Review Sony Vaio SVT-1111M1E/S Ultrabook
Elegant and high-end despite an entry-level price? Has Sony succeeded in creating a better compromise than the competition with its low-priced ultrabook? Will the screen and keyboard ergonomics make work both pleasant and efficient?
It is doubtful whether Sony is really happy about Intel's ultrabook campaign since Sony ultimately invented the UltraLight idea in the 90s. Also, Sony will hardly be pleased about the increasing number of competitors. So, how will the new T model fare compared with all newcomers? Where will it position itself compared with Sony's Vaio T13, Sony's Vaio S13A, Acer's Aspire S3, MacBook Air 11, Asus' UX21E or Samsung's 900X1B?
Generally, the case looks like a hybrid of Sony's S and Z range, which is in no way a drawback. They feature a nice design and an accurate build. Unlike the S range, the T11 model is no longer partly blocked by the air outlet when opening the lid.
The surface of the T11's base unit is made of one piece of aluminum and has a very nice feel to it. The same is true for the display lid's exterior, although the screen's bezel is made of a magnesium alloy. The screen's stiffness is basically agreeable considering the low thickness of merely 5 mm. We did not observe any real flaws in terms of stability otherwise. The lid can be dented marginally in the center, but it is impossible to build an armored tank with a total thickness of 5 mm - especially since the LED backlight needs a bit of room for a homogeneous illumination.
Although Sony's T11 is not quite as thin as some other ultrabooks, our measurements reveal it to be a design trick of the contenders. With 18 mm, it is just as thin as other ultrabooks, including much more expensive models, where the height could be reduced to 17 mm at most. Anyway, slimness is not the only important thing for mobility. When dough is rolled out, it gets thinner but that does not reduce its volume or weight.
We find one of the most likely price-related cutbacks in Sony's T11 model when looking at the weight. With 1.42 kg, it weighs more than Asus' 13-inch Zenbooks (1.35 kg). Even the 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon is lighter with 1.36 kg. Toshiba and Gigabyte have announced 11-inch models weighing less than one kilogram. Sony's Z range manages less than 1.2 kg despite a larger 13.3-inch screen, owing to a carbon fiber construction. Sony's T13 13-inch sister model weighs 1.52 kg and is thus not much lighter than the considerably better equipped Vaio S13A model (1.65 kg). Apple's MacBook Air 11 is much lighter at 1.08 kg, but it is also a lot more expensive than our T11 model. It is ultimately a personal decision how much such weight differences should cost.
The screen's wide bezel makes the impression that the laptop must be unusually big for 11.6-inch. However, with a dimension of 297 x 215 mm it undercuts Acer's similarly low-priced Aspire S3 model (323 x 219 mm). Even the more expensive Samsung 900X1B (297 x 198 mm) or Asus' UX21 (297 x 196 mm) have a depth of two centimeters less. It is particularly Sony's protruding hinge construction that causes the larger size. It also regrettably feels like chromed plastic and we deem it to be the only flaw Sony makes with the casing's build.
The hinge is pulled too tight for opening the laptop with only one hand. Nevertheless, the screen rocks enough to possibly make using the laptop in a moving car or train difficult.
The casing's bottom is made of a magnesium alloy. A large recess for the battery is at the front and creates a part of the bottom. The battery can be removed via three special screws. This is also conveniently possible with a coin should a screwdriver not be at hand and why it does not work as well with a normal screwdriver. The laptop can be used without the battery.
Since Sony does not use any tricks to let the ultrabook look thinner, the T11 has lots of room for ports on its sides. This however only results in a slightly improved interface diversity compared with other ultrabooks - a lot of room has been left unused. Particularly, a third USB port will be wanted when an external drive using two USB ports is connected and you are suddenly forced to unplug your mouse. That makes some three year-old netbooks look good.
The power socket is located at the left's very back and one USB 2.0 as well as a powered USB 3.0 port is just before it. Powered USB can, for example, recharge a phone even when the laptop is off. Starting at the right front, we find in a logical order a microphone/headphone combo jack, an SD card/memory card combo reader, an HDMI socket, a VGA socket and an RJ45 Ethernet socket at the very back. We would have preferred a mini DisplayPort socket rather than the VGA socket, but many conference rooms likely still have old projectors. But that is not really an excuse as there are VGA adapter cables for DisplayPort interfaces.
