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Sony's VAIO YB Ultraportable

Our next entrant aims to compete with both MSI's X370 and our reigning champion, the HP dm1z. Sony's been playing the style game since well before HP finally got the message, but the competition here is a lot more interesting. The YB is the weapon of choice that AMD sent us to show off Brazos, and it's pretty easy to see why: it's a slick-looking Sony netbook/ultraportable. The message is loud and clear: Brazos is a big enough success for even OEMs that are usually gun-shy with AMD (like Sony) to take notice. Here's how the YB we were sent is specced:

Sony VAIO YB Specifications
Processor AMD E-350
(2x1.6GHz, 40nm, 1MB L2, 18W)
Chipset AMD Hudson FCH
Memory 3GB (2GB+1GB) DDR3-1333 @ DDR3-1066 CL7
(Ships with 4GB standard)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6310 IGP
(80 Stream Processors, 500MHz core clock)
Display 11.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1366x768
(Samsung 116AT04-S01 Panel)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 5400RPM
(Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B)
(ships with 500GB standard)
Optical Drive -
Networking Atheros AR8131 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 4-Cell, 10.8V, 38Wh battery
Front Side Speakers
SD/MMC reader
Wireless switch
Indicator lights
Left Side AC adapter
VGA
HDMI
Exhaust vent
USB 2.0
Right Side Headphone and microphone jacks
2x USB 2.0
Kensington lock
Ethernet jack
Power button
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit
Dimensions 11.42" x 7.99" x 0.99"-1.25" (WxDxH)
Weight 3.23 lbs
Extras 1.3MP webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD)
83-key keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Pricing $599 MSRP
Online starting at $539

Right off the bat, even before you get to the build of the Sony YB, there are two red flags: the MSRP of $599 and the Windows 7 32-bit install. Hopefully this is a price tag we're not going to see carry over into retail, and at least my local Fry's (as well as several online vendors) knocks it down to a still onerous $549. Perhaps the retail models will also ship with 64-bit Windows, though we haven’t confirmed that. $600 gets you a beefier specced version than the one we were sent by AMD, with upgrades to 4GB of DDR3 and 500GB of hard disk capacity. However, that still doesn't completely take the stank off of that asking price when HP is willing to offer what amounts to more laptop (with a faster 7200RPM hard drive and a bigger battery) for less money. Otherwise, the YB's configuration is par for the course until the faster Zacate chips arrive: gigabit Ethernet and wireless-n party alongside the standard AMD E-350 processor with a single 64-bit channel of memory and the Hudson FCH.

Gallery: Sony VAIO YB

Style-wise, the YB is well built but the current Sony shell is starting to seem stale. Historically we've harped on other vendors to update their designs, and we'd be remiss not to do the same here. That's not to say Sony's current designs aren't attractive—quite the opposite actually—and the only glossy plastic on the YB is used for the VAIO logo on the lid: the rest is an attractive matte silver.

What's problematic is that the chiclet keyboard used for the YB just isn't very good. Sony's uniform design runs into problems when you get into a chassis this small, and the wasted space above and on the sides of the keyboard really bears that out. The fact remains that HP is able to fit what amounts to a full-size keyboard on the dm1z while the keys on the YB feel noticeably smaller and more cramped. If you have smaller fingers you're less liable to run into problems, but mine are pretty slender and spidery and I still wound up fat-fingering the YB's keys. You'll also note that where MSI fits in dedicated Home/End/PgUp/PgDn keys, Sony and HP both use Fn+Cursor combos. The keyboard is probably my biggest issue with the YB; the touchpad is comfortable enough if the buttons feel a bit stiff, but it's a long way from being the worst we've used.

Fortunately, popping open the bottom of the YB is easy enough and you can upgrade the memory and anemic hard drive as needed. Any more RAM than the 4GB the retail model ships with is probably overkill for AMD's E-350, but a hybrid drive like the Seagate Momentus XT or especially an SSD would go a long way towards making any Brazos netbook/laptop feel snappier. Sony also offers an extended battery for the YB (along with most of their other notebooks) to replace the middling 38Wh standard issue battery, but they have the audacity to charge $249 for the privilege, and even getting a replacement battery from them is an absurd $199. Compare that to the spare 6-cell, 55Wh battery for the dm1z HP is willing to sell you for just $105 and it's hard not to feel a little cheated.

