Sony Vaio VPC-EB1S0E/WI
15.6 in 1,366x768 display, 2.6kg, 2.13GHz Intel Core i3-330M, 4.00GB RAM, 500GB disk, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
This Vaio EB1S0E is the first laptop we've seen to use Intel's new Core i3 mobile processor, and so we couldn't wait to benchmark it. An overall score of 77 may not sound much, but considering that it's equivalent to the fastest laptop in our recent £700 laptop group test, we were duly impressed.
More impressive, is that its 2.13GHz Core i3-330M is the least expensive of the new range of processors; a range that also includes mobile Core i5 and Core i7 chips with base clock speeds up to 2.66GHz. All the new chips are dual-core and have Hyper-Threading to improve performance when multitasking. Most processors in the range also use Intel's overclocking Turbo Boost technology, which boosts clock speeds if the chip isn't running near its peak temperature. Unfortunately, the entry-level Core i3 used in Sony's Vaio VPC-EB1S0E doesn't include this.
Intel has moved to a 32nm manufacturing process for the new processors, using smaller transistor sizes, allowing the chips to be more power efficient, with a TDP of just 35W. Intel has also included a graphics processor on the chip, which removes the need for a dedicated graphics chip and reduces power consumption. Sony, though, has opted to use a dedicated graphics chip here instead – the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 – as the integrated chip isn't powerful enough for playing modern 3D games.
Given all this, its battery score of three hours 15 minutes was slightly disappointing. However, the battery itself isn't very large and the dedicated graphics chipset negates any potential advantage from the processor's onboard GPU. We see this as a problem with the EB1S0E, rather than Core i3 laptops in general. That said, at over three hours, it's still sufficient for occasional mobile use.
Sony's new EB Series is a beautiful laptop, with a subtle two-tone design. The lid and the area above the keyboard are a light silver colour, while on our model, the keyboard panel and wrist rest were finished in white. The wrist rest itself has a glossy finish with a subtle sparkle, and is made of a high quality plastic that is comfortable to work on and feels solidly built.
This quality finish and choice of interesting materials extends across the entire case, with attention to detail as we'd expect from a Vaio. For example, the power button has a small LED indicator where it meets the edge of the case, so it's still visible with the lid closed. Our only concern was the DVD drive tray, which is flimsy and loose when open; a slot drive would have been more in standing with the rest of the case.
The dedicated ATI graphics card helped the EB1S0E reach almost 20fps in our Call of Duty 4 benchmark. This is not fast enough for hardcore gaming, but less action-oriented games, such as Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2 will run smoothly at lower resolutions and with more advanced graphics settings turned off.
HD video won't be a problem, and there's an HDMI port for outputting to a home entertainment system. The internal speakers are fairly loud, but tinny at high frequencies and lack bass, so if you want to get the most out of films you'd be advised to connect a decent sound system.