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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  • Samus - Thursday, October 17, 2013 - link

    Funny you mention the fan. Sony had a number of units recalled in 2010 for fan warping. Happy to hear service in the UK is up to par; it is garbage in the USA. Reply
  • br1an - Friday, October 18, 2013 - link

    Always been a bit disappointed by Vaio cooling. Shame that over in the USA you only get 1 year warranty - two is standard in the UK. Reply
  • rinneh - Friday, October 18, 2013 - link

    Totally not sharing this experience, had a budget vaio for years and my mom is still using it since 2007 and i had a vaio z13 since 2011 and it never skipped a beat and still work great, replaced it with a samsung ativ book 8 that doest feel as well constructed at all even though its 1kg more heavy than the Z13. The z13 survived all my trips from europe to japan without being even inside a laptop sleeve. Reply
  • tomascivinod - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Anand, my dad is looking at buying this laptop, but there has been issues reported about its wifi being bad, dropping signals, not getting them. Did you see this behaviour at all?
    Also, on all the display models I have seen instore, the trackpad seems to be loose in the corners. Did you notice this on your review sample?
    Best review I have read on the web yet though, as always!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    The touchpad doesn't feel loose, but it's hard to "click" in the bottom and top corners (basically it doesn't depress much). As I note in the review, the touchpad works okay but isn't the best I've used. As for the WiFi, I've noticed on quite a few Intel 7260 adapters (doesn't seem to matter matter if it's AC, dual-band N, or single-band N) that the WiFi will occasionally lose the ability to connect; turn on airplane mode (disable the WiFi) and then turn it back off and that fixes the problem. It seems to happen about once a week, roughly. Reply
  • juhatus - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    A driver update from intel fixed the WiFi problems for me.

    Intel® PROSet/Wireless Software and Drivers for Windows 8* version 16.1.5
    Reply
  • 7heF - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    fixed connection-drop problem. Not the range problem on the Vaio Pro 13. Reply
  • 7heF - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Did you only use the pc quite close to a good AP

    Look here: http://community.sony.com/t5/VAIO-Hardware-Network...

    I have a Asus Dark Knight, and serious problems. If you look on pictures from inside the pc - or open it up yourself - you will see that the antenna ain't in the monitor - just two cables close to the motherboard.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    I used the laptop around the house, but not long-range testing. I will have to look into that later, but at least for general WiFi I didn't have problems at up to 50 feet or so from my router. Reply
  • 7heF - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Did you do performance testing of the wifi and compared to others, or only used it for web surfing? HD-streaming and large file tranfers?

    can be work a second look - or a feedback from Sony if they have new revision of the pc with a new antenna design.
    Reply

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