More of AMD’s Brazos E-350 with the MSI X370 and Sony VAIO YBby Jarred Walton & Dustin Sklavos on March 14, 2011 4:50 PM EST
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|
(2x1.6GHz, 40nm, 1MB L2, 18W)
|Chipset||AMD Hudson FCH|
3GB (2GB+1GB) DDR3-1333 @ DDR3-1066 CL7
(Ships with 4GB standard)
AMD Radeon HD 6310 IGP
(80 Stream Processors, 500MHz core clock)
11.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1366x768
(Samsung 116AT04-S01 Panel)
(Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B)
(ships with 500GB standard)
Atheros AR8131 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 802.11b/g/n
Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Headphone and microphone jacks
|Battery||4-Cell, 10.8V, 38Wh battery|
Headphone and microphone jacks
2x USB 2.0
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit|
|Dimensions||11.42" x 7.99" x 0.99"-1.25" (WxDxH)|
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD)
|Warranty||1-year limited warranty|
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.
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.