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Notebook Reviews

Sony Vaio PCG-TR2A subnotebook

Reviewed by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief. Nov. 11, 2003

(Discontinued and replaced by the Sony TX Series)

Sony is no stranger to making incredibly small and light notebooks, though some of their coolest offerings are still only available in Japan. The Vaio 505 line started as a niche market ultra-small notebook in the US with no internal optical drive. While the current V505 line is still small and light at ~4.4 pounds, it has grown larger and heavier over the years. The now discontinued cult classic Sony PictureBook offered small size and an integrated VGA camera, but was low on horsepower and screen real estate. What about those of us who still want a 3 pound, highly portable and powerful notebook with great multimedia features in the Sony tradition? Enter the TR series, widely available in the US.

Sony Vaio TR2A notebook

The Sony Vaio TR2A, which comes with Windows XP Home Edition.

Sony TR2A top

Top view, closed.


The TR2A weights in at a modest 3.1 pounds and measures only 10.6 x 7.4". While it's not terribly thin at 1.4", the thickness is worth it because you get an internal DVD/CDRW drive, PCMCIA slot and a full compliment of ports. You're not giving up on expandability and functionality by choosing this ultralight. Of course, ultralight notebooks still run slower processors than full sized and desktop replacement notebooks due to the cost and design difficulties relating to heat dissipation in miniaturized notebooks. The TR2A has a 1 GHz Pentium M processor, while most full sized notebooks are running at twice that speed.

Probably the most remarkable thing about the Vaio TR2A besides its small size is its XBRITE display. You likely haven't seen anything as gorgeous as this display, which surpasses even OLED (organic LED) and Sharp's CG display used on the Zaurus C760. The Vaio also has a built-in VGA camera that can take still photos, record movies and act as a web cam. Finally, it claims to have one of the longest runtimes, thanks to Centrino technology and a beefy standard battery.


The Vaio has a magnesium alloy case that's scratch resistant, and has a light pearly silver finish. The inner surfaces are nearly white, as is the keyboard. The font used on the keys is very attractive and futuristic and is the same as the Sony Clié UX50 PDA— in fact the TR2A and UX50 look like close cousins in terms of finish and keyboard font and were both designed by the same person at Sony. The unit is very light and compact, though not particularly thin.

The keyboard is comfy and has 17mm key travel, requiring little adjustment from standard notebook keyboards. The corners of the keys are rounded, which looks very cool and integrates well with the overall design. The Sony has a two button touch pad with a page scroll feature and you can use an external USB mouse.


Sony TR2A bottom

The bottom of the TR2A. The RAM slots are located below the removable door which has ventilation slots.

size comparison

Size comparison: bottom Apple PowerBook 15" TiBook G4, the TR2A and the Sony Clié UX50 Palm OS PDA on top. Notice the finish on the UX50 and TR2A match.

The camera is located along the top edge above the LCD, and below that a speaker grill runs the length of the LCD. To the right of the display you'll find a capture button to activate the camera application, volume up and down buttons and a zoom button that enlarges the screen image (handy when reading small text). LEDs indicating power, hard drive activity, WiFi on and Memory Stick access are located on the front edge and glow either orange or green under a translucent white acrylic finish. All in all, this is a very attractive and classy looking machine.


Ultra-light subnotebooks are not speed demons compared to their full-sized notebook brethren. High speed, state of the art processors don't jibe well with "miniaturization" because of heat dissipation issues. The cost of high-end processors is also a concern, since you're already paying extra for that small size. That said, the Intel Ultra Low Voltage Mobile Pentium M processor running at 1GHz is plenty fast for even demanding applications. The Intel Centrino technology improves speed while keeping power requirements low. What is Centrino? It's Intel's name for their new notebook architecture released in 2003 which combines their new Pentium M processor, 855 chipset and the Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 WiFi 802.11 network interface. The Pentium M is supposed to be significantly faster than mobile Pentium 4 processors, yet it uses very little power. For example, Sony claims that a 1.3 Ghz Centrino Pentium M will outperform a 2 GHz mobile Pentium 4. The M was designed from the ground up as a mobile processor where low power, heat dissipation and excellent speed performance were the goals, rather than being a shrunk down desktop processor. Centrino definitely hit the mark, and represents a very exciting technology.

The TR2A comes with 512 megs of RAM and runs Windows XP Home Edition. That's a healthy amount of RAM, and enough to keep your computer running speedily while using MS Office, web browsers and other business applications. If you want to run more demanding applications, you can install an additional 512 meg DDR micro DIMM to bring the machine up to 1 gig of RAM. The TR2A has 2 DIMM slots that are easily accessible under a door on the bottom of the computer. 1 slot has a 512 meg DIMM and the second is empty, so you won't have to discard existing RAM to upgrade the computer.

