Purchasing a new laptop today is all about having an intended purpose for your new portable computer. This time, my needs were simple, a BluRay player with HDMI output that could support the demands of 1080P playback on a Samsung 63” Plasma Television. I also wanted the ability watch my digital movie collection while traveling across the world so a simple Blu-Ray player was not an option for me. In this review, I will share my adventures with the Sony VAIO VPCSC31FM/S and offer a few tips that may be helpful towards purchasing your own multimedia home theatre laptop.
Recommend this product?
Why Should You Purchase A Multimedia Laptop Now?
My whole life, I have worked hard to reach the point where I could purchase new high speed laptops. The processors and hard drives in these portable computers have become so powerful that you can now store hundreds of movies on them while playing them back on a 1080P television. The advances in this technology have only just reached the point where they are small enough to be packaged in a netbook class frame. When coupled with a simple wireless keyboard and mouse, these tiny computers become simple devices to use for watching movies all night long.
Physical Appearance And Box Contents
This laptop has a silver toned appearance which gives a very sleek modern look. The Sony VAIO VPCSC31FM/S weighs about 4 lbs in an approximately 13” wide x 9” deep x 1” high package. Inside the box you will find a product manual, power adapter with cord and the laptop itself wrapped in a foam like sleeve. The LED backlit display has a resolution of 1366x768 which seemed more than enough for my needs. Remember, higher resolution also yields a tighter viewing area so text on webpages will be even more difficult to read. 1366 x 768 resolution was more than fine for casual web browsing and movie playback.
You need to know that when purchasing this Intel i5 laptop that it does not come with driver, operating system or supplementary software discs in the box. I was told at Best Buy these discs could be purchased separately for a charge that I thought was excessive.
The Illuminated Keyboard And Overall Usability Of The Sony VPCSC31FM/S
Like a child on Christmas morning, the first time I saw the illuminated keyboard of the Sony VAIO, it captured my full imagination. Each of the 82 keys on the QWERTY keyboard are backlit with bright blue LED’s. The light is not overwhelming but subdued enough to allow you easy viewing of the keys while typing at night. It really is the simple things in life that make it all worthwhile!
Power Packed Input And Output Ports
The HDMI port sends a 1080P and PCM audio signal to any television that supports it. Alternatively, you can use the VGA output to send the same signal minus the audio. For data, a Memory Stick Duo and SD memory card slot allow you to view files from your digital camera. A trio of USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports round out the connectivity features. USB 3.0 allows you to move files at blistering speeds, according to tests I conducted with several external plug and play devices. On the opposite side of these ports is stereo headphone jack.
The WIFI card has good range, connects easily and offered me no problems. My home network is 54Mbps and my internet bandwidth is only 6 Mbps so I cannot properly test this.
Playing Blu-Ray Movies With The Sony S Series Laptop
The most used program on this laptop so far has been Cyberlink PowerDVD BD video playback software. Right away, I want you to know that this software will play Blu-Ray and DVD movies from properly encoded discs. However, Cyberlink PowerDVD BD does not want to playback M4V files saved to the hard drive. My DVD collection has been converted to this digital format and not being able to use this premium software disturbs me greatly. The reason is that the HDMI connection to my Samsung 63” Plasma Television only seems to transmit audio when Cyberlink Power DVD is running. Windows Media Player on this VAIO Laptop does not want to do this. As a result, my digital movie collection is useless with this laptop.
Special Cinema Playback Keys
Located under the LED display on the left side, the Stamina and Speed slide key will automatically adjust the Windows 7 power plan of this laptop between Balanced and Performance. I really liked this button because it allows me to conserve battery power while traveling. On the top left corner of the keyboard is an Eject button for the Blu-Ray player.
Other Included Software Packages
The VPCSC31FM/S also comes with the following notable software packages.
Microsoft Windows 7 Home 64bit
Remote Desktop is not available in the Home version of Windows. To get around this problem and still manage my laptop, I installed LogMeIn free version.
Microsoft Office 2010 Starter
You will not get a full version of Microsoft Office 2010 with this laptop. Instead, Office 2010 has a reduced functionality version of Word and Excel. Annoying pop up reminders will try to make you purchase and register the software. I uninstalled all of it and put Open Office Org on the laptop instead.
