Introducing the Sony EE34

You can't buy it from Sony's website. If you blinked you might have missed the news popping up on a couple of different sites about its existence. If you were on the phone with me when I called Jarred about it, you might even have shared his reaction: "Sony makes a budget AMD laptop?" But sure enough they do, and we have a  budget Sony EE34 notebook on hand that's liable to raise more than a few eyebrows. Around $600 for a Sony Vaio AMD-based notebook with a Blu-ray drive standard? They make those?

As a matter of fact, they do. With Intel's Sandy Bridge recall having largely enervated the retail market, we thought it would be a good opportunity to take another look at what AMD has on hand. When we saw the EE34 on the shelf, it wound up being such a curiosity that we knew we had to find out just what exactly a budget Sony Vaio AMD notebook means. This is also the first of hopefully many Sony notebooks we'll be taking a look at in the future and yes, we've heard your calls, we're trying to get a Z series on hand.

In the meantime, though, we're going to check out what happens when an AMD Athlon II mobile processor with a 25W TDP hangs out inside one of Sony's attractive Vaio notebooks.

Sony EE34 Specifications
Processor AMD Athlon II P340
(2x2.2GHz, 45nm, 1MB L2, 25W)
Chipset AMD RS880M Northbridge + SB800 Southbridge
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4250 IGP
(40 Stream Processors, 510MHz core clock)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1366x768
(LG LGD02CA Panel)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 5400 RPM
(Toshiba)
Optical Drive BD-ROM/DVD+-RW Combo Drive
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 802.11b/g/n
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 4-Cell, 11.1V, 39Wh battery
Front Side MS reader
SD/MMC reader
Wireless switch
Indicator lights
Headphone jack
Microphone jack
Left Side AC adapter
Exhaust vent
Ethernet jack
D-SUB
HDMI
USB 2.0
Right Side 3x USB 2.0
Optical drive
Kensington lock
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.56" x 9.78" x 1.26"-1.47" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.90 lbs
Extras Webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Blu-ray drive
103 key keyboard with 10-key
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Pricing Available online for $630

It's no big secret that Intel's "Core 2010" series of mobile processors are faster than AMD's current lineup, and that the Sandy Bridge-based "Core 2011" series will be faster still. The problem is that the former are drying up in retail (no doubt due to trying to shift inventory to make room for the Sandy Bridge refreshes) while the latter are still about a month away due to the recall. That leaves us with a healthy amount of AMD-based notebooks on the market, and as we'll see that's not such a bad thing.

The Athlon II P340 (so nice of AMD to finally do away with any sense of logic in their chip naming just like Intel did) is basically the same as the dual-core desktop Athlon II, with no L3 cache but 512KB of L2 cache per core. It runs at an unexciting 2.2GHz, but should still provide enough processing power to handle most tasks. The best part, of course, is that this chip also features a 25W TDP that you'll see Sony actually manages to get some mileage out of.

Well, that's not the only best part. The other part is that while AMD's 40-shader integrated graphics haven't exactly aged gracefully, they're still better than any other IGP currently widely available on the market (NVIDIA's GeForce 320M is only available in MacBooks, and the 9400M is basically gone now) barring the Radeon HD 6310 in AMD's E-350, which brings with it the baggage of a much slower processor. As a result the Mobility Radeon HD 4250 may not be much but it can at least get the job done for the lightest of gaming, though most users will be disappointed to see it doesn't share the 700MHz core clock of the desktop IGP.

The other big selling point of the Sony EE34 is the Blu-ray drive, making it a very affordable way to get a decent computer and a Blu-ray player in one shot. The middling 720p screen may not help you get the most out of your movie watching experience, but it's a start, and there's always the HDMI port for external displays.

As for the rest of the EE34, connectivity is generally good and the 4GB of DDR3 is ample, but the system is bogged down by a lowest-common-denominator 5400RPM Toshiba hard drive with a paltry 8MB of cache. Every time I have to use a Toshiba or Fujitsu hard drive I feel like I'm being punished for something, and it's a disappointment to see them when most vendors have switched to using Seagate or Western Digital drives (though Samsung and Hitachi are also fine candidates.) 

An Inexpensive Vaio?
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  • Akv - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    What a bombasticly huge mistake, adding a blu-ray player in a budget laptop...

