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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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 17, 2013 - link

    While I understand the importance some users will place on the SSD speed, the reality is that we often have component lotteries on laptops. I can run a few SSD performance numbers, but keep in mind that the time to review a laptop is already rather long, so adding more low level tests just bloats that. We're one of the few sites that continues to focus on long-form content these days, and even then we still have to draw the line somewhere. My feeling is that I can leave low-level SSD benchmarks to Anand and Kristian, where they can fully characterize the performance in a specific test bed, and I can mostly focus on the overall laptop experience. Reply
  • fr33h33l - Thursday, October 17, 2013 - link

    Jarred,

    A lot of users and reviewers have complained about the loud fan noise on the Vaio Pro 13 but you didn't seem to have any such issues.

    Did you use the Silent fan settings in your review? Can you tell whether the lack of loud fan noise in your review is due to CPU throttling (i.e. loss of performance) or has Sony resolved previous issues in this area?

    Would you know whether there would be a noticeable difference in this regard between the i5 and i7 config?

    Thanks
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 17, 2013 - link

    The CPU and Fan setting (in the VAIO Control Center) is set to "Performance" -- so apparently fan noise has been addressed with an updated BIOS/firmware, and perhaps resulted in more throttling. Reply
  • BMNify - Thursday, October 17, 2013 - link

    It is not that expensive if you consider the very expensive Vaio Z series which was replaced by this vaio pro. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 17, 2013 - link

    Which had a dGPU and thus better graphics performance (by far!) Reply
  • ketacdx - Thursday, October 17, 2013 - link

    Awesome review Jarred, thank you! I had fallen in love with this laptop at BestBuy in Canada last week where it was on sale for $1199 with 8GBs of RAM, touchscreen and 128GB SSD, however upon looking into it more, maybe I should wait...Problem is I am stuck with a Samsung Series 5 with an AMD A10 4655M and although the CPU isn't the best, I don't want to spend $1200+tax for a slightly lower GPU....decisions decisions...lol Reply
  • Durandal7 - Friday, October 18, 2013 - link

    On battery life: why does this review assign 559, 414 and 327 minutes to the MBA13 on light/medium/heavy web browsing, whereas Anand's original review:
    http://anandtech.com/show/7085/the-2013-macbook-ai...
    shows 11.03 hours, 8.93 and 5.53 hours (662 minutes, 536 and 332 minutes respectively)? Are they different benchmarks? Is the MBA running windows in this test?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 18, 2013 - link

    Interesting. I grabbed the numbers for the MBA13 from Mobile Bench, but I honestly don't know where those figures came from. I will have to ask Anand -- it's possible he ran the tests under Windows, or maybe he retested and got better battery life the second time. It's also possible there was an error in putting scores into Bench, but really I don't see any relation to what's there and what's in the MBA13 article.

    I'll update when I have more information....
    Reply
  • juhatus - Friday, October 18, 2013 - link

    And now that the windows 8.1 is available maybe you could run more thest to see it those S0ix-states really matter on haswell?

    Btw anyone updated to 8.1 already on SVP13? Any problems? Im a bit hesitant to upgrade still..
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 18, 2013 - link

    I'll give the update a shot today. As for the MBA13 numbers that Durandal7 asked about, they are indeed from Windows 8 on the MBA, so I need to edit the text. As usual, running OSX delivers much better battery life than under Windows for the Apple hardware. Reply

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