Cooling and Temperatures
Like Mac laptops, the air intake vents line the back edge, facing the bottom edge of the display lid. Though there are no vents on the bottom, Sony's optional sheet battery has a riser at the rear that provides ventilation space for the bottom panel to prevent it from getting too hot. With normal use, the Ultrabook doesn't get burning hot, and it only exceeded human body temperature when playing Diablo III and Civ V (both are asking a lot of an Ultrabook with integrated graphics). The fan is quiet but not silent when doing productivity work, and it's slightly louder but not loud by any means when streaming HD video. When playing the afore mentioned games, the fan roared, just like our mid-2013 MacBook Air with Haswell. Sony offers different cooling plans (quiet, normal and active cooling) for those who like to tweak such things. When the laptop is plugged in the fans are louder since it allows the CPU and GPU to work at full power more often (we appreciate this and don't like it when notebooks are throttled and hobbled by overly cautious thermal and acoustic management). That said, Sony is more conservative than usual here and the fans kick in audibly when the CPU temperatures exceed 50C, which isn't hot (100C is max allowed). We've seen Sony notebooks that run their CPUs to 60C before the fans kick up to medium. Still, a cool notebook is a long-lived one, so we won't complain.
Battery Life and Performance
We don't usually combine these two sections, but Intel's fourth generation platform ties both in for some significant changes. Is Intel's new Haswell CPU/GPU much better than Ivy Bridge in terms of performance? No. But battery life is much improved, and our Core i5 easily ran for 6.5 hours of actual use time (not standby) on its not very high capacity 4,470 mAh battery using the Balanced performance profile with WiFi on and brightness at 50% (with auto-brightness turned on in Vaio Control Center). For a fast machine with a full HD touch screen, that's a lot of runtime from a small battery. In fact, it's enough to get through an entire workday without plugging in since most of us let the machine idle here and there and take a lunch break. Thank Haswell for that. Though Haswell is only a few percentage points faster than Ivy Bridge, the impressive thing is that it actually manages to improve performance slightly while very significantly improving battery life.
The Core i7-4500U option won't have a huge impact on battery life since it's only 200MHz faster and adds an additional megabyte of level 3 cache. Both the Core i5 and i7 are dual core CPUs; there are no quad core Intel ULV CPUs. Battery life will depend on what you're doing with the laptop: streaming HD video uses more power than editing MS Word documents and processing HD video will consume more power than web browsing or doing email. This is even more pronounced with Haswell because it exhibits huge battery improvements for low demand tasks and idle, while using a similar amount of power when seriously tasked by demanding tasks like HD video playback, video editing/export and 3D gaming. For our streaming HD video test using Adobe Flash video in Internet Explorer with brightness set to 65% and WiFi on, the Vaio Pro 13 lasted 5.7 hours. Lower brightness settings will increase runtimes when streaming video. If you're using the Vaio for productivity tasks and wish to stretch runtimes with lower brightness and power plan settings, you will likely exceed Sony's quoted 6.5 hours of battery life by an hour. And for those who need really long runtimes away from the power outlet, Sony sells a $149 sheet battery that clips on the bottom (much like the extended battery for the Sony Vaio Duo 11 and Vaio X) that doubles runtimes. One could argue that Sony gives you the choice between extreme portability and extreme battery life via the optional sheet battery that brings total weight up to a more standard Ultrabook 3 pounds.
Being an Ultrabook, the Vaio Pro 13 runs on ULV (ultra low voltage) CPUs that use less power and generate less heat than the full mobile processors used in large notebooks and desktops. They're also not as fast, though they're more than adequate for those who don't have a special need for very strong computing power (professional video editors, CAD pros and those who work with multiple VMs and software IDEs compiling large apps). Though you might think of the Pro as the replacement for the Sony Vaio Z, the Z's claim to fame was its full mobile processor (including a quad core i7!) crammed into what looked like one of the thinnest and lightest Ultrabooks on the planet. And the Z had an optional external dedicated graphics processor (Sony's PMD) for even more smarts. The Vaio Pro is not the Sony Vaio Z. If you bought or coveted a Z because of its looks and portability and fantastic display, then the Vaio Pro could certainly work for you. If you need all kinds of heavy lifting that usually requires a large laptop or desktop, then this isn't your machine. Our guess is that few folks actually needed all that computing power since Sony discontinued the Vaio Z after the third generation release of 2012. RIP, Z: we'll miss you.