The TR2A comes with a 40 meg hard drive. This is one of those cool new Toshiba 1.8" PCMCIA form factor hard drives that's permanently installed in the Vaio. While still not as fast as standard 2.5" notebook hard drives, these 1.8" drives have increased in speed recently, and the drive has a 2 meg cache (the same as most notebook and basic desktop hard drives) and a 4,200 RPM rotational speed. Toshiba states that the drive has a 15 ms access time, and uses about half the power of a 2.5" notebook drive. It's also more shock resistant than standard notebook drives. How fast does the drive feel? It is the slowest component, though certainly it's not punishingly slow. I do notice that XP accesses the drive frequently for about 1 to 2 minutes you've entered the Windows desktop, and this means the Vaio will run a bit more slowly until everything has loaded from the hard drive. Once Windows is loaded, the drive rarely causes slowdowns. You can upgrade to the full 1 gig of RAM to avoid some hard disk paging and load programs into RAM, taking the burden off the drive.

Screen, Sound and Battery Life

As stated, the display is a marvel, and once you use the TR2A it's hard to go back to regular notebook screens. The display runs at 1280 x 768 resolution and can drive a large external monitor either in extended desktop or mirroring mode. It surpasses other Sony notebooks and the Apple PowerBook line, both known for their excellent LCDs. The TR2A's XBRITE display is a new technology developed by Sony that allows for a much brighter (yet power-friendly) display with superb contrast and color saturation. The display looks like glass rather than the usual dull matte finish found on notebooks, yet it doesn't glare thanks to a special anti-reflective coating. The glassy look contributes to the incredibly attractive look of the screen (like looking at a glossy photo). You can read a long interview with Sony's engineers that explains XBRITE in great deal here.

The display is driven by an Intel 855GM integrated graphics chipset (a part of the Centrino package) with 64 megs of RAM that's shared with system RAM. I was doubtful about the power of the 855GM, like any integrated graphics chipset with shared memory, as this usually aren't stellar performers or great with games. Happily, the graphics processor runs extremely fast and is compatible with state of the art games like Rise of Nations. In fact, the TR2A comes with Age of Empires II, which is a sign of Sony's faith in the unit's graphics capabilities and also great fun! These games run perfectly smoothly with all effects turned on. Adobe Photoshop also runs smoothly when working with web graphics, but as with any subnotebook, if you're working with 40 meg + print graphics every day you'll probably want a more powerful machine. Though the Vaio is very usable working with such large files, it won't be as fast as a desktop or desktop replacement notebook.

Two speakers that live behind a grill that runs across the top of the display provide stereo sound. It's not exactly bass-booming audio, but it's pretty good for built-in speakers. The TR2A features Dolby Headphone sound and virtual Dolby speaker sound which makes watching DVDs and playing games while wearing headphones quite pleasurable. MP3s sound great through headphones and the Sony TR2A has a standard stereo headphone jack. For recording, there's a built-in mic located on the outside corner of the wrist rest area, and a standard mic jack for use with PC microphones.

Sony claims that this notebook has one of the longest run times on a standard battery, and that may well be true. Battery life with the standard battery will vary depending on whether you're using WiFi and what kinds of programs you're running (MS Word uses less power than Age of Empires II or Photoshop). Sony claims a maximum of 7 hours on the standard battery, and while like all manufacturer's claims, that's optimistic, I do get about 4.5 hours on a charge when using WiFi, browsers, MS Office apps and light Photoshop image processing with the screen set at a still very bright middle setting. You can play a DVD and still have power to spare. The Vaio TR2A comes with a very full-featured power management applications that lets you set screen brightness, sleep times, processor speed and even fan speed among other things. This level of granularity combined with the high capacity 4300 mAh standard battery and Centrino's excellent power management mean long run times and a relatively cool running computer. If you need even longer run times, Sony does offer an extended battery that offers 1.5 times the capacity of the standard battery. It looks like the standard battery, but has a tubular prominence that runs along the backside of the computer. Unfortunately, Sony charges an outrageous sum for Vaio batteries compared to other manufacturers, so be prepared to spend $199 for a spare standard battery and $349 for the extended battery.

Ports, WiFi and Expandability

The Sony TR2A comes with Intel PRO/ Wireless 2100 802.11b WiFi, which offers exceptional range in our tests. To turn WiFi off and on, simply use the slider switch on the front of the computer. The Vaio also has Intel Pro 10/100 integrated wired Ethernet and a 56k modem. There are two USB 2.0 ports, one located on the right side of the computer, and the other under a door on the left side. Under that door you'll also find an IEEE1394 iLink 4 pin (unpowered) Firewire port and a proprietary power connector for Sony's external Firewire optical drives. The standard VGA port and Memory Stick pro slot (compatible with regular and Pro sticks) are also located on the left. The PCMCIA slot, compatible with type I and II cards as well as CardBus cards is located on the right side, as are the audio out and in jacks. The computer's multi-speed fan is located on the left side and is very quiet.


