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Sony Vaio PCG-X505 subnotebook


Editor's rating (1-5):
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Posted by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief. January 21, 2004

Note: This was a Japanese model available only from importers in the US. On June 4, 2004 SonyStyle began selling the Nickel Carbon model direct in the US..

Here's another delicious subnotebook from Japan, offered in the US by importers such as ICUBE. Subnotebook shoppers will likely be familiar with the popular and long-lived Sony Vaio 505 line. The 505 began life back in the mid-90's as one of the few truly cool subnotebooks widely available in the US. Now the US 505 series has become even more mainstream, and has grown larger in the process. The V505DX reviewed on our site weighs in at 4.4 lbs. and won't tuck unobtrusively in your briefcase. Sony's relatively new TR line is now their coolest and smallest US subnotebook (read our Sony TR2A review to learn more). The TR2A is very small and light, but it is as thick as a standard notebook (that's the price you pay for internal optical drives and a full set of ports). So what to do if you want a subnotebook that's ultra-thin and ultralight? Enter the X505 (X stands for extreme) which is one of the thinnest and lightest notebook computers running an Intel processor. If the X505 is beyond your budget, consider the Toshiba Portege R100, which sells for ~ $2,000 and is exceptionally slim and light at 2.4 lbs.

Sony Vaio X505 notebook

OK, so it's amazingly thin at .38" to .8" thick (the unit tapers at the front, hence the gradation of thickness). It weighs only 1.73 lbs. Those are very sexy specs; and while there aren't any US notebooks that can beat these specs, there are a few that are at least temptingly light and slim. So what's the big deal? This notebook is made of carbon fiber! It is absolutely gorgeous and unique. Carbon fiber is very strong, lightweight and makes for a very attractive unit. The X505 looks like something you'd find in the Museum of Modern Art crossed with a computer from your favorite cutting edge Sci Fi flick. The X505 was released only in Japan, and comes in two flavors: the $2,999 nickel and carbon fiber X505/P and the $3,999 all-carbon fiber X505/SP which we received for review from ICUBE. They're one of the younger importers of Japanese computers and gadgets, but have already established a name for themselves here in the US, where they have an office.

As you've just noted, such extreme portability, beauty and uniqueness has its price, quite literally. The X505, in both the nickel/carbon fiber and all-carbon fiber iterations, is quite expensive. While there are $3,000 notebooks here in the US, $4,000 is a steep price and thus the all-carbon fiber wonder will appeal to and end up in the hands of a select few who have the money to spare.

The X505 models come with matching rigid nylon-covered slip cases: one for the notebook and another smaller case that holds the included USB mouse with integrated Memory Stick slot, VGA/Ethernet adapter dongle and 802.11g WiFi card. The 505 comes with the same slim power adapter used on all other current Sony Vaio notebooks.

Sony Vaio X505

Top view, closed.


We've already paid some attention to design, but let's dig deeper. Since the X505 is so slim and small (it measures 10.2" wide x 8.2" deep), there is no internal optical drive. You'll need to buy your own USB or FireWire external CD or DVD drive. There is no wrist rest or trackpad because the hard drive, motherboard and PCMCIA mechanism occupy the area above the keyboard. The keyboard is located at the front edge of the unit rather than being set back toward the display as with most other notebooks. In fact, the motherboard, located in the center of the area above the keyboard, measures ~ 3" x 3"! There is a trackpoint nestled in the keyboard since there's no room for a trackpad and Sony includes a USB mouse that doubles as a Memory Stick reader (really!) since there's also no room for the usual Memory Stick slot found on other Vaio notebooks.

Sony TR2A bottom

Bottom view.


Above: included accessories. VGA/Ethernet dongle,
USB mouse with built-in Memory Stick reader and the Sony WiFi 802.11g PC Card.

The overall design is exceptionally clean and uncluttered. The top of the notebook has a nickel Vaio logo, and is finished in carbon matte black. The rear spine where the hinges and battery are located has a low gloss bronze finish as do the interior surfaces which are revealed with the notebook is opened. The bottom finish matches the top carbon black and is also exceptionally clean, being devoid of the grills and access doors found on most notebooks. The three trackpad buttons are located just in front of the keyboard on the front edge and have a smoke-metallic gloss finish. Three very small indicator lights for power, charging and hard disk activity are located on the right front edge, and three more slim indicator lights for num lock, caps lock and scroll lock live just above the keyboard on the right.

Though the X505 is made for the Japanese market, the keyboard is US English friendly. The keys are masked with large English letters, and smaller Japanese characters are located on the lower right of each key. Numbers, function keys and command keys are where you'd expect them to be. Only a few punctuation keys are in different locations compared to US keyboards. The keyboard and keys match the inside surface color which makes for an attractive look. The letters are relatively lightly masked in white, which isn't the easiest to see in low lighting. Key stroke is 1.5mm, which is about what you'd expect from an ultra-slim notebook.