A recurrent controversial subject is the interface placement. It is often criticized to be unhandy when the ports are placed on the rear because many users have to get up or turn the laptop in order to connect a cable.
However, we should bear in mind that it only takes a few seconds to connect a cable. When the interfaces are placed on the sides, you have to live with an unsightly and obstructing cable mess at both sides of the laptop where you might prefer to place your work utensils during all your work hours. In this case, Sony's T11 loses against Acer's S3 where merely the headphone/microphone jack and the card reader are placed on the sides and thus ensures elbow room at both sides of the laptop and a tidy desk.
The 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi module in the T11 only supports the 2.4 GHz band. However, it works flawlessly in different hot spots and even through stone walls.
Bluetooth 4.0 supports a much better wireless audio transmission than was possible before, thanks to the ABT-X codec. The Bluetooth module connects automatically to an ABT-X Bluetooth audio receiver (e.g. Samsung's HS300) after system start and resumes with the audio transmission every time the laptop is rebooted without the user's intervention. This allows excellent control of active speakers or the stereo system. The same is naturally true for newer Bluetooth headsets with ABT-X support.
As in most other laptops, there is unfortunately no UMTS option. If you travel around the world and do not want to be dependent on sporadic Wi-Fi hot spots, you will only find a limited choice, e.g. Sony's Vaio S13A or Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Of course it is possible to buy a separate UMTS/3G dongle, but then you will only have one free USB port available. Also, the tiny antenna in a USB dongle cannot really compete with one built into a display lid.
Apart from a start-up password that you can create in the BIOS, the device does not have any special security features. We did not find a Kensington lock slot on the laptop either. Of course, you can purchase several security solutions from various companies, but Sony does not have any specific offers available in this field.
Even if Sony does not include a PSU with the same color as the laptop, the T11 comes with a small and lightweight power supply unit that does not increase the travel weight much. There is also a package containing a real manual in several languages, a quick start guide and multi-lingual instructions for creating recovery media. Optional accessories in Sony's online shop are restricted to a few mice and two cases. If you want a dock or a secondary battery, you will have to look at the Z or S range.
Replacing or upgrading the hard drive is accomplished within a few minutes if you do not count in the subsequent software installation. After taking out the battery, three more cross-slot screws are removed to lift off the maintenance cover. There is a standard mini SATA interface for a 2.5-inch hard drive with a maximum height of 7.5 mm. Upgrading the RAM from 4 to 8 GB is even faster. However, the existing 4 GB cannot be accessed over the maintenance cover. We cannot ascertain whether or not the first 4 GB is soldered directly onto the motherboard without disassembling the T11 completely, but it is likely. It is not possible to access the cooling system or other components without removing the entire bottom shell either. It is fastened with screws at the rear and small, concealed hooks keep it closed at the front. You should be fairly savvy and perhaps look for instructions on YouTube before your first try to access these components.
A 24 month warranty is included ex-factory (requires registration). In case of a claim, the laptop has to be sent in. An optional upgrade to 36 months is available for 89.90 Euros (~$116) and includes a pick-up service as well as a promise to perform the repair within 5 business days. This package also includes telephone support. The warranty can be extended to 48 months for 279.90 Euros (~$361), which also includes accident insurance.
The chiclet keyboard is good despite its short drop. The pressure point is perceived early and is accurate. You are never uncertain whether or not you hit a key when typing fast. Moreover, the keyboard has a relatively firm fit. In contrast to some other laptops, it can only be depressed in the center with a bit of force and does not move when typing on it. The keyboard only clatters a bit when typing more vigorously.
Regrettably, the keyboard does not feature a backlight for working in darker surroundings. The layout mostly corresponds to the standard and should not cause any problems during the familiarization period. The key size of 15 x 14 mm is roughly the same as on a desktop keyboard. However, the key gap of 3 mm is much smaller.
