Sony VAIO PCG-C1VFK

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Integrated Bluetooth adapter
  • small size and low weight
  • built-in camera.

Cons

  • Moderate performance
  • lacks an integrated modem and LAN connection.

The latest addition to Sony's diminutive range of C1 VAIO notebooks is the C1VFK (Sony's product naming conventions aren't getting any more penetrable). Familiar C1 features like the built-in Motion Eye camera, Memory Stick slot, Jog Dial navigation and IEEE 1394 (i.LINK) port are all present and correct. What's notable about the C1VFK is its upgraded Transmeta Crusoe processor and, in particular, its integrated Bluetooth adapter. The C1VFK and the slightly larger SR31K are Sony's first Bluetooth products, and among the first anywhere.

The C1VFK's predecessor, the C1VE, was the first notebook to ship with Transmeta's battery-friendly Crusoe processor, and this new model uses a TM5600 chip with a maximum clock speed of 667MHz, compared to the C1VE's 600MHz. Crusoe processors use two proprietary technologies to achieve their combination of performance and low power drain: Code Morphing software translates blocks of x86 instructions into the Crusoe's native instruction set when it first encounters them, subsequently using cached optimised code; and LongRun power management dynamically switches clock speed between 667MHz and 300MHz, and voltage between 1.6V and 1.3V operation depending on the mode selected -- Performance or Economy. The C1VFK comes with 128MB of RAM, 16MB of which is reserved for the (upgradeable) Code Morphing software.

Despite these tricks, the C1VFK, which ships with Windows 2000 rather than the C1VE's ME, isn't especially impressive in terms of either speed or battery life. Its Business Winstone 2001 score of 12.1 effectively rules out anything more challenging than standard office productivity software, Web browsing and email, while a BatteryMark 4.01 score of 2 hours and 15 minutes is acceptable, if hardly stunning.

What's exciting about the C1VFK is its Bluetooth connectivity, evident in the small button between the screen and keyboard that powers up the integrated adapter, and the blue LED on the front facsia that proclaims it operational. Bluetooth is the much-heralded short-range 2.4GHz wireless connectivity solution designed primarily for cable-replacement and ad-hoc personal area networking. Sony's Bluetooth functionality is controlled by a program called BlueSpace, which can also be used to power up the Bluetooth adapter. The main BlueSpace window provides information about the local device on the left-hand side and remote devices on the right-hand side, with a column of icons depicting the services supported by the currently selected device in the middle.

To establish a connection between two devices, you first click the local Device Discovery button and wait for the remote device to appear on the right-hand side of the BlueSpace window. Then you click on the remote device panel to discover what services it supports -- file push, IP connection, COM, modem, LAN access, for example. To activate a service, you press the relevant icon, which has 'lamps' lit on either side to show that both local and remote devices support it, whereupon you are prompted to enter a passkey to validate the connection. This sounds convoluted, and it is at first -- but, as ever, practice helps.

In our tests, we successfully installed an 802.11b PC Card in the C1VFK, copying the driver via a Bluetooth IP connection to its SR31K sibling, to which was attached a CD-ROM drive containing the driver CD. With the 802.11b card active and communicating with a nearby LAN access point, we then transferred a 41MB file between the two Bluetooth notebooks, a process that took some 16 minutes. Interference between Bluetooth and 802.11b -- which also operates at 2.4GHz -- was not evident here, at least. Incidentally, the same 41MB file took just 2 minutes to transfer over an 802.11b link, reflecting the difference between 802.11b's 11Mbit/s bandwidth and Bluetooth's 721Kbit/s.

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Everything else on the C1VFK is pretty much as before, although there are some tweaks to the software bundle. The system's MagicGate Memory Stick slot is accompanied by the OpenMG Jukebox program for managing music storage and playback within Sony's copyright protection scheme. You also get PictureToy, for manipulating digital images, and an updated version of the MovieShaker video editing application. The system ships with Windows 2000 Professional, and Sony says that the hardware is compatible with Microsoft's forthcoming Windows XP.

Sony's C1 range remains the ultimate 'road warrior' system, and the £1,449 (ex. VAT) C1VFK adds Bluetooth to an already impressive set of features packed into a compact 1kg unit. Bluetooth certainly works effectively when connecting to another Sony notebook, but we have yet to test its interoperability with a range of kit from multiple vendors. We also found no evidence of interference from 802.11b wireless networking equipment -- but again, more extensive testing is needed. All in all, the C1VFK marks a good Bluetooth debut for Sony, although whether the technology can ever live up to the hype remains to be seen.

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