Buying a Vaio

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This review was current as of 2009 and as such is outdated. I suggest looking elsewhere for newer information. Apologies.

Sony is one of the most trusted, highest quality brands available to anyone. Their designs (ranging from televisions to cameras and yes, laptops) are expensive, but the cliche 'You get what you pay for' has never fitted so well. When choosing to buy a Sony Vaio, it's important that you consider a few things.

-Do you really want a laptop?

So many people (myself included) browse eBay searching for a brilliant Vaio. What a lot of us fail to take into consideration is what a notebook really is for. Never will it replace your desktop (Unless, you don't expect it to be portable, or don't expect a long battery life). The few desktop replacement Vaios out there are heavy, and short on battery life. They are also a great deal more expensive than a normal desktop. The only saving grace of these notebooks is the size taken up on desk, and the style (wow factor).

If you want a Sony Vaio for intensive gaming, in-depth video editing or something processor heavy, you can forget any chances of portability. While some notebooks in the Sony range will allow you to play most of the latest games (at lower details), it'll chew up battery life very quickly. Video editing will also be a slow and laborious task, I use my Vaio for the simply 'dump and burn', where I dump footage, cut out the bits I don't want, and burn it, no special effects added.

- What Vaio do you want?

Unfortunately, with most notebooks you can't get two of the criteria listed at once. The Vaios that can do this will either suffer some other problem in one of the other criteria, or will be ridiculously expensive.
 - Portability (Not just weight, but size. Yep - size matters! With Vaios ranging from a teeny 4.5” inches to a smooth 17 inch display, you have choices ranging mainly from: 8.9 inches, 10 inches, 11 inches, 12 inches, 13.3 inches, 14.1 inches, 15.4 inches, 16 inches and 17 inches. Assuming you want portability, the 13.3 and under is recommended (though you can nip past with a 14.1).
 - Battery Life (This is actually a criteria where portability and battery rank pretty well, to the detriment of processor speed. The 13.3s and under have pretty good battery lives, ranging from 3-7 hours, allowing, at minimum, the watching of a DVD in the car. (Multimedia can sometimes drain battery faster than normal). By comparison, the 17 inch notebooks can have a wonderful *sarcasm* battery life of just over the 2 hour mark. These are more the 'desktop replacement' laptops talked about.

Processor Speed (Ranging from mhz (for the old models) to ghz, it's just like money, the more you have, the better it is. (Okay so I'm young, and still focus on the fact that money can buy everything). The more processor speed you have, the faster your applications will run. There are various processor types.

  • The transmeta crusoe (available only to the 8.9 inch models I think) are battery efficient, however these models do not go past 866mhz (American Vaio). Don't expect much more than basic word processing, and maybe a movie on it. 
  • The Pentium line (Pentium I, II, III, IV (1,2,3,4) are quite reasonable, if you wish for a desktop replacement. Pentium 4's have not been designed for battery efficiency, and thus drain it at a substantial rate. However, the Pentium’s I, II are incredibly old, from the other end of the ‘90s, and really aren’t useful for anything more than basic Word Processing or running as a print server. The Pentium III’s are at a similar performance level as the Crusoe, however are not quite as power efficient.
  • Intel Celeron processors. I work with numerous IT people, all of whom sneer at Celeron processors. However, the Celeron Processor, and for mobile applications, the Celeron M’s, are quite acceptable for most standard computer uses, just don’t get too carried away with multiple applications, or video editing/gaming applications. However, these processors run reasonably cool, or the later renditions of them anyway, and are reasonably power efficient, and best of all, cheap.
  • Intel Pentium M (M for Mobile). These processors have been designed for laptops, and thus are battery efficient and quick. The Pentium M was designed from the older Pentium III core, which was more efficient per watt and per clock cycle (i.e. for each mhz, it did more.), as Intel’s Much vaunted ‘Netburst’ architecture (The Pentium 4), proved to be far too hot for mainstream laptop processing.
  • Intel Centrino is a grouping of technologies,  outlined by Intel, which a certain product must have to wear the Intel Centrino badge and have Centrino Certification. Intel has now decided on different Centrino certification depending on which  processor you have. I.e. A Pentium M Processor must also have a Intel PRO Wireless Network Card and either the Mobile Intel 915 or 855 chipset. A Centrino Core Solo/Core Duo Processor must also have an Intel 945 chipset and An Intel PRO Wireless 3945ABG Card.
  • Core Solo is the lower end of Intel’s newest release of mobile processors. This refers to the last rendition of the original Pentium III architecture, which evolved to the Pentium M, before Intel moves onto a completly new processor architechture (Core 2), across their entire product line, including desktops, servers and notebooks. The Core Solo refers to the single core product, that is, it only has one processing core for the system to use. These are typically budget processors, and perform much the same as the older Pentium M’s.
  • Core Duo. This is the newest Intel processor, and has two processing core's on the one chip, which contrary to popular belief, consumes no more, if not less power than a single cored solution. These processors are great for multitasking and video editing, however, especially with the Vaio brand, are very expensive, and are typically found in higher end notebooks, though Dell have them starting from around $1400AUD, and Apple has placed them into their $1749AUD budget Macbook. A dual core processor allows to applications to use the full 1.66ghz (or whatever speed the processor is), all to itself, while another application is doing the same, allowing you to run two applications at full speed.