The battery is cylindrical and is the rear spine of the X505. Since the unit is so thin, the only area thick enough to accommodate the standard Sony charger included with the X505 is the spine area on the rear edge of the unit. Thus the charger plugs into the end of the left spine and the power button is located on the right spine end. Very clean and clever.

size comparison

Three Sony Vaio subnotebooks. Top: Vaio TR2A, middle: Vaio X505 and the US V505 on the bottom. The V505 is the largest, and the X505 is by far the thinnest.

Sony X505 and Toshiba R100 notebooks

Above: the Sony X505 (top) and the Toshiba R100. Both are very thin, but the Toshiba is ~1" wider and deeper than the X505.


The two USB 2.0 ports are located on the left side of the X505, as is the 4 pin FireWire port which has Sony's proprietary DC power port to power their iLINK peripherals. You should be able to use not only Sony's peripherals, but also any other device that uses a 4 pin non-powered FireWire connector.

Again, since the notebook is so thin, there was no way to include standard VGA and Ethernet RJ45 jacks. Thus the X505 comes with a dongle adapter that plugs into a slim port on the left, allowing you to use wired Ethernet and external monitors. The PCMCIA slot is located on the right side and works with type I, II and CardBus PCMIA slots.


The past year has been a great one for ultralights and subnotebooks thanks to Intel's new Centrino technology which offers superb performance for small notebooks. The X505's Intel Centrino Ultra Low Voltage Mobile Pentium M processor runs at 1 GHz with a 400 MHz front side bus and 266 MHz DDR RAM. The 1 GHz Centrino is a strong performer and is plenty fast for even demanding applications. 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 802.11b 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. By all means, if you're shopping for a new notebook, go with Centrino: the performance, battery life and cooler operating temperatures are the way to go.

The X505 comes with 512 megs of 266 MHz DDR RAM, and that's its maximum capacity. That's a good amount of RAM, and enough to keep your computer running speedily while using MS Office, web browsers and other business applications. In fact it's good enough for demanding games, though this unit isn't a gamer's delight since it lacks an internal CDROM drive.

The Vaio comes with a 20 gig hard drive. The X505, like other super-slim notebooks and subnotebooks, uses a 1.8" PCMCIA size hard drive. These nifty drives aren't quite as fast as standard 2.5mm notebook hard drives, but they do use half the power. The drive has a 2 meg cache (the same as most notebook and basic desktop hard drives), a 4,200 RPM rotational speed and has an ATA-5 interface capable of 100MB/sec  transfer rates.

Screen, Sound and Battery Life

Small notebooks have smaller LCDs, but you already knew that . One of the pleasures of using an ultra-slim notebook as opposed to a B5 notebook is that the unit is wider and deeper than those tiny B5 notebooks, which means they can accommodate larger LCDs. (Note: B5 is a paper size used in Japan that's considerably smaller than US letter size). Thus the X505 has a 10.4" XGA LCD that runs at 1024 x 768. While there are XGA notebooks with 12.1" to 14" displays, the 10.4" likely won't be as punishing on older or tired eyes compared to the XGA displays running on even smaller LCDs (i.e.: the JVC InterLink 7310) or similar sized LCDs running at even higher resolutions (such as the Vaio TR2A).

The display is driven by an Intel 855GM integrated graphics chipset (a part of the Centrino package) with 64 megs of shared memory. For an integrated graphics chipset, the 855GM has so far turned out to be a strong performer that offers fast screen re-draws and even supports current games.

The X505 has a single mono speaker that isn't inspiring. Fortunately the unit's standard 3.5mm stereo out jack does an excellent job of driving headphones and powered speaker. The unit even offers Sony's well-known Mega Bass feature.

Sony claims that the X505's included 2,000 mAh Lithium-ion battery will run from 2.5 to 4 hours on a charge. This is optimistic given the relatively small capacity of the battery— the Vaio TR2A has a 4,300 mAh battery and even an extended PDA battery like the one offered for the Toshiba e805 Pocket PC is 2640 mAh. When using the included Sony 802.11g WiFi card to surf the web and check emails, I got about 1.75 hours on a charge. If I didn't install the card and used a mix of MS Office apps, Dreamweaver and Photoshop, I got about 2.5 hours max on a charge when using the built-in power management. If you want the slimmest and lightest notebook, you'll soon find there's no way to cram a large battery into such a small package. Some manufacturers of slim notebooks ship their notebooks with a clip-on extended battery that will significantly improve runtimes when power is more important than weight. The Toshiba Portege R100 and JVC InterLink 7310 are examples of this, and perhaps Sony will follow with an offering for the X505 since they do offer extended batteries for their other subnotebooks.

