dimensions are very similar to its predecessors'. The livery is a darker shade of grey-purple, the mouse buttons have been restyled, and several elements re-located – the Memory Stick slot on the right-hand side of the front panel, the Jog Dial between the screen and keyboard on the right-hand side, and status lights at the top of the screen beside the Motion Eye camera. Some may find the new location of the Jog Dial less than satisfactory, but it's a matter of indifference to those (like this reviewer) who never use the thing.

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The C1MGP's Bluetooth functionality is substantially the same as the VFK model's, although there's now a hardware button for turning the Bluetooth adapter on and off in addition to the facility within Sony's BlueSpace utility. As before, BlueSpace looks after the discovery of and connection to other Bluetooth devices, while the VisualShare application handles file sharing with other Bluetooth notebooks such as Sony’s recently reviewed SRX41P.

The usual bundle of multimedia-orientated Sony software is provided, along with Windows XP Professional. The standard one-year warranty is extendable to three years if required.

The C1 range has always had great gadget appeal, and despite its seriously compact form factor the keyboard is remarkably easy to type on and the screen surprisingly easy on the eye. It's not especially cheap at £1,536.06 (ex. VAT; £1,799 inc. VAT), and both performance and battery life are moderate. But if you want to impress people on the train or the plane, Sony's latest C1 model certainly looks the part -- at least until it runs out of battery power.

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