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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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  • Martin Schou - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    When I browse Sony's Danish website, I find 2 E-model laptops with AMD CPUs displayed: http://www.sony.dk/lang/de/product/vn-e-series

    They're not hidden away or anything.

    I suspect the reason they are hidden on the US website, is that their web designer is on LSD or some other mind altering substance, that makes him think we don't want to know what products they have.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    It's more likely that intel got to him than he is on LSD. Reply
  • HangFire - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    The purpose of this laptop is obvious- to put pressure on Intel and show that Sony can make an AMD laptop if they want to.

    By opting out of the mobility driver program, Sony has assured it won't sell many, nor are they trying to.

    Give it a real keyboard and support it with the AMD's mobility driver program, and I would be interested. As it is, I wouldn't even consider it at half price.
    Reply
  • nitrousoxide - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    I've been using a Vaio EA200C for six months, the keyboard is great, almost as good as a desktop mechanical keyboard.

    The driver is of course the matter of concern here. I'm forced to use the crappy OEM driver provided by Sony, and they simply never update it after releasing the product. The dfriver itself is poorly built, many problems occur with H.264 decoding, Flash acceleration and OpenCL feature does not work properly.

    Anybody who intend to buy a laptop should be aware of this: if you are a Stream/OpenCL/CUDA developer, or you really need these features in Adobe's CS5 package or other GPU accelerated softwares, skip Sony and consider other manufacturers who offer official driver.
    Reply
  • futurepastnow - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    I just bought a similar machine, an HP G42-303DX ($429 at Best Buy with the Turion II P540). It'll be delivered on Monday; having played with similar machines my only real concern is with the screen quality and battery life.

    So why not wait for Llano? Because it's been repeatedly delayed and I wanted something now. I figure the performance of AMD's old platform will be "good enough". If it turns out to be a mistake, well, it's a very cheap laptop.

    Thanks for the review of something so similar, though. There are a dearth of reviews of AMD's current platform as it seems almost everyone is waiting for Sandy Bridge and Llano notebooks.
    Reply
  • futurepastnow - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    Incidentally, does this platform support DDR3-1333? Would faster memory impact the integrated graphics performance? Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    Nice to see a logical keyboard layout. Why does it seem so many laptop makers are allergic to having the arrow keys drop below the rest of the bottom row and instead do wacky things like have the up and down keys half-sized?

    Otherwise I think this is OK but would make a lot more sense with no Blu-Ray and $100 cheaper
    Reply
  • jonyah - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    These AMD sony's are everywhere. the model you tested has been going for as low as 499 at places like frys, walmart, best buy etc. They have the new AMD fusion netbook/notebook that looks really cool.

    oh and i love my brand new z.
    Reply
  • Etern205 - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    Saw a AMD based Vaio for around $500 at BJs around 2-3 weeks ago. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    This was looking like a nice machine, right up until Sony opted out of the AMD Radeon driver package. I just stopped reading at that point. I'm sure we've all been frustrated by this sort of vendor driver crap in the past, I'm not wasting time on it anymore. Nicely done article though! Reply

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