    I never buy blu-ray disks, and the only use I have for classic DVD drives is installing software, very rarely.
    Reply
  • Silver47 - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    Hi Dustin

    I work on the electrical department in Tescos here in the UK ( sort of our Wall Mart) and we sell the Sony Vaio EE3E which has a similar configuration. It doesn't have the bluray drive and a gig less of RAM all yours for £499 (~$800). When I first saw the spec and pictures I thought how could you not of seen a budget Vaio before, we have had this one for some time (though granted the EE34 is waaaaaay better value to what we have). I would of thought you would of had something like this in the US most of the time?

    Anyway heres a pic of the mythical beast http://twitpic.com/42pmjv/full and personally I thought it was one of the better built laptops we have (this is the most expensive one we stock, if you hate crappy displays you'll have a heart attack in here ;) )

    Silver
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    Dustin, I think this was one of your best AT articles yet, and it wasn't a very interesting product - I think that speaks well to your improving writing skills.

    My cousin's wife got a Samsung laptop that was maybe $100 less with no Bluray and the same CPU -- I found myself impressed with the quality of the build compared to low-end Acer and HP, and the battery life was excellent.

    I didn't believe it could be true, but the 25W Athlon CPUs really nail the niche they set out to fill - a middle-of-the-road balance between performance and battery life.
    Reply
  • GullLars - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    Since you note to begin this laptop has a crappy HDD, i would love to see what potential it holds if you put an SSD in it. Some of us are now moving to our second or third round of SSDs, and may have one left over, or consider purchasing one specifically as an upgrade.
    Also, this notebook has an 8xx chipset, which means it SHOULD support 6Gbps.
    Why not test it with a C300 64GB, and/or the Vertex 3 256GB (a PCmark Vantage run would be more than enough to really put a smile on my face)
    Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    This was a system review, not a platform review. AMD's mobile platform performance is no secret so fitting even RAMdribe in it is not worth the effort.

    On the other hand a nice 320G WD Black drive would up the cost about $10 while providing a sensible benefit.
    Putting in a basic 80G SSD would destroy its value proposition not to mention even more showing its IGP and CPU bottlenecks.
    Reply
  • cfaalm - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    Agreed, just put in the WD320 Scorpio. Even if you buy it afterwards, it would still be a good investement if you also buy a 2.5" external USB housing and place the original Toshiba in there. Nothing goes to waste. I upgraded my 2007 MacBook this way. Reply
  • nitrousoxide - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    I changed both of my laptops with SSDs, and the 2 HDDs put in RAID 0 on my PC. They are slow 5400rpm laptop drives but very fast in RAID :) Reply
  • 7Enigma - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    For some of the early adopters of SSD technology and also for people that upgrade frequently we are just about at the point where some enthusiasts might be on their 2nd or 3rd SSD. That creates the time where some people will have second-hand SSD's from say 1st gen tech (Intel 1st gen or, horror, JMicron 1st gen) and basically do this upgrade for "free".

    I know not everyone (or even a majority), but there are those out there that have this as a viable option. Me, for instance, has an 80GB second gen (G2) Intel drive that has been fantastic for the last year and a half. More so than needing a speed boost I want to get one for my laptop that I carry around the house (with it's anemic 5400rpm drive).

    I could see buying a great 3rd gen SSD for my desktop and migrating the 80GB Intel over to my old laptop, and that is a scenario I see becoming commonplace in the near future.

    Just a thought....
    Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    Especially a cheap one. If you get 4 years then any laptop has done its job. Time to get a new one thats twice as fast and half the price again.

    Commodity items. I'd never spend more than £500 on a laptop ever again. Just a tool to use and abuse.

    You spend £800+ on a uber laptop and you are always worrying you are going to crack it, scratch it etc.

    With a cheap laptop in a ABS type plastic case no worries. The Lenovo G550 series are a prime example of good day to day knock about laptops.
    Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    I spend $1000 average on a laptop because I need it to work. Daily. And it is cheaper than spending twice $600.
    Not to mention much more enjoyable working on a not-crappiest LCD/chassis/KB/touchpad/webcam/WAN/BT/Wifi/eSATA/USB3 configuration ...
    Reply

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