Review Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W Subnotebook

Felix Sold (translated by B Schulisch), 08/02/2011

Student snack. Punctually for the summer business Sony has refreshed the Vaio palette and now offers the VPC-SB2L1E/W as an affordable subnotebook with an Intel Core i3-2310M CPU, AMD Radeon HD 6470M On/Off graphics, and a matte 13.3 inch display, which is aimed at students. Price: 799 Euros (RRP).

Subnotebooks with a 13.3 inch display are falling more and more in favor and are increasingly also attainable for more moderate prices below 1000 Euros. For this reason Sony has extended the product line of the SB series with the Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W reviewed by us, which has an Intel Core i3-2310M dual-core processor and a dedicated AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics card. Depending on personal taste this entry-level device is available in white or silver, whereby the aluminum chassis with its 'full flat' design is the foundation in both cases. In addition further features from the more expensive models remain. Among these is the Vaio Display Plus display with a semi non-reflective display surface and resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, or the possibility of connecting a docking station and also a battery slice.

For an entry price of 799 Euros (RRP) buyers will however have to make compromises in terms of the RAM (4 GByte), and the hard drive capacity, as well as the mobile internet accessibility (3G UMTS not available). Read whether this purchase is nevertheless worth while, and whether this subnotebook is justified for the targeted student customers. Hot question: What has happened to the weaknesses of its predecessor, the Sony Vaio VPC-SB1Z9EB, which we reviewed several months ago?

Connectivity

The provided connectivity hasn't been reduced, and the distribution of the ports is restricted, with the exception of the headphone output and the DVD drive (optional: Blu-ray; +180 Euros), to the right side of the device. A positive aspect is the fact that the frequently used USB ports (2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0), as well as the HDMI and Ethernet interfaces, are relatively far towards the back. When using an external mouse this position is however still not ideal for positioning the cable when moving the mouse around. Thanks to the integrated docking port this area of criticism isn't too much of a hindrance though. The double card reader for Sony's proprietary memory cards, as well as SD or MMC storage cards, belongs among the usual features of most Vaio notebooks.

The bottom of the case provides access to the most important components. After removing two screws and the maintenance panel, the storage media (height: 9.5 millimeters), a free RAM socket, the exchangeable battery, as well as the WLAN module are accessible. Theoretically use without the battery inserted is not possible - practically swapping the battery can be relatively time consuming due to its location.

Communication

As far as the communication options are concerned the first signs of savings start to emerge. Along with the currently standard Gigabit Ethernet and WLAN 802.11n, the only addition to this is Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR as a short range technology. The current revision 3.0 +HS, as well as a 3G UMTS module, are not available, and remain restricted to more expensive models. An economical possibility for upgrading are comparably affordable USB sticks with the required features.

Security

With a Kensington lock and hard drive shock protection the security features provided are relatively limited.

Accessories

The slim packaging is nicely arranged on the inside, but also only contains the most necessary accessories for use. Along with the device itself there is a 4 cell battery, the AC adapter with a power cable, and printed documentation. Among the usual optional range of accessories, which are provided by Sony for a relatively high price, there are also a docking station (VGP-PRS20), and a battery slice (VGP-BPSC24) with which it is apparently possible to extend the battery life by up to 15 hours. At a price of 130 Euros respectively the costs stay within limits. From a software perspective the pre-installed products from Adobe, which are otherwise rare, caught our attention.

Warranty

Sony grants our reviewed device a mere standard warranty period of 12 months, which is extended to the usual 24 months when registering. The appropriate instructions for this are stuck directly on the packaging of the subnotebook. If desired the device can also be repaired directly on location, whereby this extra with a duration of 36 months costs an additional 270 Euros (VGPE-VPPSL/3).

Display

Expensive or not: Sony has opted for the 13.3 inch display with a diagonal length of 33.9 centimeters, and a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio, covered with a semi non-reflective surface for the whole Vaio SB series. Other resolutions or Vaio Display Plus displays are currently not available. On the other hand the VGA and HDMI ports offer the opportunity to connect external displays with higher resolutions. During one of our practical tests both of the interfaces were able to make a good impression using the popular full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. With the appropriate device the wireless transmission via Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) is also possible.

