Sony VAIO S Series: All Day Consumer Computingby Dustin Sklavos on September 9, 2011 12:00 AM EST
Conclusion: A Lot to Like...For Enthusiasts
The headline of my conclusion is probably leaving a few of you scratching your heads, but hear me out. Sony has engineered a very small, light, and capable notebook for a reasonable price. Most of the upgrade costs on their site are fair, too; they're not charging Apple prices on memory or hard drives.
Sony's VAIO S offers tremendous battery life alongside a mainstream processor and a clunky but workable switchable graphics solution. They've also opted for matte screens (someone out there is listening!) and they're one of the only consumer vendors that will provide a high resolution notebook screen. Plastic is kept to a minimum, too, and the whole notebook looks both stylish and professional. Even their pricing on the extra battery slice is good, for those of you that want to use your computer for twelve hours in one sitting.
The biggest problem with the VAIO S is, ironically, Sony, and this is where enthusiasts come in. While we can't do much about the fan whine (which may or may not be tolerable, depending on your point of view), we have it within us to fix the crucial problem: in its stock configuration, and probably even with any mechanical hard drive that has Sony's stock drive image, the VAIO S is far too slow. Sony bogs the poor machine down horrendously, and almost all of that mess is their own software. This notebook demands a clean Windows installation, but that may be a problem because while Sony's support site has been cleaned up substantially since my own experience back in the day with a Sony VAIO TR2A (I still miss that little thing), it's still not the friendliest one in the world.
Sony has also elected not to be a member of AMD's mobile driver program, so you're going to be relying on them (never a good thing) unless you feel like digging up drivers elsewhere on the internet. Oh, and that switchable graphics thing? It means more likely than not you won't be finding publicly available GPU drivers other than what Sony provides. Of course, it's unlikely most users will be gaming on the VAIO S, outside of older/less demanding titles where the HD 6470M doesn't fall flat. (If you're thinking of upgrading to the 6630M GPU, the driver situation definitely becomes more problematic.)
Because of that initial bloat I have a hard time recommending the VAIO S to any end user that can't fix it (including but not limited to just plain physically upgrading the hard drive) or doesn't know someone who can. This is an otherwise fantastic notebook with a lot of potential just looking for the right user, but if you're not comfortable getting elbow deep in cleaning it out (or preferably doing a clean Windows 7 installation), it's not going to be the notebook for you. For those of you who are willing and able to put in the time, though, you'll likely be very well served by the Sony VAIO S.