- ✓Compact, thin and light
- ✓good performance and battery life for its class
- ✓802.11b and Bluetooth wireless functionality built in.
- ✕Relatively small 10.4in. screen
- ✕keyboard will be too cramped for some users.
Mobile processors can now deliver good performance without making excessive power demands, a development that has given the sub-2kg 'ultra-thin/ultra-light' notebook category a shot in the arm over the last few months. We have recently reviewed Toshiba's almost anorexic Portégé 2000, which weighs 1.21kg, is just 1.91cm thick, and yet manages to build in 802.11b wireless networking. Now it's Sony's turn to impress with the VAIO PCG-SRX41P.
Although it's not quite as thin or light as the Portégé 2000 in its minimal configuration the SRX41P does deliver more built-in wireless options than any other notebook we've seen, integrating both 802.11b and Bluetooth. If you answer to the description of 'mobile professional' (or even the dreaded 'road warrior'), you'll be interested in Sony's latest miniature box of tricks.
Toshiba's Portégé 2000 drew a crowd in the ZDNet office mostly because of its extreme thinness (1.91cm); Sony's SRX41P, by contrast, impresses passers-by with the combination of its typically stylish VAIO looks and small footprint. That diminutive footprint (25.9cm by 19.4cm) is the result of the SRX41P having a smaller screen -- 10.4in. compared to 12.1in. -- than the Portégé 2000. Some people may find the reduced pixel size of the SRX41P's XGA-resolution screen unacceptable, but we found it usable enough. The SRX41P's basic 1.26kg weight rises to 1.6kg with the AC adapter, topping out at 2.16kg when the external CD-ROM drive is added. This is slightly under the Toshiba Portégé 2000's full travel weight of 2.34kg with its second battery fitted and an external CD-ROM drive.
As far as its 'engine' is concerned, the SRX41P is powered by a low-voltage Mobile Pentium III Processor-M running at 800MHz, or 500MHz in Battery Optimized mode. This 0.13-micron part has 512KB of on-die Level 2 cache and features Enhanced SpeedStep power-saving technology that can dynamically switch between performance- and battery-optimised modes as required. The chipset is Intel's 815EM, which features integrated graphics, reserving up to 11MB of the system's 256MB of main memory for this purpose.
The only spinning media drive within SRX41P's system unit is a 30GB Toshiba Ultra-ATA/100 unit with a rotational speed of 4,200rpm. We were supplied with an external PC Card-interfaced 16X CD-ROM drive, and Sony also offers an i.LINK DVD/CD-RW combo drive if required. Since there's only one USB port and one 4-pin i.LINK (IEEE 1394) port on-board, it's likely that you'll have to buy a hub of some kind if you want to connect up several wired peripherals. As well as the i.LINK port, the left-hand side of the system carries a DC-out port for powering i.LINK peripherals (MiniDV camcorders, for example), modem and wired Ethernet ports, a single Type II PC Card slot and a switch for enabling or disabling the system's wireless features. On the right-hand side, you'll find the single USB port, a MagicGate Memory Stick slot, headphone and microphone ports and the DC in socket.
The front of the SRX41P not only carries the lid release catch, but also has the power on button located next to it, which could confuse the unwary. Indicator lights for power, battery and Memory Stick slot are set into the right-hand side of the front panel, while those denoting Bluetooth and 802.11b activity are on the left-hand side. A combined two-button touchpad and Jog Dial navigation system occupies the central part of the wrist-rest area, which also accommodates a pair of tiny (not to mention tinny) stereo speakers. The keyboard -- always a potentially touchy issue with ultraportables -- cannot be described as spacious, and you have to use the Fn key to toggle between the doubled-up cursor and page navigation keys: as usual, the nimble-fingered will cope, while those with sausage-style digits may struggle.
With local area (802.11b) and personal area (Bluetooth) wireless networking built in, the SRX41P is bang up to date in terms of mobile-friendly connectivity. As noted earlier, there's a switch on the left side of the system to activate or turn off wireless networking, so you can conserve battery life when you don't need to be connected. Sony provides an applet that lets you turn on just 802.11b, just Bluetooth, or both. Discovery of and pairing with other Bluetooth devices is handled by Sony's BlueSpace application, while VisualShare 2.1 takes care of file sharing between Bluetooth-enabled notebooks.
When we benchmarked the SRX41P, we were pretty impressed. Overall system performance with mainstream productivity applications (measured by Business Winstone 2001) was 14.4 per cent better than the 750MHz Portégé 2000, and only 10 per cent behind the winner in our recent ultraportables group test, Dell's 1.2GHz Latitude C400. Although it isn't designed as a platform for demanding applications, the SRX41P acquits itself reasonably well, delivering a 13.5 per cent better Content Creation Winstone 2002 score than the Portégé 2000 but coming in 23.8 per cent behind the Latitude C400. Battery life was a pleasant surprise, the SRX41P's 3,600mAh Li-ion battery powering the system for three hours and 23 minutes under BatteryMark 4.01.
Of the two most recent ultra-thin/ultra-light notebooks we've reviewed, Toshiba's Portégé 2000 is perhaps the more striking for the extreme slimness of its system unit and its six-hour battery life with the second battery fitted. Sony's 802.11b and Bluetooth-equipped VAIO PCG-SRX41P runs it pretty close, though, delivering better performance and three-hour-plus battery life from its standard cell: only the relatively small 10.4in. screen and rather cramped keyboard should give potential buyers pause for thought.