The integrated LED backlight of the display is supposed to provide for a slim build of the lid, as well as a bright and even illumination of the display surface. When measuring with the tool Gossen Mavo Monitor this showed that the maximum luminance of 216 cd/m² is only in the broad mid-range of results. The comparable VPC-SB1Z9EB scores significantly better in this respect. One possibility for the variations could be the different product margins (display type). A positive aspect is the even distribution of illumination.

216
cd/m²
204
cd/m²
214
cd/m²
206
cd/m²
205
cd/m²
204
cd/m²
207
cd/m²
200
cd/m²
204
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
Gossen Mavo-Monitor
Maximum: 216 cd/m²
Average: 206.7 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 93 %
Center on Battery: 205 cd/m²
Black: 1.32 cd/m²
Contrast: 155:1

The additional measured characteristics continue with average values where the luminance leaves off. The black level is elevated with 1.32 cd/m², and doesn't allow for a saturated presentation of blacks. Further to this the display contrast of 155:1 is too low. This should above all be noticeable by movie fans. The subjective color representation of the gradually non-reflective display wasn't able to completely convince us.

SB2L1E/W vs. sRGB (t)
SB2L1E/W vs. sRGB (t)

Even if the summer is taking its time to come, the display of the SB2 is prepared thanks to its non-reflective surface. Together with the acceptable luminance this results in a good impression when used outdoors. Compared to a matte surface, reflections are not completely prevented, but only restrained. The difference compared to an affordable glare-type display is nevertheless clearly visible.

With respect to professionalism the display isn't able to make a good impression. The sRGB color space is an often used reference for different graphics programs, which is not nearly covered. Sony thus simultaneously manages to create a demarcation point to the devices in the Z series with 13.3 inch displays. Further information on this subject can be found in the reviews of the Sony Vaio VPC-Z13Z9E (high-end), or the Sony Vaio VPC-Z13B7E subnotebooks (entry-level).

Finally, as usual, we are also delving into the viewing angle stability of the display. The horizontal viewing angle stability stays stable up to a deviation of 50 degrees from the front position. Vertically a similar characteristics can be observed, whereby the colors already start to invert or change saturation after 10 degrees. Altogether an average TN display panel, with the advantage of a semi matte surface.

Viewing angles: Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W subnotebook
Viewing angles: Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W subnotebook

Performance

Current notebooks with a comparatively low entry price are by no means equipped with out of date components. Sony has opted for an Intel Core i3-2310M dual-core processor from the Huron River platform (chipset: HM65) for the 'Studibook" of the SB series. This central component is a favorite entry-level solution and provides a clock speed of 2.1 GHz as well as 3 MBytes of L3 cache. Not considering Hyper-Threading support (4 threads), the missing Turbo-Boost is a negative aspect. The larger dual-core brothers, such as the Intel Core i5-2410M (+50 Euros in configuration), support this useful feature and are usually only marginally more expensive.

Similarly to the display and the processor options, the graphics card doesn't spoil buyers for choice. On the inside is the combination of the integrated Intel GMA HD 3000 processor graphics and the dedicated AMD Radeon HD 6470M from the entry-level segment of the current mid-range. With 512 MBytes of memory and a clock speed of 800 MHz and 900 MHz memory speed, this should also appeal to occasional gamers. What is unfortunate is the fact that Sony has also opted for a manual switching between the graphics units via a sliding controller above the keyboard. Other manufacturers already use the automatic solution PowerXpress 4.0 alias BACON, which is the alternative to Nvidia's Optimus technology. On the other hand the SB2L1E/W has been saved the current teething problems of the AMD solution.

