Sony VAIO SE: IPS for Under a Grand

When I saw the VAIO SE at the Sony booth at CES 2012, it was already a slightly older laptop and normally I wouldn’t have given it much time, but one thing clearly stood out from all of the other laptops I’ve reviewed in the past several years: the display. I’ve seen some really poor TN panels over the years, and I’ve also seen a few good TN panels, but it took all of two seconds to determine that yes, this laptop actually had something other than a TN display. The Sony rep confirmed that it uses an IPS display, and at that point I made it very clear that we really wanted to review this laptop. Even though it first launched back in September 2011, IPS displays are such a rarity that I had to try and get one for review. Thankfully, Sony fulfilled our wishes—sending along their VAIO Z2 as well as an added bonus. (Dustin already handled that review, if you missed it.)

On paper and at first glance, there’s a lot to like with the VAIO SE. Unlike most laptops in this size range, the LCD is actually a 15.5” panel (as opposed to the many 15.6” and the older 15.4” offerings). While some might want something slightly smaller like a 14” laptop, for 1080p displays this seems to be the sweet spot. Get any smaller and the prices start to skyrocket (e.g. the VAIO Z2), and for those of us with less than perfect eyesight it can also be a bit of a strain to read text on a 13.1” 1080p display. Besides a great display, the SE also includes plenty of memory, switchable graphics that will let you decide between (gaming) performance or longer battery life, and the main body of the laptop tips the scales at just 4.40 lbs. (2kg) and is slightly less than an inch thick (24.6mm). And if you need more battery life, Sony even offers a sheet battery that basically doubles the battery capacity (at the cost of thickness and weight). Let’s hit the spec sheet first, where we’ve bolded the items in our ~$1250 review sample as well as listing the alternative configuration for the basic $930 model.

Sony VAIO SE Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-2450M (dual-core 2.50-3.10GHz, 35W)
Intel Core i5-2540M (dual-core 2.60-3.30GHz, 35W)
Intel Core i7-2640M (dual-core 2.80-3.50GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 4GB (1x4GB onboard + empty SO-DIMM slot)
6GB (1x4GB onboard + 1x2GB DDR3-1333)
8GB (1x4GB onboard + 1x4GB DDR-1333)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6470M 512MB or
AMD Radeon HD 6630M 1GB DDR3
(480 cores, 485/1600MHz Core/RAM clocks)
Display 15.5" WLED Matte 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(Unknown: MS_0025)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM HDD
750GB 5400RPM HDD
(Toshiba Toshiba MK7559GSXP)

256GB RAID 0 SSDs (128GBx2)
512GB RAID 0 SSDs (256GBx2)
1024GB RAID 0 SSDs (512GBx2)
Optical Drive CD/DVD Burner
Blu-ray Combo Drive (Matshita UJ152)
Blu-ray Burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet(Realtek RTL8168/8111)
802.11n WiFi (Intel WiFi+WiMax 6050)
Bluetooth 3.0 (BCM2070)
WiDi 2.0 Ready
Audio Stereo Speakers
Headphone jack
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI/SPDIF)
Battery 6-cell, 11.1V, ~4.4Ah, 49Wh
6-cell, 11.1V, ~4.4Ah, 49Wh Sheet Battery
Front Side WiFi On/Off Physical Switch
Left Side Optical Drive
Headphone Jack
Right Side Memory Card Readers
Gigabit Ethernet
HDMI 1.4a
1 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
Kensington Lock
AC Power Connection
Back Side Exhaust vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Dimensions 14.97" x 10.08" x 0.97" (WxDxH)
(380mm x 256mm x 24.6mm)
1.84” (46.7mm) high with sheet battery
Weight 4.40 lbs (2.0kg)
5.77 lbs (2.62kg) with sheet battery
Extras HD Webcam
103-Key backlit keyboard (1.7mm stroke)
Flash reader (SD, MS Pro Duo)
MS Office 2010 Starter or Home/Student
120W Power Adapter
Optional 49Wh Sheet Battery
Optional Dock
Warranty 1-standard warranty
2- and 3-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting Price: $980
Reviewed Configuration: $1530

Our unit has the newish Core i7-2640M instead of the older i7-2620M, not that the extra 100MHz matters much. Graphics consist of Intel’s HD 3000 from the CPU, with an AMD HD 6630M available via a manual switch. “Stamina” selects the IGP and “Speed” selects the discrete GPU, and after a 5-10 second delay (and assuming you don’t have any programs running that prevent the switch), you can swap between the two. As far as performance goes, the HD 6630M is a decent entry level laptop GPU—don’t even bother with the HD 6470M/6490M for gaming, as they’re not powerful enough to handle anything more than low quality, low resolution gaming—but with a 1080p display we certainly would have liked to see the option for something a bit beefier.

