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Sony Vaio S460 Notebook

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Notebooks 2005

Reviewed Sept. 18, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

* Check out the Sony Vaio SZ which replaced the S series. We have a review of the Sony SZ330 and the hot new Vaio SZ650 with the Santa Rosa chipset.

These are good times for notebook users who demand power yet want it in a light package. It used to be if you wanted a notebook that was powerful enough to run demanding applications and 3D games, you had to purchase a full sized notebook, if not a desktop replacement. Now, notebooks like Sony's S460 thin and light machine can handle most anything your desktop can, yet it weights only 4.3 pounds and is 1.16" thick.

Sony Vaio S460

The S460 is packed with features and top specs, and we found performance lives up to the hype. It has a 13.3" XBrite wide XGA display, a 1.7 GHz Centrino processor running on the latest, greatest Intel Sonoma chipset, a dedicated NVidia graphics processor, 512 megs of RAM and an internal dual layer DVD burner. And of course, since it's a Sony, it has stunning good looks and strong build quality.

Design and Ergonomics

As you'd expect from a Sony Vaio, the notebook looks gorgeous: modern, sleek and gracefully curved. As a thin and light notebook measuring 1.16" at its thinnest spot, with dimensions just large enough to house the 13.3" display, the S460 looks small compared to most other notebooks on the market and will easily fit in a compact notebook bag. There aren't many contenders in the 13.3" market, and the S460 leads that pack in both looks and specs. While not as razor thin as their X505 or the Toshiba Portege R100 and R200, the Vaio S460 offers more horsepower than the ultra-thin and B5 sized notebook crowd. So if you're looking for a subnotebook and don't want to give up computing and gaming power, thin and lights like the S460 are the way to go.

Sony Vaio S460/b


The notebook features magnesium casing and the top lid has a matte charcoal black finish with Sony's Vaio logo in mirror-like letters. The underside is finished in matte charcoal black as well while the interior surfaces are a bronzish silver color. The notebook lid shows some fingerprints despite the matte finish. The keyboard is dark gray with white letters, and has excellent travel, spacing and tactile feedback, though some might find it a bit soft at the end of key travel. The 13.3" category is just large enough to accommodate a full sized notebook keyboard. The roomy Alps trackpad has two buttons and supports the usual scrolling using the edges feature. The power button, two quick launch buttons and indicators for num lock, caps lock and s lock live above the keyboard and LEDs for power, charging status, hard drive activity, Memory Stick slot activity and WiFi status are located along the front right edge. The WiFi on/off slider switch is located to the right of the indicators in plain sight. Stereo speakers sit above the keyboard on the far left and right.



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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.

top of Sony Vaio
bottom of sony notebook

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.

The tray-loading integrated optical drive opens to the front. Some folks prefer it on the side while others the front. If you're working on a cluttered desk or a small tray table there often isn't room to open a side mounted drive, while there's usually a bit of space between the computer and your belly, so I personally prefer the front opening drive. The Memory Stick slot, supporting Memory Stick and Pro media is located on the front right edge.

The battery slides into the back of the notebook and thus there are no ports on the rear.

side of Vaio S460

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:
PCMark score: 3177
CPU: 3339
Memory: 2962
Graphics: 1513
HDD: 3109

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.

Graphics Benchmarks:
3DMark05: 804
3DMark03: 2359
3DMark03: with latest NVidia Nforce desktop drivers: 2617

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.

Battery Life

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.


A thin and light ultraportable notebook that doesn't make performance concessions. Powerful enough to handle serious computing tasks and games, yet thin enough to slip into a briefcase. The integrated dual layer DVD burner is a winner, which combined with the Vaio's FireWire port and a digital camcorder will please video enthusiasts. The machine has that stylish Sony look, and boasts better specs and a better display than competing 13.3" ultralights. Definitely a winner.

Pro: Excellent performance from the Sonoma chipset and Pentium M740 processor. Integrated dual layer DVD drive, fantastic screen, light, thin with great looks. Good keyboard and excellent trackpad. Roomy 80 gig serial ATA drive and can upgrade to 2 gigs of RAM. An excellent choice for those who need to do serious work and some 3D gaming.

Con: Gets hot in the right rear quadrant on the bottom, though other fast notebooks get toasty too.

Price: $1,799 with Windows XP Home Edition. $1,899 with Windows XP Professional

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Display: 13.3" XBrite 32 bit color display. WXGA wide screen display, resolution 1280 x 800 pixels. GeForce Go 6200 with TurboCache and 128 megs of memory.

Battery: 4,800 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. 7200 mAh. extended battery available for purchase.

Performance: Centrino architecture. 1.7 GHz Intel Pentium M740, 2 megs level 2 cache. Intel Sonoma 915GM chipset with 533 MHz front side bus. Two DIMM slots for standard 400 or 533 MHz SODIMMs (use 533 MHz for best performance). 512 megs RAM (two 256 meg 400 MHz SODIMMS) standard.

Size: 12.3” x 1.16 ”-1.39” x 8.85”. 4.3 pounds.

Drives: 80 gig 5400 rpm serial ATA hard drive. Optical Drive:
DVD+R Double Layer/DVD+-RW Drive
DVD+R DL Write (2.4x MAX)
DVD+R Write (4x MAX), DVD+RW Write (2.4x MAX)
DVD-R Write (4x MAX), DVD-RW Write (2x MAX)
CD-R Write (24x MAX)
CD-RW Write (24x MAX)
DVD Read (8x MAX)

Audio: Built in stereo speakers. 3.5mm standard stereo headphone and mono mic jacks.

Networking: Integrated Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG WiFi 802.11b/g. 10/100 wired Ethernet and 56k V. 92 modem.

Software: Windows XP Home Edition. Windows XP Professional also available. MS Works 8.0, 60 day trial of Microsoft Office 2003, Symantec Norton Internet Security (anti-virus and firewall), Click to DVD, VAIO Zone, WinDVD, Intuit Quicken 2005 New User Edition. Sony's SonicStage, PictureGear Studio and ImageConverter applications.

Ports and slots: One PCMCIA - Type II/Type I card slot with CardBus support, Memory Stick Pro slot. VGA, one 4 pin unpowered FireWire port, two USB 2.0 ports, 3.5mm stereo out jack, 3.5mm mono mic jack.


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