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Sony VAIO VPCF23P1E review

Purchase

Unlike my other laptops, which I purchased from the computer stores, the story of how I obtained the Sony VAIO is quite different and unique. After I purchased my Dell Inspiron N5010 back in July 2011, I had a laptop computer for my daily tasks for a good while. Unfortunately, the Inspiron N5010 became very noisy in September 2011, and in November 2011 it started to freeze occasionally after long working sessions. It was still under warranty, that's why I've sent it for repair in December 2011. They replaced the whole cooling system of the machine, only to show the same symptoms one week later. I returned it again for Christmas 2011 and had to wait for a good week for them to repair it again. It continued to freeze, something which was hard to demonstrate to the repair guys, but I heard other people are experiencing the same problem. For the third repair they wanted to replace the hard drive. Fortunately for me, I was able to take my computer at home for two days and made a backup of all the information in it. After they replaced the hard drive I was left with machine without operating system and Windows copy, because I didn't pay the additional money for backup Windows on media, when purchasing it, expecting that no trouble would ever come. After reinstalling everything again and again experiencing the random freezes and seven visits of the repair shop, they finally agreed to allow me to return the machine and get a new one.
Returning back to the Technopolis shop, I gave them the machine and said I would prefer another model. The policy of the shop is to give me the same model that would be supposed to work. For my luck however, they didn't had the same model in stock, so I was given the option to get another model at the same price, or more expensive model with paying the difference. Feeling relief that I can select another model after having several months of headaches with the Inspiron I began looking for laptops that would offer me the same features that made me buying the Dell in the first place. I was looking for processor Intel at least Core i7 class and numeric keyboard. After inspecting many brands and models, most of which didn't came even close to what I was looking for, finally I had the option to buy Sony VAIO with 3D display or the Sony VAIO VPCF22P1E. The model with the 3D display had the same price as the non 3D model, but with weaker capabilities, so I choose the Sony VAIO VPCF23P1E, which was costing more than the psychological limit of 1000 EUR. The price of the VAIO was 2399 BGN. After paying the difference of 600 BGN, on 20th of February 2012 I was a happy owner of Sony VAIO machine, expecting much more than what I was getting from my previous laptops. The sellers at the shop warned me that the Sony repair center for laptops is in Germany and I will not have the option to receive fast repair and replacement like I did with the Dell, but that didn't stop me getting the VAIO.

Package

Sony VAIO VPCF23P1E booting Windows 7 on battery, near the original box. The laptop comes in a black carton box with dimensions 47 cm X 33 cm X 14 cm. There are no pictures on the box. On the front side of the box is the slogan SONY make.believe, along with VAIO personal computer text. On the back are written CAUTION! with information about the Lithium ion battery. On the sides of the box are written information about the model - VPCF23P1E/B, POS bar code, Delivery address with tracking number, importer information and the origin - Made in China. Inside the box are the laptop, AC Power Adapter, color VAIO book with information about VAIO Service and Support, Accessories and Software. In the box I also found Quick Start Guide, Recovery Backup and Troubleshooting Guide, Safety Regulations and Support Information and VAIO International Repair Service. All the small books had separate versions in English and Bulgarian. I measured the laptop weight at 2.8 kg with my electronic scale. It has the size of 40 cm x 27 cm. When closed, it's taller on the back - 4.5 cm than on the front - 3.5 cm. As usual for Core i7 machine - the power adapter is big - 16 cm x 8 cm x 4 cm, with the weight of 0,6 kg. When traveling from Europe to North America or vice versa the adapter does not need a switch.

Installation

As usual for today laptops, the machine comes with Windows 7 Home Premium already installed. Having experience with the Dell, first thing to do after the activation and updates of the Windows, was to remove the already installed McAfee anti-virus and replace it with a free software - AVG anti-virus in my case. No more daily harassment about being unprotected. Quite new feature to me that sometimes comes in handy is the possibility to use the machine without entering Windows. By pressing the WEB button in front of the machine, the splashtopOS Linux distribution is loaded in less than a minute. The configuration of the Wireless is fast and easy and I can browse the net without the need to log into my personal account on Windows and wait for loading all the extensions I use. The inclusion of the WEB button on the machine and the Linux distribution makes it perfect for cafes and outdoors.