MSI’s Ultra Slim X370: Bigger Isn’t Always Better Application Performance: Better than Atom, Worse than CULV
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  • Gigantopithecus - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    It will be interesting to see if MSI offers the X370 in the North American market; though at $700+, I can't imagine why you'd want to buy it. MSI isn't exactly known for the build quality of its netbooks, and their logo on something this thin makes me very leery.

    I've not handled a YB so I appreciate your comments regarding its keyboard. You don't paint a particularly compelling picture, especially since the Lenovo X120E and HP DM1Z both offer very solid keyboards. Again, it has a Sony logo on it...but is that logo worth hundreds of dollars?

    I'm not sure whether these even have WWAN slots, but if they do, would you mind checking to see if they support mSATA drives? That feature on a Brazos netbook would be very groovy...
    Reply
  • Arnulf - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    Thank you for testing those older game titles ! Reply
  • Kaboose - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    Good to know i can do some mining while on the go for cheap, My habit is usually to find a mountain and make myself a nice cave with an extensive mine system. This type of laptop will be perfect for me because I don't go outside much anyway. Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    Mining is very important!

    .)

    I like to go straight down in a cylindrical path until I hit bedrock and then move out from there. All the good stuff is deep in the ground.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - link

    two cubical pervs, yuck Reply
  • nitrousoxide - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    These two offer some overclocking features, USB 3.0 and a not-so-big-not-so-small form factor (12.1''). Can't wait for their shipment. Reply
  • nitrousoxide - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    Will user experience be significantly improved? Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    That article is still in work, but the page 1 text says that any current SSD will help. Reply
  • ninjackn - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    Maybe I was expecting too much but I shoved an ocz agility into my acer 1410 (with a su2300) and didn't really notice much. It booted faster but I generally sleep/resume so it was hard for me to notice any significant differences. Reply
  • Quizzical - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    I've got an Acer Aspire 5253-BZ602 (upgraded with a 64 GB SSD and 4 GB of memory), which isn't one of the models reviewed here, but it should be roughly equivalent for gaming performance, as it is based on the same Zacate E-350 APU.

    I think the processor is likely to be the dominant factor in whether games can run smoothly. Usually, if the video card isn't terribly powerful, you can turn down video settings and be fine. (Well, within reason; people who buy a GeForce 6150 SE from Wal-Mart today are likely to be disappointed.) But if it's a processor bottleneck, you're stuck.

    I tried running Guild Wars, and it ran nearly the same as it does on my desktop (capped by vsync), and at nearly the same settings (shadows off because they're annoying, everything else in game maxed, including anti-aliasing, but 1366x768 resolution instead of 1280x1024). Of course, Guild Wars is so light on processor usage that my desktop processor declares itself idle and downclocks while the game is running, and without affecting performance. The bigger impediment to gameplay was that a monitor resolution a meager 768 pixels high is awkward with the default UI, though that's adjustable.

    I also tried Champions Online, which is known to be a lot more processor intensive. Even at extremely low graphical settings (safe mode in the launcher, /renderscale 0.1 for an effective resolution of 137x77), it was stuck at about 20 frames per second. I could turn up video settings quite a bit from there without the frame rate budging much.

    I don't like the idea of Civilization 4 on a netbook, though. Even my desktop Core i7 doesn't run the game that well--and not nearly as well as my old Pentium II ran Civ 2. It's a processor issue, not a graphics issue; the game can render smoothly at high settings on a Radeon X1300 Pro. Civ 4 only proves that no matter how fast your hardware is, a sufficiently badly coded game can still run poorly.

    So I'd expect that one proxy for whether the Zacate E-350 APU can run a game smoothly is whether a high end desktop can hit 200 frames per second or so at low settings, without running into a processor bottleneck first.
    Reply

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