Sony VAIO Pro 13: Exceptionally Portable

As our first non-Apple Haswell Ultrabook, the Sony VAIO Pro 13 has a high bar to clear. We’ve seen a few Haswell systems that have delivered on the promise of improved battery life, and in some cases we’ve even seen improved performance. The performance improvements mostly come in the form of faster iGPUs, at least for the GT3 and GT3e processors. Sadly, the GT3 and GT3e are only being used in a few products right now, which leaves us with GT2 mobile offerings. For these parts, Intel’s 4th Generation Core CPU line is more about reducing power use while keeping performance more or less the same.

Sony has often been on the forefront of extremely portable laptops, and Anand has some great stories of $2000 laptops back in his college days that were terribly slow but delivered great mobility. Sony’s VAIO Pro 13 is the latest example of this, only now performance has reached the point where it's plenty fast for most users. Taking cues from Intel's targeting of mobility with Haswell, the VAIO Pro 13 isn't really any faster than last year's Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks – in fact, on the iGPU side of things the VAIO Pro 13 actually underperforms compared so some Ivy Bridge U-series CPUs. It appears Sony is focusing more of their efforts on managing thermals/noise than they are on squeezing every last bit of performance out of the processor. I don’t really fault them for taking such an approach, as the GT2 Haswell ULT solutions are generally going after providing acceptable performance in non-GPU workloads while delivering improved battery life. But we're jumping ahead.

As usual, there are various models and upgrades of the VAIO Pro 13 available. Here’s the configuration we received for testing:

Sony VAIO Pro 13 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-4200U
(Dual-core 1.6-2.6GHz, 3MB L3, 22nm, 15W)
Chipset Haswell ULT
Memory 4GB onboard (DDR3-1600 11-11-11-28 timings)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4400
(20 EUs at 200-1000MHz)
Display 13.3" Glossy IPS 1080p Touchscreen
(Panasonic VVX13F009G00)
Storage 128GB SSD (Samsung PCIe MZHPU128HCGM)
Optical Drive N/A
Networking 802.11n WiFi (Intel Dual-Band Wireless-N 7260)
(Dual-Band 2x2:2 300Mbps capable)
Bluetooth 4.0 + HS (Intel)
Audio Realtek HD
Stereo Speakers
Headset combo jack
Battery/Power 3-cell, 37Wh
3-cell, 36Wh Sheet Battery
65W Max AC Adapter
Front Side N/A
Left Side Exhaust Vent
AC Power Connection
Right Side Flash Reader (SD)
Headset jack
2 x USB 3.0
HDMI
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 12.68" x 8.5" x 0.60-0.68" (WxDxH)
(322mm x 216mm x 15.2-17.3mm)

1.34" (34.1mm) at rear with sheet battery
Weight 2.34 lbs (1.06kg)

2.97 lbs (1.35kg) with sheet battery
Extras HD Webcam (Sony Exmor R CMOS sensor)
82-Key Keyboard
Pricing MSRP: $1250

The CPU is Intel’s mainstream i5-4200U; that should deliver better CPU performance than the non-Turbo Core i3-4100U but it’s interesting to note however that Intel lists the same tray price of $287 on both CPUs (though that’s not what a large OEM like Sony would actually pay). There are quite a few Core i3/i5/i7 U-series processors of course, and many of them are more interesting than the i5-4200U. The i5-4250U gets GT3 graphics, with a tray price that’s $55 higher, and the i5-4258U and i5-4288U get GT3 along with a 28W TDP, which would really help with graphics potency. However, the VAIO Pro appears to be hitting some internal limits even with GT2, so without some tweaks to the firmware and/or other aspects the i5-4200U provides a reasonable starting point.