Systeminfo CPU-Z CPU
Systeminfo CPU-Z Cache
Systeminfo CPU-Z Mainboard
Systeminfo CPU-Z RAM
Systeminfo GPU-Z Intel GMA HD 3000
Systeminfo GPU-Z AMD Radeon HD 6470M
Systeminfo DPC Latency Checker
Systeminfo Microsoft Windows 7 Leistungsindex
System information Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W

Let's get to our the comprehensive benchmark course. To start off with come the CPU benchmarks from Maxon, during which the Intel Core i3-2310M dual-core processor has to prove itself. Using the tried and tested CineBench R10 calculation with a single thread (single, 64-bit) the processor scores 3469 points, which places it in the mid-range of our database. Next to comparable configurations (e.g. HP ProBook 4530s) the Intel Core i3-380M is ahead on a similar performance level.

During the multi-threading rendering the average performance continues, and devices such as the Acer Aspire 3750 from the Intel TestIT!2011 device pool, or the Dell Inspiron 15R are also in the region of the achieved 7519 points. The identically built Sony Vaio VPC-SB1Z9EB with an Intel Core i5-2520M or the smaller i5-2410M, are faster with 25.8% (10128 points) and 20.4% (9451 points) better performance respectively. In light of the improved performance and the Turbo-Boost 2.0 technology support, we recommend a look at the Intel Core i5-2410M in our opinion, although the tested processor obviously doesn't have any problems with office or multimedia applications.

Cinebench R10 Rendering Single 32Bit
2765
Cinebench R10 Rendering Multiple CPUs 32Bit
6192
Cinebench R10 Shading 32Bit
5212
Cinebench R10 Rendering Single CPUs 64Bit
3469 Points
Cinebench R10 Rendering Multiple CPUs 64Bit
7519 Points
Cinebench R10 Shading 64Bit
5402 Points
Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL 64Bit
18.3 fps
Cinebench R11.5 CPU Multi 64Bit
2.01 Points
Help
5.3
Windows 7 Experience Index
Processor
Calculations per second
6.4
Memory (RAM)
Memory operations per second
5.9
Graphics
Desktop performance for Windows Aero
5.3
Gaming graphics
3D business and gaming graphics
6.4
Primary hard disk
Disk data transfer rate
5.8

The synthetic gaming benchmarks from Futuremark give a first indication of the provided 3D performance. In the somewhat older 3DMark06 benchmark the integrated AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics card scores an acceptable 4421 points. With this score the GPU operates in the lower mid-range, whereby the processor graphics Intel GMA HD 3000 is already almost on a similar performance level. The alternative to the AMD graphics would be the Nvidia GeForce GT 520M graphics solution, whereby this option is also not a guarantee for gaming fun. The next step up from this, which is used by most manufacturers, is the Nvidia's GeForce GT 540M (8196 points, +46.1%). The GPU benchmark from the current 3DMark11 confirms the positioning in the lower third of our database.

3D Mark
3DMark 2001SE23392 points
3DMark 0312409 points
3DMark 058372 points
3DMark 06
 1280x1024
4421 points
3DMark Vantage1930 points
3DMark 11617 points
Help

A preliminary verdict is made possible by the system benchmarks. The PCMark Vantage benchmark makes a start in this area as a tried and tested software. With a total result of 4857 points, the components inside the chassis operate in the broad mid-range. Direct neighbors are the Samsung 200B5B Business subnotebook, and the Dell Latitude E5420 Essential with Intel's GMA HD 3000 processor graphics. Higher demands are claimed by the PCMark7 benchmark, whereby the tested device slips into the lower third as a result. On the other hand many older notebooks are completely out of the picture. Altogether the Sony SB2 offers a good performance in the mid-range, with considerable wiggle room above. The Vaio provides sufficient power for office and multimedia use, only when creating content and playing games will the performance reserves quickly become limited.