The TR2A has a built-in "Motion Eye" camera that's located on the top edge of the notebook, above the LCD. The camera assembly swivels 180 degrees allowing you to take photos and video of yourself, someone or something facing the backside of the Vaio or anywhere in between. The camera is a VGA CMOS model with 370,000 pixels (just over 1/3 MP). You can take still photos, videos and even use the camera as a web cam. It's a manual focus unit, and the focus wheel (a knurled knob) is located on the top edge of the camera. As with any VGA camera, it's great for capturing impromptu shots, vertical market usage and for web conferencing— it won't replace a standalone digicam. You can launch the camera application which works for both still and motion videos by pressing the capture button located to the right of the LCD. The camera can also control Sony digital HandyCam video cameras that are connected via cable.

Software Bundle

Sony always has a good software bundle, and the Vaio TR2A comes with Windows XP Home Edition (XP Pro is available on the TR2AP1 and TR2AP3 models), Microsoft Works, Norton Internet Security (virus protection, firewall and more), Age of Empires II, MS Money 2004, Quicken 2003 and InterVideo WinDVD 4. In addition you'll get Sony's own applications such as the camera capture application, PictureGear Studio, SonicStage (for music), Vaio Media (turn your Vaio into a multimedia server for other Vaio PCs), and DVgate Plus video editing software (use it to import video from firewire camcorders and edit them output movies to media or your hard drive).

The unit comes with the Vaio Recovery Wizard, which allows you to completely wipe out and restore your computer to its factory state, or simply restore selected applications. There's a 5 gig partition that holds the recovery files used for this process. If you choose to burn backup CDs using the Vaio recovery application, you have the option of reclaiming the 5 gig partition, though Sony recommends keeping it for added restore flexibility. Note that Sony doesn't ship recovery CDs or application CDs with the unit (oye!). You only get the Windows XP CD. You must order the backup DVDs from Sony for the TR2A if you don't wish to burn 8 recovery CDs on your own. Fortunately, the recovery DVD package is only $10.95. Note also that the Vaio (like most all Sony computers) doesn't come with a printed manual. Instead you'll use the online help and manuals pre-installed on the TR2A. You do get a very short printed pamphlet outlining the ports and controls on the unit.


If you're looking for an ultralight notebook that doesn't compromise on features, get this notebook! Pro: Though it's only 1 GHz, the TR2A feels very fast and features Intel's new Centrino technology. It comes with a generous 512 megs of RAM, and has an open slot to upgrade to a full gig--— very nice for a 3 pound unit! The integrated DVD/CDRW drive means no lugging external optical drives with you on trips, and you can burn CDs on the road. The display is literally the finest on any notebook. It has VGA, USB 2.0 and a Firewire port, 1 CardBus PC card slot and a Memory Stick slot. Integrated WiFi, Ethernet and a 56k modem will help you stay connected. The camera is fun and useful for web conferencing. Cons: Like all subnotebooks, it's not as fast as full sized notebooks. Sony's price for spare batteries is absurd. No S-video or RCA video out for plugging directly into TVs. Please give us a printed manual and recovery CDs or DVDs in the box!

Suggested Retail:
TR2A: (Windows XP Home, 512 megs RAM) $2,199
TR2AP1: (Windows XP Pro, 512 megs RAM) $2,299
TR2AP3 (Windows XP Pro, 1 gig RAM, 802.11g instead of 802.11b): $2,499



Size: 10.6" X 1.40” X 7.4". Weighs 3.11 pounds. Magnesium alloy case.

Display: 10.6" XBRITE™ TFT LCD display (1280 x 768). Intel® 855GM Chipset Integrated Graphics. 64 megs video memory. Can drive an external monitor.

Sound: Dolby Headphone & Dolby Virtual Speaker. Built-in stereo speakers; monaural mini-jack microphone, Internal mic. SoundMAX integrated digital audio controller made by Analog Devices.

Processor: Centrino technology. Ultra Low Voltage Intel® Pentium® M Processor running at 1GHz. 64K level 1 cache, 1 meg level 2 cache (both On-Die). 400 MHz Front Side Bus. Intel 855 Centrino chipset.

Standard RAM: 512 megs, expandable to 1 gigabyte.

Drives: 40 GB hard drive, 100MB/s Ultra DMA Transfer Rate. Internal DVD/CDRW drive, Max speeds: CD-R write 16x, CD-RW write 10x, CD Read 24x, DVD-ROM read 8x.

Ports: 1 PCMCIA slot (supports type I & II as well as CardBus), 1 Memory Stick slot supporting Memory Stick Pro, 1 FireWire (IEE 1394) 4 pin non-powered 400 Mpbs, 2 USB 2.0 ports, RJ45 Ethernet 10/100, VGA, audio in and out.

Modem: Integrated 56K modem.

Ethernet: Integrated Intel Pro 10/100 baseT wired Ethernet. Built-in Intel PRO/ Wireless 2100 WiFi (802.11b) wireless.

Battery: 4300 mAh Lithium Ion. Extended battery available.

Software: Windows XP Home (XP Professional also available).


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