Now assuming you still want a Vaio, and have decided on what size you'd like, there are a few more considerations;

RAM - Random Access Memory. RAM is memory that sits in between the processor and the hard disk. Most people know that a hard disk is where stuff goes. However, because of the nature of a hardisk, a big mechanical spiny thing that stores data magnectically, pulling data off the hard disk is slow, in computer terms anyway. So RAM is much like a waiting room for the processor. As data comes off the hard disk, and is waiting to be processed, it sits in the RAM. Once the processor has decided what to do with the data, it sends instructions to the chipset, which then sends instructions wherever they need to go, and changes a few pixels on your screen. Data will wait in RAM like a bad smell until the processor tells it to screw off, in which case, depending on what type of Data it is, will either change a file on your hard disk, or simply delete itself from the RAM. The more RAM, the faster things go, because the less the system has to talk to the hard disk. For Windows Vista, I can personally recommend at least 1 Gigabyte, as sitting idle, Vista chews threw 68% of my 1gb in my dual core desktop system.

Video Memory – A video card is almost a system unto itself. A dedicated video card has a processor (Usually what the card is called, for example, a nVidia 6600GT), its own RAM (or vRAM, Video Memory.) Alls that’s missing is the hard disk. Video Memory however, is a waiting room for things waiting to go through the video connector (reffered to as AGP for older systems and PCI-E for newer ones), to the rest of the system, or instructions that have come from the rest of the system and are waiting to be processed by the GPU and displayed on your screen. Shared memory implies that the greedy little graphics card will simply steal from your main memory, it has no memory of its own. These are usually less powerful graphics cards, like the Intel GMA series. However, these graphics cards are perfectly acceptable for some light gaming and normal computer usage. Some graphics cards have a technology called Turbocache (ATI) or Hypermemory (nVidia), which essentially means the graphics cards have their own memory, but if needed will claim some of the system memory for their own. Be aware that a video card will drain battery power, and typically the higher the number, the more powerful, and the less battery life. As far as I am aware, no Sony notebook has this particular feature, however, some select notebooks from other vendors allow you to switch between integrated graphics, and dedicated graphics in order to save battery life.

Buying your dream-Vaio:

Shocking as it may seem, humans are not always honest, and there are numerous scams on eBay, Vaio scams included. A general rule: Never buy from China (Most often those sellers are scammers. Take the time to read both the seller's location and the item location. It is most interesting to see that the seller is based in China, but the item is in Australia, or even better, when the item is in: Sydney, Hong Kong. Geographically impossible, but they do attempt to trick people. Another thing, it is rare that this happens, but sometimes people from overseas (I.e. the US) sell their laptops on eBay Australia. Again, I recommend avoiding overseas sales (60% are scams, and the other 40%, you'll most likely get hit with import tax (Cost me 1/6th of what my Vaio cost).
I hope I've helped you as best as I can. If you need additional help, find me at: steveyo81 (my eBay user ID).
Happy Buying!
-Stephen Dunn-


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