PC Mark
PCMark Vantage4857 points
PCMark 71539 points
Help
Benchmark
Benchmark
Benchmark
Benchmark

A lot of bang for the buck is provided by Sony with the included Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B hard drive type: HTS545050B9SA00. With a rotational speed of 5400 revolutions per minute and SATA II connectivity, this is an ordinarily slow notebook hard drive. The matching benchmarks confirm this assumption with a maximum read speed of 79 MB/s, and an access time of around 21 milliseconds during reading operations. For a fast system operation we would recommend a hybrid-drive (SSH), or a pure Solid State Drive (SSD). Thanks to Intel's Huron River platform modern SATA III drives, such as the Intel SSD Serie 510, OCZ Agility 3, or the Vertex 3, can also be used.

Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B HTS545050B9SA00
Transfer Rate Minimum: 36.5 MB/s
Transfer Rate Maximum: 82.2 MB/s
Transfer Rate Average: 63.5 MB/s
Access Time: 22.9 ms
Burst Rate: 17.6 MB/s
CPU Usage: 2 %

Verdict: Gaming

On the subject of performance: The pure gaming performance is not especially impressive, and is more aimed at occasional gamers without demanding requirements. Simple games, such as World of Warcraft or Fifa 11, run with finer detail settings and higher resolutions. On the other hand there is a lack of performance for newer games, which can only by played with a maximum of medium presets. Altogether this doesn't lead to any gaming fun, and gamers should look for another device with a more potent GPU.

low med.high ultra
World in Conflict - Benchmark (2007) 14852237fps
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010) 41.330.519.48.4fps
StarCraft 2 (2010) 148.929.221.111.3fps
Mafia 2 (2010) 35.828.123.46.8fps

Emissions

System Noise

The rather less than ideal location of the air vent in the area of the display hinge and the cooling system hasn't been changed by Sony. In an idle state the device stays decently subdued in the background, whereby the cooling fan even stays relatively inactive in the Stamina-Mode using the integrated processor graphics, and only a quiet humming from the hard drive can be heard. In an idle state with the AMD graphics in use the cooling fan comes on from time to time, but stays relatively quiet in the background with 31.1 dB(A). Thanks to the slow rotational speed of the hard drive (5400 rpm), as well as the optical drive, these don't stand out negatively.

Under load in the Speed-Mode the cooling fan turns faster and we were able to measure a clearly audible maximum of 48.4 dB(A). Luckily this level is kept consistent during the stress test. On the other hand the perceived noise changes according to the position relative to the cooling fan. When considering similarly constructed notebooks it is noticeable that Apple for example has solved this problem more effectively over the years.

Noise Level

Idle 30.6 / 30.8 / 31.1 dB(A)
HDD 31.0 dB(A)
DVD 35.0 / dB(A)
Load 48.1 / 48.4 dB(A)
 
    30 dB
silent
40 dB
audible
50 dB
loud
 
min: , med: , max:    Voltcraft SL-320 (15 cm distance)

Temperature

Already in the review of the Sony Vaio VPC-SB1ZEB we were able to recognize problems with the temperature developed inside and on the slim chassis. The new entry-level model continues this trend without any significant improvement. In an idle state the surface temperatures stay in the blue area in the diagram thanks to the aluminum-magnesium case. After several hours of our stress test with the tools Prime95 and Furmark these temperatures increase significantly in some areas. In the area around the cooling system we measured a maximum of 52 degrees Celsius, whereby the average value on the bottom surface lies at a mere 36.6 degrees Celsius. Subjectively the heat generated is clearly noticeable, and longer use on the lap could get unpleasant. Interestingly the entry-level model generates more heat than its predecessor with the previously tested mainstream solution with a more powerful CPU.