The Vaio Pro 11 and 13 are available with Intel Core- i5-4200U and i7-4500U dual core CPUs with Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics. There's no option for HD 5000 graphics, and we suspect there won't be because the Vaio Pro is too thin to allow for adequate cooling for the somewhat hotter GPU. Sony has the Vaio Duo 13 for those who crave slightly faster integrated graphics. RAM is soldered to the motherboard, so you can't upgrade it later. The machine is available with 4 and 8 gigs of DDR3 1600MHz RAM. You can get the Vaio Pro with a 128, 256 or 512 gig SSD drive and it uses the new, faster PCIe standard rather than mSATA for extremely fast storage performance (our 128 gig SSD is made by Samsung). This SSD will likely be the only upgradeable part in the machine.
To access internals, you'll need to remove three screws: one under the sheet battery connector rubber cover and two covers near the back edge of the machine. You can then remove the bottom cover, which wraps around the sides of the laptop. Since the CPU and RAM aren't upgradable, the only part of interest is the PCIe SSD drive, once aftermarket drives are available.
(Core i5-4200U, 4 gigs RAM and 128 gig SSD)
PCMark 7: 4549
3DMark 11: P636 (performance, 720p test setting) 556 graphics, 2711 physics
Geekbench 2: 7666
wPrime: 22.73 sec.
Windows Experience Index:
Graphics (for desktop): 5.6
Gaming Graphics: 6.2
PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table
CrystalDiskMark SSD Scores
Sony always adds bloat, but in this case it's mostly a variety of Live Tiles for various web-based services and shortcuts like Kindle rather than full blown programs that consume lots of disk space. Sony includes Art Rage, which is a great app for painters, but it doesn't make as much sense here as it does on the convertible slate Vaio Duo line unless you're good at finger painting.
Sony includes a Control Center for basic settings including display auto-brightness, Vaio Care for recovery and maintenance and Vaio Live Updater for driver updates. Since the Vaio Pro is so new, the updater program didn't find updates though there are actually quite a few available on Sony's website. These include NFC, an audio driver that improves volume and sound quality and display updates that improve performance and are well worth hunting for until the updater finds them for you.
One exception was Intel WiFi: Sony has no driver update at of this writing, so we downloaded the latest drivers for the Intel Wireless-N 7260 direct from Intel's website and got much more stable wireless connections as a result. Before the Intel wireless update, we noted the 2.4GHz channel sometimes had an intermittent connection to our router and on the 5GHz band it sometimes lost the connection. Cycling airplane mode using the Windows Charms wireless control caused a blue screen error, which was shocking. After the Intel update, WiFi works perfectly. Update: Sony now has WiFi and Bluetooth driver updates available via the Sony updater and their website. These also worked well for us in terms of stable connections.
Granted the Sony Vaio Pro 13 is the first Windows Haswell Ultrabook to hit the market and its only Haswell ultraportable competition is the mid-2013 MacBook Air. I have a feeling that even under competition, the Vaio Pro will hold up well. We know about several other Windows 8 touch screen Haswell Ultrabooks already since Acer, Dell and Lenovo have announced some models that are basically the same as their outgoing Ivy Bridge counterparts except the updated CPU/GPU. Samsung's Series 9 (now called ATIV Book 9) would be strong competition for those looking for the lightest full HD Ultrabook possible, but the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus with touch screen gains weight and will weigh in at 3 pounds. Other competing models were just launched with Ivy Bridge and may not see a revision for several months (Samsung Series 7 Ultra / ATIV Book 7, Asus Transformer Book TX300), so we have a feel for the landscape. If you're looking for a fast new Haswell Ultrabook that's absurdly light, super stylish and perfectly put together, the Sony Vaio Pro 13 is easy to recommend. We adore the rich and sharp display and we appreciate the backlit keyboard. Battery life for a machine this thin and light is great. If you don't mind bringing the weight up to 3 lbs. with the optional battery slice, you'll have one of the longest running laptops on the market.
Price: starting at $1,249
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