Ports, WiFi and Expandability

Since the motherboard is so small and there is so little room for integrated components, the X505 doesn't have built-in WiFi. Instead, Sony ships the unit with their PCWA-C300S/B 802.11g 2.4 GHz 54 Mbps PC card. This card is compatible with both 802.11g and 802.11b WiFi access points. The small antenna cap wraps up against the side of the unit and matches the X505's finish perfectly. Unfortunately, its range isn't as good as the integrated Intel Pro Wireless 802.11b WiFi that comes with most Centrino notebooks, nor is it as good as some other WiFi PC cards we've used. It gets lower signal strength and isn't able to pick up as many access points when compared to these alternatives. Still, it will do the job, and web pages loaded quickly enough even when signal strength was low. It played well with 802.11b access points, so don't worry if you haven't upgraded your network hardware to the 802.11g standard. The Vaio also has Intel Pro 10/100 VE integrated wired Ethernet. To use this, you'll attach the included dongle to the left side of the unit. This dongle also has a standard VGA port— a slick way of handling space constraints. There are two USB 2.0 ports and an IEEE1394 iLink 4 pin (unpowered) Firewire port which has DC out for Sony's iLink peripherals. Since the notebook is so small, Sony wasn't able to include their standard Memory Stick slot. Instead, the included USB mouse whose finish matches the X505 has a built-in Memory Stick pro slot (compatible with regular, MagicGate and Pro sticks). The PCMCIA slot, compatible with type I and II cards as well as CardBus cards is located on the right side, next to the 3.5mm stereo audio out jack. For a notebook of this size, the X505 offers good expandability.

Software Bundle

ICUBE ships the X505 models with Windows XP Professional in US English. No need to worry about converting the unit to English yourself. The only time you'll run into Japanese is when you use a few of the control panels such as the SoundMAX audio control panel applet and the advanced power options which lists a few power schemes that aren't in English. The unit ships with English versions of standard Sony notebook software such as Memory Stick utilities, DVgate Plus (video capturing and editing), PictureGear Studio (create photo albums), Network Smart Capture (capture still and moving cameras by controlling an optional Sony Handycam), Vaio Media (allows Vaio computers to create, serve or join Vaio multimedia networks in your home or office). There's an interesting Vaio Sync utility that seems to be for syncing your Vaio to a desktop computer, but the application and its help files are in Japanese.

The unit comes with the Vaio Recovery CDs for the original Japanese version of Windows and bundled programs. Unlike most US Vaio notebooks, the X505 comes with a thick printed manual, though it's in Japanese.


Certainly this notebook has the wow factor and gorgeous looks that will appeal to cutting edge tech lovers. Sony has done an ingenious job of cramming a lot of power and ports into such a small notebook. The X505 is about as slim and light as you can get for a notebook offering a strong processor and ample RAM. The fast Centrino architecture is a definite winner. It has VGA, USB 2.0 and Firewire ports, 1 CardBus PC card slot and a Memory Stick slot in the included USB mouse offering very good expandability for an ultralight. Included 802.11g WiFi PC card and integrated 10/100 Ethernet will keep you connected. Cons: Price! Ouch! No included internal or external optical drive means you'll have to provide your own CD or DVD drive. Battery capacity is small and runtimes aren't that long.

Suggested Retail for the PCG-X505/P: (Windows XP Pro, 512 megs RAM, Nickel Carbon Fiber) $2,999
Suggested Retail for the PCG-X505/SP: (Windows XP Pro, 512 megs RAM, Carbon Fiber) $3,999

Web Site:




Size: 10.2 (W) x .38(front) - .8 (rear) (H) x 8.2 (D). Weighs 1.73 pounds ( PCG-X505/P : carbon fiber) or 1.81 pounds ( PCG-X505/SP: Nickel/Carbon Fiber model).

Display: 10.4" TFT XGA LCD display (1024 x 768). Intel® 855GM Chipset Integrated Graphics (Intel 82852/82855 GM/GME controller). 64 megs shared video memory. Can drive an external monitor.

Sound: AC97 compatible SoundMAX integrated digital audio. Built-in mono speaker, 3.5mm standard stereo out jack. monaural mini-jack microphone, Internal mic.

Processor: Centrino technology. Ultra Low Voltage Intel® Pentium® M Processor running at 1 GHz. 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, which is max. 266 MHz DDR memory.

Drive: 20 GB ATA-100 hard drive (1.8" form factor ), 100MB/s Ultra DMA Transfer Rate.

Ports: 1 PCMCIA slot (supports type I & II as well as CardBus), 1 FireWire (IEE 1394) 4 pin non-powered 400 Mpbs, 2 USB 2.0 ports, RJ45 Ethernet 10/100, VGA. Included USB mouse houses a Memory Stick slot and reader supporting Memory Stick, MagicGate and Memory Stick Pro. You must use the included dongle for the VGA and RJ45 jacks.

Modem: None.

Ethernet: Integrated Intel Pro 10/100 baseT wired Ethernet. Sony 802.11g WiFi PCMCIA card included, supporting both 802.11g and 802.11b wireless.

Battery: 2000 mAh Lithium Ion.

Software: US version of Windows XP Professional.


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