Usage

The machine is slightly bigger than my previous laptops and also slightly heavier, but this didn't make it less portable. In fact I am ready to swap little portability for more resources available at hand and the Sony VAIO gives me much more resources than my previous machines. Several features of the laptop that make it easier to use are:

  • Numeric keypad - even if numeric pad is not much used, it makes it much easier when entering large amount of numbers and statistics data.
  • Wide screen (36.5 cm x 20,5 cm) with high definition resolution of up to 1920 x 1080 pixels with self-adapting back-light. Perfect for indoors and outdoors use.
  • Easy to use TouchPad with size of 90 mm x 50 mm. It has the same proportions as the display.
  • HDMI and VGA output - easier to connect to big screens with digital quality of the shown picture.
  • Card slot and mini-USB jack for easier transfer of data from digital cameras, camcorders, phones and tablets.
  • Black, dust repellent surface. Even if the laptop does not look as stylish as the Apple machines, it catches much less dirt than anything other I've used.
  • Four multimedia buttons over the keyboard. The special buttons react by touch without any pressure on them. Just move the finger over them for Play, Stop, Backward and Forward.
  • The Power, Network, USB and Audio connectors are on the side of the laptop, making it much easier to install it on any place.
  • Blu-ray drive with capability to read and write CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray disks. Excellent for watching HD movies and back-up of large amount of data.
  • InstantWeb Browsing without the need to load the Windows Operating System - thanks to the splashtopOS. It is activated with the press of the WEB button at boot.




Hardware

Sony is one of the few manufacturers left, which manufactured computers back in the 1980-ies and continues to produce quality machines, which kept them head and shoulders above the alternative tens of brands. Back in the 1980-ies they produced the first standard - the MSX machines, later they took over the console market with the Playstation machines (PSX, PS2 and PS3). On the laptop and desktop market the VAIO machines are known for being of high quality, bundled with latest technologies, although more expensive than the competition. The Sony VAIO VPCF23P1E is a machine with high quality and excellent performance. I ran the Belarc Advisor for the hardware report. It shows the following hardware:

System Model:
Sony Corporation VPCF23P1E C609MLK3
Enclosure Type: Notebook

Processor:
2,20 gigahertz Intel Core i7-2670QM
256 kilobyte primary memory cache
1024 kilobyte secondary memory cache
6144 kilobyte tertiary memory cache
64-bit ready
Multi-core (4 total)
Hyper-threaded (8 total)

Main Circuit Board:
Board: Sony Corporation VAIO
Bus Clock: 100 megahertz
BIOS: American Megatrends Inc. R2150V3 07/22/2011

Drives:
619,15 Gigabytes Usable Hard Drive Capacity
ELBY CLONEDRIVE SCSI CdRom Device [Optical drive]
PIONEER BD-ROM BDC-TD03 [Optical drive]

TOSHIBA MK6461GSY [Hard drive] (640,13 GB)

Memory Modules:
6126 Megabytes Usable Installed Memory

Slot 'SODIMM1' has 4096 MB
Slot 'SODIMM2' has 2048 MB

Controllers:
Intel(R) Mobile Express Chipset SATA AHCI Controller
Ricoh PCIe Memory Stick Host Controller
Ricoh PCIe SDXC/MMC Host Controller
Display:
NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M [Display adapter]
Generic PnP Monitor (16,4"vis, January 2011)

Bus Adapters:
HUAWEI Mobile Connect - Bus Enumerate Device
Intel(R) 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family USB Enhanced Host Controller - 1C26
Intel(R) 6 Series/C200 Series Chipset Family USB Enhanced Host Controller - 1C2D
Renesas Electronics USB 3.0 Host Controller
Renesas Electronics USB 3.0 Root Hub

Multimedia:
NVIDIA High Definition Audio (4x)
Realtek High Definition Audio

Other Devices:
Ricoh 1394 OHCI Compliant Host Controller
Microsoft AC Adapter
Microsoft ACPI-Compliant Control Method Battery
Microsoft Composite Battery
Sony Firmware Extension Parser Device
USB2.0 Camera
Standard PS/2 Keyboard
Synaptics PS/2 Port TouchPad [Mouse]
Generic USB Hub (2x)
USB Composite Device
USB Root Hub (2x)
Generic volume shadow copy