The Synaptics touchpad is a ClickPad on which both lower corners serve as keys. It has a size of 100 x 56 mm and has been integrated cleanly. There are neither protruding corners nor uneven gaps on the T11. The surface is lightly textured so that even moist fingers do not stick. Although there are no marks, light pressure in the lower left and right areas is enough to trigger mouse key functions with a clearly palpable and audible click. There is no scroll field on the side, but there is an even simpler to use two-finger scroll gesture that can be performed anywhere on the touchpad. In addition to that, other multi-touch gestures are supported, such as pinch-to-zoom, rotate or modifiable three and four finger flicks that enable moving to the next picture or application. We have no complaints concerning the pad's responsiveness. Nevertheless, many modifications can be made in the Synaptics driver when required. The ClickPad can be disabled via Fn + F1, but it prevents unintentional palm entries while typing on its own. Thus, deactivating it will usually be unnecessary.
Probably the most important ergonomic area is the screen. The resolution of 1366x768 pixels is appropriate for screens ranging from 10.1-inch to 12.5-inch and offers a good balance of focus and size of displayed application elements like icons, buttons and text. Naturally, Asus' UX21 featuring a Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 is available for users with good eyesight.
The average brightness in this case is unfortunately only 194 cd/m2. The MacBook Air 11 accomplishes 318 cd/m2 and some ultrabooks from Asus and Samsung even manage considerably higher rates. The black value of 1.0 cd/m2 could also be better and ultimately results in a rather weak contrast of 194:1. The MacBook Air 11 achieves approx. 634:1 here. This weakness is also visible despite the screen's glossy surface. Pictures look a bit pale and lack saturated black. The illumination of 90% is very homogeneous in contrast to the Air 11 (76%). Thus, no irregular light spots are seen even on a black screen.
You will hardly recognize anything on a high-gloss screen featuring only 194 cd/m2 in direct sunlight. Even when the screen is turned away from the sun, it is simply too dark and reflective to work with it.
Also, you can only recognize something for a short time when you look at the screen with narrowed eyes. The reflections that are barely noticed indoors are simply too intense here to work on the screen for a longer time or to watch a video. If you want to work in the train, you should not choose a seat on the sunny side. Although the T11 is portable, it is designed for indoor use.
Detailed picture editing is unfortunately impossible already due to the very tight vertical viewing angle. A homogeneous color representation is not possible even from an angle of 90 degrees. Monochrome surfaces are brighter at the small screen's upper edge and darker at the lower edge. It is too bad that the vertical viewing angles are so inferior to the horizontal ones, which always suffice to watch a movie with family or friends.
The VGA port supplies a focused picture without discoloration or artifacts. We could not test a setup of three screens due to the lack of one monitor. However, this was never a problem for similarly equipped laptops until now.
Sometimes the options in the manufacturer's Internet configurator are so slim that you ask yourself why you have to choose anything at all. At least a fair price is demanded for the working memory upgrade from 4 GB to 6 GB (20 Euros, ~$25) or 8 GB (40 Euros, ~$51). However, the prices are not quite as fair if you want to replace the 500 GB hard drive with an SSD. 475 Euros (~$614) for a 256 GB SSD from an unknown manufacturer is more than twice as much as the market price for current top models featuring this capacity. The 512 GB SSD is offered for a similar, incredible price of 1075 Euros (~$1390). The small 128 GB SSD was offered free of charge for a limited period at the time of our review.
There are three processors to choose from: Intel's 1.4 GHz Sandy Bridge Core i3-2367M from last year is the basic version. The new 1.7 GHz Ivy Bridge Core i5-3317U is worth the demanded 50 Euros (~$64) because it promises a better performance at a lower power consumption and includes the new HD 4000 GPU. A Core i7-3517U is also available for customers with more computing-heavy applications. However, more than an approx. 15% improvement should not be expected in contrast to the i5 processor. Merely mice and cases are available as accessories.
Intel's Core i3-2367M is still based on the 32 nm Sandy Bridge architecture that has now been replaced by the more efficient 22 nm Ivy Bridge architecture. The i3-2367M is an ultra-low-voltage processor with a TDP of 17 watts. It is not clocked particularly fast with 1.4 GHz. We deem the i5-3317U for 50 Euros (~$64) more to be a "sweet deal" for this system: more power, same power consumption and a considerably improved GPU (HD 4000 rather than HD 3000).
Both the cooling and the PSU seem to be sufficiently sized in Sony's T11. The i3-2367M processor in our test device did not have any problems in keeping the maximum clock between 1397 and 1400 MHz upright throughout the one hour stress test where the CPU and integrated GPU are fully loaded by Furmark and Prime95.