Norton Internet Security 2012
The antivirus software package that came with this VAIO laptop was a 30 day trial. The software annoyed me immediately with its notices that would appear after loading Windows 7 64bit. I removed it and installed AVG Antivirus Free Edition instead.
Sony VAIO i5 Laptop Battery Life
An Internal Lithium Polymer Battery (4400mAh) allows you take this VAIO on the go without any wires. To test the battery life and charging time of this laptop, I ran a series of tests using the distributed computing application BOINC to maximize processor usage. The extreme test simulates real world usage while playing Blu-Ray movies.
Laptop screen set to maximum brightness with all i5 cores and ATI card at 100%, Runtime: 1 hour 4 minutes
Laptop screen set to minimum brightness with just an Open Office document open, Runtime: 5 hours 32 minutes
Each time the VAIO ran out of power, it shut off the display and went into sleep mode so that the system was ready to use once recharged. After using this system for the past week, I have been able to watch a full movie from Blu-Ray with enough power left over to allow me to surf a few webpages and then shut it off. The good news is that Sony also has a special sheet battery that can be attached to give it a much longer battery life for road warriors.
Thermal Performance, How Does The Sony VAIO Laptop Keep Cool?
One hallmark of a quality laptop is its ability to stay cool while playing Dirt 3 or Call Of Duty video games. Sony incorporated several design features in this portable computer to make it the best cooling laptop I have ever seen.
First, the body of the laptop is constructed out of a solid metal case. A seamless piece of brushed aluminum milled to precise specifications creates the core of the S Series chassis offering firm structural integrity while also giving the Intel i5 processor and graphics card a massive heatsink.
The second impressive cooling feature is the long rear exhaust vent which is located just underneath the screen hinge.
Intel i5 Processor Benchmark
Just released on October 2, 2011, the processor in this Sony VAIO S3 laptop is on the cutting edge. Inside this laptop is the Intel Core i5-2430M 2.4 Ghz processor which features a total of 512Kb of Level 2 cache and 3Mb of Level 3 cache in a 32nm core die. The i5-2430M uses Sandy Bridge micro architecture which among other things gives it the chance to boost the base 2.4Ghz frequency to 3 Ghz when Windows applications need the extra power. As a summary to the technical information below, the processor is just as fast (if not faster) than many high-end models found in desktop computers today.
Super Pi With The Intel Core i5-2430M 2.4 Ghz processor
Super Pi V1.1 is an application that extrapolates the specified digits of PI into a text file. Since the task is both processor and file system intensive it can give you an idea of how fast your cpu is. Processors with large on-die cache sizes and high bus speeds tend to do better in this benchmark. The problem is the calculation is single threaded in this version so you only see the performance of one cpu core.
In this test, I analyzed the performance using the 1,000,000 digits of Pi calculation.
i5-2430M 2.4 Ghz: 13 seconds, one instance
i5-2430M 2.4 Ghz: 15 seconds, two instances
Comparison results for other processors:
Intel Atom N270 processor 1.68 Ghz processor: 1 minute 28 seconds
Intel Xeon E5450 3.0Ghz 12Mb cache four core processor: 15 seconds
Intel 920 Socket 1366 processor 2.667Ghz: 14 seconds
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 3.33Ghz processor: 13 seconds
POV-Ray 3.7 RC3 64Bit
A new version of the freeware 3D animation utility has been released that offers SSE2 enhanced processing extensions. POV -Ray stresses the floating point unit and memory bandwidth of the processor to render stunning 2D images. The raytracing software package also makes use of all available logical cpu cores in your computer system to render images. For this reason, POV is my processor benchmarking package of choice!
For this test, I am using the benchmark.pov file with QuickRes.ini value of 512x384 NO AA since it is provided with all new installations of POV.
2.4 Ghz, 4 cores, one physical processor: 2 minutes 31 seconds
For a quick comparison, take at look at what these AMD and Intel processors can do with the same benchmark.