One of the best aspects of the VAIO Pro 13 is the display, which continues the recent trend of Ultrabooks in going with a 1080p IPS panel, with 10-point capacitive multi-touch. Of course the speakers, ports, and chassis are all standard as well. Sony does skimp on the WiFi, going with Intel's Wireless-N 7260 solution, a dual-band 300Mbps chipset with Bluetooth 4.0 support (and let me just say that the marketing people at Intel that decided having Wireless-N 7260, Dual-Band Wireless-N 7260, and Wireless-AC 7260 as model names need a swift kick in the rear).

Sony does have the option of getting the VAIO Pro 13 with Windows 8 Professional if you choose the configurable model, and you can also select Sony's Fresh Start option that skips all the VAIO utilities and other trial software – it's interesting that Sony recognizes that many businesses want that option, but they don't give consumers (or non-Professional users at least) the same chance. The only other areas you can configure your component choices are RAM, SSD storage, and the CPU...and this is where Sony starts to run into trouble.

The base model has 4GB RAM and that’s a bit of a concern; it’s dual-channel memory, but 4GB is awfully small for a new laptop in 2013. The 128GB base SSD is also a bit small, but it’s a start at least; I’m just not sure about why that’s considered reasonable in 2013 on a laptop that starts at $1250. Interestingly, the SSD Sony uses is PCIe-based, and that means some of the fastest transfer rates for a single drive you're likely to see. Upgraded models can be configured with 8GB RAM, 256GB and even 512GB SSDs, but prices will jump quite a bit. It’s important to note however that the RAM is soldered onto the board, so whatever you get at purchase is what you’ll be stuck with, and I’d strongly recommend making the move to 8GB at this point.

Getting to pricing, the base model that we’re reviewing has an MSRP of $1250 (there's also a configurable model that omits the touchscreen that starts at $1150), and that jumps to $1500 for the next model up (4GB RAM, 256GB SSD), then $1800 (i7-4500U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD), $2300 (i7-4500U, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD), and even $2600 (the same as the $2300 model but decked out in red). The pricing from Sony’s online store is frankly a lot higher than I feel is warranted by the hardware – Sony is adding $250 extra for a $100 SSD upgrade, and another $300 for a $30 RAM upgrade and a $100 CPU upgrade.

The good news is that MSRP isn’t always what you’ll pay; the Microsoft Store for instance has student discounts on some of the models that will drop the $1800 model to a more palatable (but still expensive) $1619. The $1250 model is also available at the Amazon Marketplace for $1230, but that’s hardly a significant savings. Hopefully if you’re interested in the VAIO Pro 13, you’ll be able to find one on sale. Bottom line then is that the VAIO Pro 13 is going to cost more than other laptops out there. The only question: is it worth it?

Sony VAIO Pro 13 Subjective Evaluation
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  • eamon - Saturday, October 19, 2013 - link

    You mention in the article that avoiding the touch-screen saves a few bucks which may be an interesting option therefore. There are a few other advantages to that choice: it also saves 130g on an already very light laptop and gives you a screen with less glare. (Subjectively, it feels about as heavy as an iPad with the magnetic cover, which is quite something - although at 931g it's still slightly heavier). Finally, I've seen several glass touchscreens in ipads+MBA's crack, and given the flex in the casing I'd be even more worried here. However, if you don't have the touchscreen then there's nothing to crack.

    In other words, if you want a road warrior (which this laptop indeed is quite good for), I'd definitely recommend avoiding the touch screen. The laptop's quite a bit better without it.
    Reply
  • aliase - Saturday, October 19, 2013 - link

    a little expensive for 128 gb ssd version. Reply
  • wdfmph - Sunday, October 20, 2013 - link

    It is a somewhat good review. But why is it 3 month late? I had this computer in June. Yes, I got it soon after its launch. I was excited but soon let down. I hate the fan/electricity noise, tricky touchpad, and the wifi connect issues. I am a consumer, not a repairer. I hate been told again and again about updating Wifi firmware when it doesn't really help. The computer comes with tons of useless/trial software. Why does PC companies want to deteriorate their image like this?
    If you have a budget like $1300, go with macbook pro. Somebody told me. I hated it. I tried and now I know why.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    It's three months late because Sony didn't want to ship us one earlier. Sorry! Reply
  • sudz - Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - link

