- ✓Good build quality
- ✓good battery life
- ✓integrated wired networking.
- ✕No floppy or optical drives
- ✕no parallel or serial ports
- ✕no wireless networking or Bluetooth
It's obvious from the price tag that Sony's VAIO PCG-R600HEP ultraportable is aimed mainly at business buyers: these are the only customers likely to pay £1,704 (ex. VAT) for an 850MHz Mobile Pentium III system, however conveniently sized it may be.
The R600HEP is based on what is now the old-style Mobile Pentium III, with 256KB of Level 2 cache, rather than the latest 0.13-micron Processor-M (Tualatin), which has both 512KB of on-die cache and enhanced power saving features. However, the Tualatin chip is an expensive part, which might explain why Sony has fought shy of it here.
The processor is supported by 128MB of hardwired PC100 SDRAM and a 20GB Toshiba MK2018GAP UltraDMA/66 hard disk. A single memory upgrade socket beneath the keyboard will let you upgrade the RAM to a total of 256MB, which is enough to keep Windows XP running smoothly.
It's common for ultraportable systems to lack a floppy drive, and many have also shed their optical drives in the quest for a slimmer, lighter form factor. What's less common is for neither to be supplied as part of the overall package -- but that's what Sony has done here. If you require any removable drives (and let's assume that you will), then you are obliged to shell out a further £425 (ex. VAT) for the R600HEP's 'optional' docking base.
The docking station also extends the range of ports on offer, adding essentials like parallel and serial interfaces to the notebook's own rather sparse line-up. Without the base, you are limited to a pair of USB ports, an i.LINK (IEEE 1394) interface, a Type II PC Card slot and a MagicGate Memory Stick slot. Handheld users should note the absence of an infrared interface.
On the bright side, the docking base is beautifully engineered, and at 1.1kg it brings the overall weight up to 2.8kg, which is still less than most three-spindle notebooks. In fact, build quality is something that the R600HEP has in abundance, to the extent that many potential buyers may accept the price premium. It also means that the system is likely to remain in one piece, so Sony scores points on both aesthetic and practical grounds here.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the R600HEP comes with Intel PRO/100 VE 10/100Base-TX networking as well as a Conexant-Ambit SoftK56 V.90 modem. This is fine, but some users may complain about the absence of built-in 802.11b wireless networking or Bluetooth cable replacement technology.
Graphics appear on a bright 12.1in XGA-resolution screen that could have benefited from a slightly wider viewing angle, but is otherwise perfectly serviceable. The display is driven by the graphics processor integrated into the Intel 815EM chipset, helped along by up to 11MB of memory sequestered from system memory. This means that although 2D acceleration will be perfectly adequate, you can forget about decent 3D performance from the R600HEP.
Keyboards have been the undoing of many a ultraportable, but the R600HEP gets things mostly right. The main pad is reasonably spacious and comfortable, with large Enter, Backspace and spacebar keys. The only drawback is the fact that the PgUp, PgDn, Home and End keys have been reduced to secondary functions on the cursor group.
The benchmark results make it clear that the R600HEP owes a good deal to its speedy hard disk, which helped elevate the overall Business Winstone 2001 score to a respectable 26.9. Battery life, unusually for a Sony product, also proved satisfactory, BatteryMark 4 returning a rundown time of 2 hours and 29 minutes.
The only problems with the VAIO PCG-R600HEP concern pricing: the system unit isn't exactly cheap, and most users are likely to need the docking base a well. Both the notebook and the docking station are manufactured to a high standard, but it remains to be seen whether buyers will be prepared to pay quite so much for the pleasure of owning them.