Sony goes Extreme with thinner, lighter Vaio

Sony has unveiled a new version of its 505-series notebook computer that the company claims is the world's lightest and thinnest of its type.

The laptop is one of two new members of Sony's Vaio personal computer family that will serve as the company's flagship models during the upcoming year-end sales period in Japan.

The PCG-X505, also dubbed the "505 Extreme" by Sony, is both small and stylish.

One of the first things noticeable about the computer is its thickness, which is 9.7 millimeters at the front growing to 21 millimeters at the back where the body and display are hinged together. Sony managed to cut down on the thickness of the machine by miniaturizing the motherboard so that it fits in a space between the keyboard, hard disk drive, battery and PC Card slot, said Keiichiro Shimada [cq], president of Sony's Vaio products research and development group.

Usually the motherboard is much larger and overlaps other components requiring the machine to be thicker, but by shrinking the motherboard down in size -- to roughly the size of a Mini Disc -- the company has managed to cut the total thickness of the machine, he said.

Other space-saving measures include fitting the Memory Stick slot into the computer mouse and reducing the thickness of the keyboard backplane to 0.4 millimeters, Shimada said.

At the heart of the 505 Extreme is a 1GHz version of Intel Corp.'s Pentium M microprocessor. Standard memory is 512M bytes and the laptop includes a 20G-byte hard disk drive and a 10.4-inch TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) with maximum resolution of 1,024 pixels by 768 pixels (XGA). Wireless LAN support is not built into the machine although Sony supplies a Wi-Fi card that can be inserted into the computer's single PC Card slot.

The computer measures 259 millimeters by 208 millimeters and weighs either 785 grams or 825 grams depending on whether a carbon fiber or nickel-strengthened carbon case is chosen. The former model will go on sale in Japan on Nov. 19 and the latter on Dec. 6 and they will be priced at ¥349,000 (US$3,230) and ¥300,000, respectively.

The second machine from Sony is the Vaio PCV-P101. The machine is aimed to fill a gap in the market between desktop computers, which are slowly falling out of favor with Japanese consumers, and notebook computers, which already make up more than half of all consumer PC purchases in Japan but which are often only used inside the home.

Sony is hoping the new computer will follow in the footsteps of the Vaio W, which was launched by the company at the beginning of last year and quickly became Japan's top-selling desktop computer. Like the Vaio W, the keyboard of the Vaio P covers the screen and protects it when not in use and folds down when in use. The screen is a 17-inch widescreen LCD panel.

Unlike the Vaio W however, which was reasonably thick, the Vaio P is thinner and flat on the rear. A metal frame runs around the monitor, joined to the monitor at each side but clear of the monitor at the top and bottom so that it forms a handle with which the computer can be carried, making the entire PC resemble something like a large notebook computer with metal carrying handle.

It has been designed with home users in mind, said Hiroaki Yokota [cq], designer of the machine. Sony found that many notebook computer buyers don't ever take their machines outside of the house but favor notebooks because they are smaller, don't have a mess of wires and cables at the rear, can be used anywhere in the home and can be easily stored when not in use.

The Vaio P attempts to match all of these expectations but beat conventional notebook computers with its large LCD panel that can also double as a television, said Yokota. Sony's GigaPocket software is also installed meaning the PC can be used to record and playback television programs.

Because it is not designed with the same level of portability as a notebook, there are some decidedly non-notebook specifications in addition to the large screen. Battery life is between 30 minutes and one hour and the machine weighs a hefty 7.8 kilograms. The prime culprit in both cases is the LCD, says Sony, which is a monitor-class display that is around double the brightness of those typically installed on notebook computers.

The Vaio P is based on a 1.06GHz version of Intel's Mobile Celeron processor, has 256M bytes of memory, a 40G-byte hard disk drive and CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. There is also a host of connectors, including four USB2.0 ports, a LAN port and iLink S400 four-pin connector.

Sony plans to put the Vaio P on sale in Japan on Nov. 22 for around ¥180,000. Sony has not yet decided on plans to sell either machine outside of Japan.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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