Max. Load
 26.7 °C31.5 °C44.7 °C 
 25.7 °C36 °C42.3 °C 
 26.1 °C30.1 °C34.6 °C 
Maximum: 44.7 °C
Average: 33.1 °C
52.0 °C46.3 °C30.3 °C
41.6 °C39.7 °C28.7 °C
33.8 °C30.1 °C27.3 °C
Maximum: 52.0 °C
Average: 36.6 °C
Power Supply (max.)  56.1 °C | Room Temperature 25.1 °C | Voltcraft IR-360

On the inside the temperature sensors give a maximum CPU core temperature of 95 (CPU) degrees Celsius, and 87 degrees Celsius in the area of the GPU, during the stress test (100% CPU and GPU load), measured by different programs which thus only act as a point of reference. Despite the stable system operation and the usual GPU frequencies of 800/900 MHz during the stress test, CPU throttling also has a negative impact with this configuration (see screen shots). In extreme cases the combination of Prime95 and Furmark cause throttling with 'Core 1', and a reduced clock speed of 1.9 GHz.

With only Prime95 running, the temperature does reach its limits, but the CPU speed remains at 2.1 GHz. Summary: Throttling is also an issue with this weaker variant, but not as pronounced as it was with more powerful components (SB1Z).

Prime95 only: No throttling (limit)
Prime95 only: No throttling (limit)
Prime95 & Furmark: Core 1 throttling @ 1.9 GHz
Prime95 & Furmark: Core 1 throttling @ 1.9 GHz

Battery Life

The adopted hardware doesn't have too much reserve performance, and the possibility to switch off the dedicated graphics card, provide for a broad range of power consumption. In an idle state the power consumption lies between 7.3 and 12.9 Watts, whereby the minimum is only possible in the Stamina-Mode. In contrast to this is the power consumption under load with an activated AMD graphics card. At its peak the combination of the dedicated graphics and the stress test (Furmark + Prime95) leads to a power consumption of 60.8 Watts, which is within limits for this configuration though. With a power consumption of 90 Watts, the included AC adapter is sufficient for the requirements.

Power Consumption

Off / Standby 0.1 / 0.6 Watt
Idle 7.3 / 11.2 / 12.9 Watt
Load 52.0 / 60.8 Watt
 
Key: min: , med: , max:         Voltcraft VC-940
Classic test
Classic test
Charge sequence
Charge sequence

As a mobile type writer our reviewed device benefits from the economical CPU. Together with the included 4 cell battery (49 Watt-hours), the battery life is a little better in comparison to those from the previously reviewed Sony Vaio VPC-SB1Z9EB. Thus our sample breaks the magical ten hour barrier in an idle state, whereby this scenario (Battery Eater Reader's test, Stamina-Mode) with minimum display brightness doesn't necessarily reflect practical use, but rather represents the positive extreme. Contrary to this is the Classic test (load) with maximum display brightness, activated WLAN module, and dedicated graphics card (Speed-Mode). After a short 79 minutes with this test a whole battery charge is empty.

The practical measurement 'surfing with WLAN' with a pleasant display brightness is a good half-way point. With a battery life of 6 hours and 28 minutes its hard to complain, since it has to be considered that the battery only consists of 4 cells. During this time it shouldn't be difficult to find a power socket at the university or the office for re-charging. For more independence Sony also offers a replacement battery, as well as a battery slice (around 150 Euros), which can be attached to the bottom using a dedicated port.

Battery Runtime
Idle (without WLAN, min brightness)
10h 17min
WiFi Surfing
6h 28min
DVD
5h 42min
Load (maximum brightness)
1h 19min

Verdict

After the review of the Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W there are a few positive aspects, but also well known disadvantages on our list. The high-quality chassis, the pleasant feel, the backlit keyboard, and the matte 13.3 inch display, make a good impression. The case stability, the average display characteristics, and the persistent problems with the emissions under load, as well as the resulting CPU throttling, are less impressive. For gaming and day-to-day use we were not able to detect any throttling though.

Technically Sony has taken a step back with the configuration reviewed by us, and has opted for current entry-level hardware with manual on/off graphics. Automatically this is certainly more pleasant, but Nvidia clearly has the lead in this area at present. Together with the usual interfaces and the possibility to use a docking station and a battery slice, the subnotebook for students and people with a smaller budget is definitely worth considering. The overall impression and comparison clearly sets this configuration apart from the premium Vaio Z series.