Communications:
Atheros AR9485WB-EG Wireless Network Adapter
Microsoft 6to4 Adapter 
Microsoft ISATAP Adapter 
Realtek PCIe GBE Family Controller
Teredo Tunneling Pseudo-Interface
For me the strongest part that I like most is the very fast 2,20 gigahertz Intel Core i7-2670QM processor. Render of hour long high quality 3D movies in HD, for uploading to my YouTube channel, takes only minutes instead of hours. Emulation of recent machines is no problem for my Sony VAIO. Neither is watching HD movies while processing other data. Everything is much faster than the previous laptop I had. To have better benchmark of the machine, I ran the 3DMARK06 software which showed the impressive for a laptop score of 8289 3DMarks - SM2.0 Score - 3300, HDR/SM3.0 Score - 2902 and CPU score of 5451. A portable laptop machine that beats by performance most of the desktops available today is nice benefit. The display allows higher resolutions than my LG TFT monitor and shows true HD. The battery is very good and I had up to two hours sessions on battery with heavy computing, without the need of recharge. This was with using 50% of the battery charge. The half battery charge was suggested to me by the built-in VAIO Care software, which said the battery will be usable much longer if used with less charge.

Despite being an expensive machine of high quality brand there are some parts of the laptop that got me pretty much disappointed. First disappointment came when I tested the web-camera. Even if the laptop has excellent output pictures, the captures with the web camera are of very low quality. There is no color saturation and most of the time the captured picture or movies are very dark with hectic colors. For recording my own performances of me playing on my Korg PA 50 synth the bad web camera shooting is not that much of a trouble, if the sound recording is okay.



Then the second big disappointment of the machine came: On the right there are Headphones and Microphone ports, but there is no Line-In port in the machine. Meaning I can't record my synth performances, or not in good quality. Even if the laptop was not having built-in microphone or Mic port, I use the SingStar microphones from my other Sony machine - PlayStation 2 for better quality. But without Line-In, I can't record the sound coming out of my Amiga, my Commodore 64, my Korg Pa 50 synth, my NES clones. Using microphone for recording audio from machines is unacceptable. One solution is to use attenuator to lower the signal from the machines to a microphone level and then record. I asked several electronics and music instruments stores and no-one was selling attenuator. So I have to build attenuator by myself. Another solution is to use external sound card connected to a USB port of the machine, which is also extra cost for something which the Dell laptops have for granted, without any extra cost.

Software

As at June 2012, Windows 7 is already the most popular operating system, according to web statistics, leaving behind Windows XP, which was the most popular one year before. Thousands of applications are available for Windows, some of them obtainable for free. I tested the machine and ran AROS, Linux and even MacOS 10.6 under virtual machine emulation, without the need to reboot Windows 7. With the high speed and hundreds of available emulators for computers and gaming consoles, I enjoy the retro games emulated at full speed on nice display. Installed on the laptop together with the Windows were several software titles from third parties and Sony, most importantly the Antivirus software from McAfee, VAIO Care, VAIO Gate, PlayStation Store and many other less important programs and utilities by Sony. There was no good Web-Camera software, neither good sound recording tool. Seems Sony focused on the media projecting capabilities of the machine - nice display and excellent sound, but ditched the media recording capabilities by installing bad camera with no software and lack of Line-In port again with no software. After I installed the FireFox browser, 7-Zip archiving utility, VLC Media Player, ArcSoft WebCam Companion 4 and ArcSoft TotalMedia HDCam (they came for free with my Speed FX 3D camcorder), I was ready for recording and processing my video clips. Even today I still use AmigaOS as main operating system for development, but Windows is getting better and better and the Sony VAIO is very handy for high demanding tasks like emulation of new machines and desktop video.

Accessories

Testing the laptop I attached many hardware accessories. The SingStar USB microphone from the PlayStation 2, USB memory sticks, USB keyboards, USB-Hubs, USB Mouses, USB Floppy Drive, USB Gaming pads, USB to MIDI cable. Everything worked nicely, except for the EasyCAP screen-capture hardware, which does not have Windows 7 drivers.

Conclusion

For sure the Sony VAIO is better machine than my previous Windows compatible laptop - the Dell Inspiron N5010. But it is not better by higher magnitude. Even if it has excellent speed and high quality display capabilities, it lacks in Web Camera quality and audio recording. The machine works good now for more than six months and it shows no signs of overheating. For sure it's a PC machine that I will keep for several years. For travelling, even if little bigger than most notebooks, it fits nicely in my baggage and I will keep wandering around with it. I don't regret swapping it and paying little extra for a machine that does not give me trouble at all.


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