    We've got this laptop for a sales staff in my company - I've had it 3 weeks now and I haven't deployed it due to constant wireless issues. With no Wired option, its a dealbreaker - It WILL NOT connect after coming out of hibernate. I have to disable and enable to wireless card. Not acceptable for an end user to have to do. Odd thing is, it says its connected to the SSID, shows great signal strength, has an IP address... but I can't ping anything but loopback. 5 hours on the phone with sony invested. About to return the bloody thing. Reply
  • Geronemo3 - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    I would like to see this against Yoga 2 pro which was recently selling for $1299 for haswell i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD. Plus it also has a 2nd slot under keyboard for extra msata. For $1599 yoga 2 pro comes with 512. I am seriously considering it Also because it has that tablet mode. Also it would be nice if all ultra books come with microsd slots like the surface 2. But I know that's wishful thinking. Reply
  • omaudio - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    I have been looking for a good 11.6" or 12-13" w/ backlit keyboard and decent battery life for awhile now. still using an old Atom netbook w 2GB RAM and an M4 SSD. These are pricier that what I wanted to spend but I am ready to finally get something soon. Are the RAM or hard drive user upgradeable? I see the HD is PCIe, is that mSATA? Is the RAM soldered to the MB?
    Thanks-
    Reply
  • strafejumper - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I got the Sony Vaio Pro 13 but ended up returning it (-%15)
    Mine ended up having a wifi issue of low wifi speed
    When there is a direct line of sight between router and laptop I don't think there is any issue
    Where I use the laptop i'm on a different floor than the router
    My smartphone, old laptop & desktop all get good speeds browsing and in internet speed tests
    But the Sony Vaio pro Never could get decent speed - Icouldn't watch youtube videos (buffering) and sometimes couldn't even load gmail properly

    I took the Sony on a trip and had the same problem where ever I went - ipads, my old laptop, etc all worked normally while theSony Vaio Pro 13 was slow slow I gave up trying to browse websites or check email on it

    I tried fixing it for a month because overall its a pretty slick laptop but in the end returning it was my best option

    I'm not the only one who had this issue with the laptop - 117 pages on the Sony community forums about this issue:
    http://community.sony.com/t5/VAIO-Hardware-Network...

    Other thoughts about the laptop:
    When the fan kicks in it is a little too loud - louder than you would expect - not a deal breaker but not a high class touch
    The multitouch trackpad was not as responsive as I would've liked - I tried the apple laptops in an apple store and I could scroll webpages up and down with a lot of speed, responsiveness and no glitches - with the Sony Vaio Pro I had to coax the trackpad to work by tapping a few times and then starting slowly to get things rolling and then ramp up to my speed and then it would start hiccuping and I would switch to using the touchscreen.
    I think you will find you need to use both the touchscreen and the touchpad because one alone is not very reliable/responsive as it should be
    Screen was beautiful - as good if not better than any i've seen (glossy not so great for getting work done outdoors but beautiful in the right conditions)
    The Macbook air has a TN panel and the TN panel is no comparison to this IPS panel
    (i don't see much difference between retina and non-retina but TN vs IPS makes a big difference for me)
    Reply
  • alphadean - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Have owned several Sony Z ultraportable computers with great success. Primarily used for SolidWorks 3D modeling and assemblies. I want to upgrade and have considered the Pro Red 13 ($2600) for the configuration and addition support. Any opinions? What other high end 13" small lap tops should I consider? Reply
  • aritai - Saturday, November 2, 2013 - link

    Just noticed the perf and power comparisons are to an Acer S7 391 (the year-old model), not this summer's S7 392 (the Haswell system, shipping a roughly the same time as the Haswell MBA). Would be great to see the Haswell-to-Haswell comparisons across these vendors - I suspect the 2013 MBA has met its match in every dimension ('cept brand). Reply

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