AMD Sempron 140 Socket AM3 2.7Ghz Processor: 13 minutes 11 seconds
Intel E1400 Celeron Dual Core 2.0 Ghz, stock speed: 5 minutes 51 seconds
Intel Celeron Dual-Core E3300, 2.5 GHz (BX80571E3300) Processor: 4 minutes 0 seconds
AMD 1090T 3.2GHz Phenom II X6 Six-Core Processor: 3 minutes 53 seconds
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 Processor EU80569XJ080NL: 1 minute 41 seconds
AMD Opteron 6128 2.0 Ghz, 16 cores, two physical processors: 48 seconds
ATI Graphics Card Performance
The VPCSC31-FM/S uses the AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics card. The 6470M has a total of 512Mb of memory and 120 stream processors. The graphics system supports Direct X 11, OpenGL 4.1, DirectCompute 11 and OpenCL.
To test the graphics card, I installed the Heaven DirectX 11 Benchmark version 2.5. The benchmark is my current favorite because it runs 26 different tests on your video subsystem to simulate the experience you would have while playing games like Dirt 3 or Deus Ex Human Revolution.
Heaven Benchmark v2.5 Basic on ATI Radeon HD 6470M notebook graphics:
Min FPS: 3.6
Max FPS: 15.3
Render: Direct3d11, Mode: 1366x768 fullscreen, Shaders: high, Textures: high, Filter: trilinear, Anisotropy 4x,
Occlusion: enabled, Refraction: enabled, Volumetric: enabled, Tessellation: normal
As a comparison, the same benchmark settings on a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550Ti video card in a desktop computer:
Min FPS: 9.8
Max FPS: 19.9
The scores from this brutally thorough and GPU intensive benchmark show less than positive results. While the ATI Radeon HD 6470M graphics card in this laptop is clearly not the fastest, it still does a great job rendering Blu-Ray movies on my television at 1920x1080 resolution. I have also played Grid Defense, a 3D game, without any problems. Don’t despair, the following section will outline some extra high horsepower options for this Sony VAIO that will make you leader of the pack!
Purchasing Advice For Finding The Right Sony VAIO S Series Laptop
You will find several variations available for the 13.3” Sony VAIO S Series. The models numbers are as follows:
Premium Models (VPCSA-) Intel i7 processors and the Radeon HD 6630M graphics, 1600x900 display
Standard Models (VPCSB-) Intel i5 or i3 processors and the Radeon HD 6470M graphics, 1366x768 display
Retail Models (VPCSC-) Intel i5 processors and the Radeon HD 6470M graphics, 1366x768 display
When purchasing this particular Sony VAIO laptop, you will want to get model that offers the 500Gb 4Gb SSD drive. The combination makes for an equally impressive load time and raw storage capacity that is hard to beat in today’s market. You can find the VAIO S laptop with a SSD or solid state hard drive but the penalty for performance is high on a multimedia PC. Multimedia laptops are designed to offer rich movie and gameplay experiences. Small hard drives restrict your freedom to store videos and music files.
I want to also point out that the Sony VAIO S Series PC with the 13.3” screen can be bought with up to an Intel i7-2640M 2.8Ghz processor. However, this is a special order laptop because it is not easily found online.
I paid $1050 including tax for my Sony VAIO Laptop VPCSC31FM/S. Searching online, there were no better deals to be found on this model. The price comes mostly from the unique Sony design but also the limited options available in today’s market for BluRay laptops. Several Blu-Ray laptops can be found almost none of them come in such a small size as the Sony VAIO S.
Coupling an Intel i5 processor with an ATI 3D graphics card all in a metal casing that is in some respects thinner than my ASUS 1005HAB laptop is an incredible feat for Sony. Yet Sony did not stop there, they also preinstalled all the software you would need to play Blu-Ray movies in Windows 7 Home 64bit right out of the box.
Giving out a 5 star rating for the Sony VAIO Laptop VPCSC31FM/S was a real concern for me. I do want a faster ATI graphics card in it and will consider returning this particular model if one becomes available elsewhere. As a result, I was forced to give this system a 4 star rating. However that is my only complaint about this amazing little laptop that looks more like a netbook than anything else!
The “I Own It” Guarantee
I was not given this laptop or compensated by Sony or Best Buy in exchange for this review.
Amount Paid (US$): 1050
Operating System: Windows and Macintosh
Processor speed: over 1000
Screen Size: 13 inches
RAM: More than 256
Internal Storage: CD-RW and DVD
Hard Drive (GB): Over 50