The result of 2275 points was similar to the above mentioned T13 in the Cinebench R10 single test (64 bit). However, our T11's 4830 points was inferior by over 200 points in Cinebench R10 multi (64 bit). However, it is on a par with the 4821 points of Toshiba's Portégé Z830-10N (Intel Core i3-2367M / HD Graphics 3000). A comparison with two laptops from Sony's netbook category shows how slight these differences really are: Sony's SVE-1111M1E/P (AMD E2-1800 / Radeon HD 7340) achieved 2285 points in Cinebench R10 multi (64 bit) and Sony's VPC-YB3V1E-S (AMD E-450 / Radeon HD 6320) managed a whole 1929 points.
The i3 CPU achieved 1.34 points in Cinebench R11.5 while the i5-3317U was a full 44% faster with the same TDP with 2.41 points. For more details and comparisons, refer to our test of the T13 pre-series model featuring identical components.
The performance of a computer is always noticed when it is missing. Like in the tests of Toshiba's Portégé Z830-10N and Sony's T1311M1ES, Sony's T1111M1E/S does not lack anything in routine use. The existing performance differences between these models is mainly noticed in computing-heavy tasks, e.g. video encoding.
The score of 2347 points in PCMark 7 is just before the 2525 points of Toshiba's Portégé Z830-10N (Intel Core i3-2367M / HD Graphics 3000). However, the T11's score of 3723 points is much lower than the Portégé Z830-10N's score of 5666 points in PCMark Vantage. It is not really a comfort to know that Sony's SVE-1111M1E/P (AMD E2-1800 / Radeon HD 7340) and VPC-YB3V1E-S (AMD E-450 / Radeon HD 6320) netbooks lag even further behind with just over 2000 points. The T11 would likely be on a par with Toshiba's Portégé Z830 if it was equipped with an SSD.
What can you expect from the T11 when you invest 50 Euros (~$64) for the Core i5-3317U processor? In Acer's Aspire S3-391-53314G52add, the i5-3317U CPU achieves 4333 points (+47%) in Cinebench R10 single (64 bit) and 9005 points (+46%) in Cinebench R10 multi (64 bit). The OpenGL 64 bit comparison is similar: 7.21 fps vs. 10.46 fps (+31%) just like the Cinebench R11.5 multi 64 bit: 1.34 points vs. 2.38 points (+44%).
|PCMark Vantage Result||3577 points|
|PCMark 7 Score||2312 points|
Instead of installing a hybrid hard drive, Sony delivers the laptop with Samsung's MZMPC032HBCD 32 GB SSD and Hitachi's HTS545050A7E380 500 GB HDD with 5400 rpm. The SSD cannot be accessed directly, but is used as a cache. Consequently, Windows boots very quickly and applications are usually immediately available. For users who want more power, the laptop can be upgraded with a full-blown SSD which would improve the responsiveness even more.
HDTune regards the array as a RAID and reads out the following transfer rates: Burst - 169 MB/s, 210.2 MB/s maximum, 82.3 MB/s average and 50.4 MB/s minimum. The access speed of 20.3 ms is rather slow and not very surprising for a 5400 rpm hard drive. CrystalDiskMark (64 bit) records almost the same values for sequential read and write (93.26 vs. 90.32 MB/s). However, the 512K read and write rate are far apart (264.8 vs. 26.42).
Unfortunately, you only get an HD Graphics 3000 lacking DirectX 11 support and only runs with half the default speed of 350 MHz in the ULV processor, with Intel's Sandy Bridge Core i3-2367M. This is easily enough for Windows 7's Aero desktop and 1080p videos.
Because 3DMark 06 did not run up to its end on our system, we can only supply the 3DMark Vantage score of 1213 3DMarks. This GPU managed around 1700 points in 3DMark 06 on comparable systems.
The aforementioned i5-3317U processor not only shows a performance increase but also DirectX 11 support. With 2888 points in 3DMark 06 (+41%) and 1920 points in 3DMark Vantage (+37%), you receive a very good performance increase for little money. (Additional details here)
|3DMark 06 Standard||2708 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||1224 points|
If you want to play on this laptop every now and then, you should definitely upgrade it with a Core i5-3317U. None of the games that we tested surpassed the critical 30 fps mark on the i3-2367M. However, we have to point out that MMORPGs can be fun with ~20 fps as long as you leave out player vs. player. Guild Wars 2 does not look much better than World of Warcraft in the lowest settings. However, enabling FXAA anti-aliasing technology at least only costs you one frame per second. We agree with the review of Sony's Vaio T13 in Skyrim and Anno 2070. Skyrim runs even worse than the fps assessment would suggest in practice. With the 40% higher performance of the HD 4000 in the i5-3317U option, it would at least be possible to play all three games in low graphics details.
