A large fan outlet is located on the right side (yes, it blows quite warm air) and the right rear quadrant of the notebooks' bottom can get quite warm. That's the price we pay for a fast CPU in a thin notebook design: there isn't much dead space between you and the CPU. If you're going to use this for serious gaming which heats up that spot, use a lap desk rather than your legs. Not that the S460 is any worse than many other powerful notebooks in this respect, but previous thin and lights didn't have the fast CPU and dedicated graphics processor so heat was rare. The CPU itself runs at fairly cool temps for a notebook (notebook CPUs are designed to function up to 100 degrees Celsius or higher). When using MS Office or surfing the web, the CPU sits at 40 degrees and hits 56 to 58 during 3D gaming.
On the right you'll find two USB 2.0 ports and a 4 pin unpowered IEEE1394 FireWire (iLink in Sony lingo) port under a plastic door. Sony's recent design philosophy dictates that myriad exposed ports are unsightly, hence the cover. In fact, the exposed ports on the left (see photo below) are mounted flush rather than recessed, so the design lines are unbroken. The exposed left side ports are: 3.5mm stereo out, mic in and a VGA port. A modem and 10/100 Ethernet jack live under a plastic door on the left, and there's a single Cardbus PCMCIA slot.
Horsepower and Performance
The Vaio offers no compromise performance thanks to its 1.7 GHz Intel Centrino M740 processor with 2 megs of level 2 cache and Intel 915GM Sonoma chipset. It handles MS Office work, Photoshop, web development software and more with ease. Even more interestingly, this thin and light handles current 3D games well thanks to the dedicated NVidia graphics processor. The Vaio ships with 512 megs of DDR 400 MHz RAM (not 533 MHz which would offer the best performance). It has two SODIMM slots which come filled with two 256 meg SODIMMs. Memory is expandable to 2 gigs of RAM. If you upgrade the memory, you'll likely toss the included DIMMs since the Sonoma chipset supports Dual Channel paired SODIMMs for optimal performance.
Sony doesn't skimp on the hard drive either. The Vaio S460 has an 80 gig hard drive (on target for an $1,800 machine) and it's serial ATA. While PC modders love the faster serial ATA standard, it generally goes through the PCI bus and is thus limited to same speeds you can get out of Ultra ATA/100 controllers and drives. So it sounds nice on paper but how much of a difference does it make? We did hard disk benchmarks comparing the S460 to a few recent mid to high end notebooks with Ultra ATA/100 drives and did find the Sony's drive was 7% faster. Not too shabby.
The S460's internal optical drive can burn CD+/-R, CD+/-RW, DVD+/-R s, DVD+/-RW media and dual layer DVDs which hold a maximum 8.5 gigs of data. The fast DVD burner in conjunction with the FireWire port and a digital video recorder make editing movies and burning to disc a reality. The CPU and graphics on the Vaio are powerful enough for digital video work, though if you're serious about it, you'll want to upgrade to 1 gig of RAM. Casual movie makers will do fine with the stock 512 megs of RAM.
How fast does the unit feel? Very fast. Switching between the Sony and my 3.2 GHz hyperthreading Pentium 4 desktop machine, I notice no real performance difference unless playing extremely demanding games (i.e.: The Sims 2 with a very populated household in a well developed neighborhood). Office, graphics and Internet apps run very quickly and the machine boots fast, even when loading quite a few startup apps (QuickTime, Norton AV, Bluetooth drivers, MSN Messenger, ActiveSync and an RSS reader).
Benchmarks, PCMark 2004:
Graphics, Sound and Multimedia
The S460 uses Sony's venerable XBrite display, which is a thing of beauty to behold. Videos and photos are glossy, extremely bright and color saturated. Sony uses two illumination lamps in XBrite displays, while most LCDs have only one. The result is a brighter and more contasty display. Though the display is glassy, glare isn't bad thanks to an anti-reflective coating. Sony provides further information on their XBrite technology here. The unit's 13.3" wide screen 1280 x 800 resolution is perfect for both DVD playback and web surfing. There are few 13.3" display notebooks on the market, and that size offers a good balance between portability and readability.
NVidia's GeForce Go 6200 with TurboCache and 128 megs of memory drive the display. NVidia's TurboCache technology uses a combination of dedicated and system memory, allocating system memory to the graphics processor as needed for performance. This is one of the faster performers among dedicated graphics cards in notebooks, and seriously beats the pants off of Intel's integrated offering for the 915 chipset. As a result the S460 flies through Photoshop sessions with large files, DVD playback and PowerPoint presentations. Better yet, if you're a gamer who doesn't want to lug around a 10 pound notebook with 1 hour battery life, the S460 will suit all but the hardcore among you. It gets 35 fps in Rise of Nations, handles Battlefield 2 with aplomb and did well on our graphics benchmarks. The Sony is one of the few thin and light ultraportables that can run 3DMark05, and the SDMark03 scores are very impressive for an ultralight.
Notebook sound isn't going to beat a good pair of desktop speakers or headphones. That said, the Vaio's stereo speakers are plenty loud, have surprisingly good bass and sound full. The S460 uses Realtek's High Definition Audio Controller.
Ports, Networking and Expansion
The S460 has integrated 802.11b/g WiFi wireless networking. It uses Intel's PRO/Wireless 2200BG adapter which offers reliable connections and good range. In addition, the Vaio has Intel's Pro 100 VE 10/100 wired Ethernet with an RJ45 connector and a .v90 56k modem for wired networking.
Sony provides a standard selection of ports, comparable to those found on other thin and light machines. These include a PC card slot compatible with type 1,2 and cardbus cards, a Memory Stick slot compatible with Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and Memory Stick Duo media. Two USB 2.0 ports, a single 4 pin FireWire port, a VGA port and audio in and out jacks will keep you connected to peripherals at home and work. Sony sells an optional $199 docking station which adds 3 USB 2.0 ports, DVI-D and a printer port.
Centrino notebooks are known for their relatively good battery life, though recent very fast units don't run quite as long on a charge as their older and slower companions from last year. The S460 ran for approximately 3 hours on a charge in our tests. We had WiFi turned on and brightness set to 66% as we used the notebook to surf the web, check email and use business applications and Adobe Photoshop. Serious 3D gaming will reduce battery life to approximately 2.25 hours, but you'll want to run plugged in for better CPU and graphics performance when playing games. The unit will easily play a full length DVD on a single charge.
The S460 comes with a generous 4800 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. Sony offers an optional large capacity 7200 mAh battery for those who need to run 5 to 7 hours on a charge.