Features & Build Quality
Sony isn't a company that likes to follow trends and the Vaio P-series is a classic example of this. Instead of packing the same 1.6GHz Atom N270, 945GSE/ICH7 specs as every other
sub-notebook, the P11Z/R is based on a 1.33GHz Atom Z520 'Silverthorne' processor and the SCH US15W chipset.
Both of these parts are designed more for MIDs and UMPCs as opposed to netbooks, but Sony has chosen them because of their low power consumption and heat output. Combined, the two have a thermal design power of 4.3W as opposed to the N270, 945GSE and ICH7's 11.8W TDP.
Moreover, the Z520's average power consumption is approximately 220mW compared to the N270's 600mW and idle (C6) power is pegged at just 100mW. There is a clock speed reduction though – the Z520 runs at 1.33GHz compared to the N270's 1.6GHz. Had Sony opted for the Z530, it'd be even-pegging in terms of clock speed, and the power consumption and TDP doesn't change - but it'd likely push the P-series' average price even higher.
The Z520 does support HyperThreading technology, as well as all of the other features supported by the N270. What makes the Z520 special is that it uses a smaller package, measuring just 13mm x 14mm compared to the N270's 22mm²; this allows it to be deployed in much more confined spaces – the Sony P-series is one such device that benefits.
To further reduce the footprint required by core components, Intel's US15W chipset is a single chip solution, combining a GMA500 graphics core, high definition audio, and fairly basic I/O capabilities. These include up to eight USB 2.0 ports, two PCI-Express lanes and a single-channel PATA port. What's interesting is that there's no support for SATA, but devices that fit the US15W's capabilities aren't going to be big enough to include a vast selection of storage options – PATA should be enough for the most part.
According to Intel, the GMA500 graphics core includes full hardware acceleration for H.264, MPEG2, VC1 and WMV9 video codecs. Intel lists many more capabilities for its GMA500 graphics core, but support for "shader based technology, 2D, 3D and advanced 3D graphics" is stretching it a bit – the GMA500 was never designed for gaming, so don't get your hopes up.
The 8in display that the GMA500 is driving is an amazing achievement. Its weirdly widescreen 1,600 x 768 native resolution is unheard of in devices of a similar size, but it does mean that while text is razor sharp, it’ll be too small to read for all but those with 20/20 vision.
The screen has a glossy finish, which is another feature that is sure to divide potential buyers. The viewing angles aren’t bad compared to most other netbook displays, but they’re not what we’d call stellar though – it's a TN+Film panel at heart, that’s for sure. Another concern is that the screen does flex a little when you attempt to bend it, but that’s not surprising though given the lid’s thickness.
The P-series’ expansion options are limited to just a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack – the only other connection options available are VGA and Gigabit Ethernet, which are both handled by a port replicator module (supplied). What you end up with is a situation similar to connecting lots of things to the MacBook Air – it just isn’t going to happen without you looking incredibly stupid in the process as it defeats the point of such a small device. Its key selling point is, after all, its portability, but you need to bring along a little widget to make it usable.