The T11's fan is unfortunately never off. It is not really overly loud, but the noise's high-pitched share is hard to ignore and sounds like the lethal hum of a remote transformer station. At least there is no recurrent wail caused by perpetual speed variations.
The fan whirs a bit louder during load, but the difference is not very large in comparison.
31.8 / 36.3 / 36.3 dB(A)
||36.3 / 36.3 dB(A)|
||41.6 / 43.3 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)
The smaller T11 could not quite keep up with the T13's low temperatures. The temperature difference might possibly be due to the smaller case size and different room temperature. While testing the T13, the room temperature was only 20.2°C and we had a room temperature of 24.8°C while testing the T11 model.
The case never reached unpleasant temperatures during practical use, especially not where the laptop is mainly touched. At most it got a bit warmer during very computing-heavy tasks on the lap.
Two speakers are built-in above the keyboard's right and left. Depending on the music genre and as long as you do not expect any bass and do not turn up the volume to max, the sound is quite differentiated and clear. However, a subtle clattery sound sneaks in the closer you get to the maximum volume. Speech sounds very high-pitched, but it is at least well-intelligible even in low volume.
We have heard better and particularly louder sound from very small speakers, but many laptops are also much inferior. In comparison, Sony's sound system is satisfactory. The sound via good headphones or external speakers is clear and free of interference signals.
The T11's idle power consumption of 6.0 to 8.2 watts is better than, for example, in Acer's Aspire S3-391 (7.1 - 10.1 watts). Sony's laptop drains up to 36 watts during full stress test load. Acer's Aspire S3-391 is more energy-efficient here with 29.2 watts, but this is due to throttling and the consequently lowered performance.
|Off / Standby||0.05 / 0.2 Watt|
|Idle|| 6 / 8 / 8.2 Watt|
32.3 / 36 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max: Voltcraft VC 940
BatteryEater did not have an easy job in draining the Vaio T11's battery. The laptop lasted for 8 hours and 35 minutes in Reader's mode, comprised of minimum screen brightness and disabled communication modules. The T11 ran for a still good 5 hours and 25 minutes in our automated internet test, where a new web page is loaded every 40 seconds and the screen's brightness is set to medium (approx. 150 cd/m2). It was still nearly 3 hours (169 minutes) in BatteryEater's Classic test with maximum brightness and load. Thus, all time values have improved slightly compared with the pre-series model.
Our T11 easily surpassed Acer's Aspire S3-391 (4 hours) in the presumably more significant Wi-Fi test. However, Toshiba's Portégé Z830-10N excelled in comparison with our T11 with 6 hours in the Wi-Fi test.
Sony's Vaio T11 is a successful bundle in virtually all areas. Regrettably, just about the most important ergonomic aspects, the screen and the keyboard, did not turn out to be quite as good. However, it is difficult to find anything better without having to invest considerably more money. A better ultrabook keyboard might be found in Samsung's Series 9 or Lenovo's X1 Carbon. In both cases, you would have to spend almost twice as much for a completely different laptop category.
Sony's engineers successfully managed the compromise. We can recommend Sony's T11 in this price range if you do not do professional picture editing and are not planning to work outdoors with it very often. We would finally also again generally recommend investing 50 Euros (~$64) for the upgrade to the i5-3317U.
If the design appeals to you but you would like more interfaces and performance, you might look at Sony's S13A series. It is a very compact laptop featuring a dedicated graphics card, a WWAN (UMTS) option, a superior 1600x900 13-inch screen and even an integrated optical drive. The price for it is a bit higher and there is a little increase in weight: 1.65 kg compared to our T11 model's 1.42 kg.
If you do want a lighter weight and are willing to spend more, you could look at Toshiba's Portégé Z830-10N or Z930-119 (1.11 kg) or Asus' Zenbook UX21E (1.1 kg) or even wait for Gigabyte's X11 (0.97 kg).