By courtesy of ...
In Review: Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W Subnotebook, by courtesy of:
In Review: Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W Subnotebook, by courtesy of:

Specifications

Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W

:: Processor
:: Mainboard
Intel HM65
:: Memory
4096 MB, 1333 MHz, onboard, DDR3-10600S, 1 bank, maximum 8 GByte
:: Graphics adapter
AMD Radeon HD 6470M - 512 MB, Core: 800 MHz, Memory: 900 MHz, 8.823.0.0
:: Display
13.3 inch 16:9, 1366x768 pixel, Sony SNY05FA, LED, WXGA, Vaio Display Plus, anti-glare layer, diagonal: 33.7 centimeters, glossy: no
:: Harddisk
Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B HTS545050B9SA00, 500 GB 5400 rpm Travelstar 5K500.B
:: Soundcard
Intel Cougar Point PCH - High Definition Audio Controller
:: Connections
2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, 1 VGA, 1 HDMI, 1 Kensington Lock, 1 Docking Station Port, Audio Connections: headphone output, Card Reader: MagicGate, SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC, RJ-45
:: Networking
Realtek PCIe GBE Family Controller (10/100/1000MBit), Intel WiFi Link 1000 BGN (b g n ), 2.1 +HS Bluetooth
:: Optical drive
MATSHITA DVD-RAM UJ8A2AS
:: Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 23.9 x 331 x 244.5
:: Weight
1.678 kg Power Supply: 0.286 kg
:: Battery
49 Wh Lithium-Ion, 4 cells, 4400 mAh, type: VGP-BPS24, exchangeable, 11.1 volts
:: Price
799 Euro
:: Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit
:: Additional features
Webcam: 0,3 Megapixel, VGA, 640x480 Pixel, Subnotebook, AC adapter with power cable, printed documentation, Adobe Acrobat 9, Distiller 9, Photoshop Elements 9, Premiere Elements 9, Adobe Reader X, Intel Wireless Display (WiDi), Microsoft Office 2010 Starter, Media Gallery, Music Unlimited, Windows Live Essentials, ArcSoft Webcam Suite, McAfee Internet Security, 24 Months Warranty, 12 months standard warranty + 12 months after registering, color: white, backlit keyboard, Dolby Home Theater v3, 2 stereo loudspeakers, HDD shock protection

 

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Pro

+High quality look and feel
+Light weight
+Generous keyboard with backlight
+Matte display
+Good application performance
+Entry level 3D performance
+Docking + battery slice port
+Emissions in an idle state
+Acceptable battery life
 

Cons

-Weaknesses in the stability
-Mouse buttons with a short travel
-Average display quality
-Only manual graphics switching
-CPU throttling during stress test
-Emissions under load

Shortcut

What we like

The possibility of a docking station and a battery slice with this entry-level device. Additionally the look and feel with silver parts makes a good impression.

What we'd like to see

A restructuring of the cooling system, even if the optical drive has to be removed.

What surprises us

Furthermore the high temperatures and system noise under load, as well as the partially covered air vent for the cooling system. We hope for a considerable case update for the Vaio VPC-SB3 series.

The competition

Subnotebooks with 13.3 inch display and current hardware. Examples are Apple's MacBook Pro 13 Early 2011 and the shortly introduced MacBook Air 13 Mid 2011, the Samsung 900X3A with an extremely slim case, the Lenovo IdeaPad Z370 as an affordable device, or the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 with business genes.

Ratings

Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W
07/23/2011 v2
Felix Sold

Chassis
86%
Keyboard
90%
Pointing Device
85%
Connectivity
85%
Weight
90%
Battery
87%
Display
75%
Games Performance
69%
Application Performance
87%
Temperature
77%
Noise
75%
Add Points
85%
Average
83%
84%
Subnotebook *
Weighted Average

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review Sony Vaio VPC-SB2L1E/W Subnotebook
Author: Felix Sold, 2011-08- 2 (Update: 2013-06- 6)