The rest of the specs include all the typical stuff, along with a USB 3.0 port and Blu-ray combo drive ($80 extra for Blu-ray). Sony also shipped us the sheet battery (a $150 extra) and 8GB RAM ($85 extra). The weakest link in the specs is easy to spot: that Toshiba 750GB hard drive has plenty of capacity, but the 5400RPM spindle speed is going to put the dampers on some tasks and definitely doesn’t help with boot or shut down times.

Other than the hard drive, what’s not to love? You can get a decent quality IPS display in a mainstream laptop, with switchable graphics providing the ability to game or run for hours off the mains. If you stick with the base model, you can get almost everything you really need from a modern laptop for under $1000 (the VPS-SE290X we received currently starts at $979, though we’ve seen the price drop as low as $929). The main sticking point with the entry model is the downgraded HD 6470M GPU, which is only a minor upgrade from Intel’s HD 3000. It’s pretty easy to spec out a unit with less memory and storage but get a 7200RPM 500GB hard drive with the HD 6630M graphics for roughly the same price of $1020. (And if you don’t like to deal with bloatware, you can pay $50 extra for Windows 7 Professional and get the laptop with Sony’s Fresh Start—no Norton Antivirus, and possibly a few other missing “extras”.) All told it’s a pretty promising package, but let’s dig a little deeper and see if there are any concerns.

Dissecting the Sony VAIO SE
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  • goobah - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - link

    Thank you for the reply Jarred :)

    Much appriciated but I ment the castle name itself not the picture. That hilly out cropping on the sea is just so weird wanted to try google earthing it and look around:)
  • jmunjr - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - link

    The se13fx/b is the original version of the SE series that is basically identical aside from some minor CPU/GPU upgrades on the new Se2. Mine has the i5-2430M, 4GB RAM, 6470M and same display... So yeah you can get this laptop for well under $1000 from a very reputable vendor.

    Oh and btw the Lenovo X220 with an IPS has sold for ~$750 on many occasions...
  • jabber - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - link

    ...seemed to give middling performance.

    Still seems to be a toss up between a really good TN panel or a below average IPS as the best options.

    Not a good position really.
  • Snotling - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - link

    My only beef with sony is the lack of availability of keyboards other than english on many of their models. Why the hell did they send a 5400rpm drive equipped unit for review is a mystery to me. Maybe they just can't avoid being stupid.
  • effingee - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - link

    "NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology switches on-the-fly between IGP and discrete graphics as needed, you can still get driver updates from NVIDIA and Intel without worrying about compatibility issues"

    Will those driver updates have to come through Sony? If so, it could take a while and they might only release a couple of them.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - link

    No, that's the beauty of Optimus: all the major OEMs participate in NVIDIA's Verde driver program, so basically every laptop with NVIDIA graphics (Optimus or discrete only) can use NVIDIA's reference drivers. The only laptops that aren't part of the Verde program (AFAIK) are laptops with manually switchable graphics--like the old ASUS UL80VT (I think that's the correct model) or the early Sony VAIO Z with GT 330M.
  • Zoomer - Saturday, April 14, 2012 - link

    Manually switchable graphics does have an edge in compatibility. No software support is needed; but a reboot might be needed to switch graphics around.
  • Christopher29 - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - link

    That was really kind review for this laptop - I mean THIS quality (or lack of it), faulty cooling design, flexible screen and overal issues that this hardware has ... it is Amazing that it got Editors Choice.

    Well ... I highly recommend less "influenced" (biased?) reviews on They do some serious tests and if something lacks quality, stablility (Anand do You really think that this laptop will not throttle down with this temps?) then it is always pointed clearly in bold, not "mildly mentioned".

    I've also experienced many issues with those laptops, warranty policy is ridiculous, and there are (were) cases in court in my country regarding refuse to service laptops. Sony states that after selling laptops there is no their responsibility but only company that service for them is responsible and also decide whether free repair is granted or not. Also they will not exchange LCD if there are badpixels , less than three as I remember in "central part of screen". Servicing company for SONY is sued because they refuse to repair broken lcd (vaio hinge desing and lack of sturdines brought cracking tension to screens) here is link: (Or english via GTranslate:
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - link

    First off, while this is AnandTech, Anand doesn't review all the hardware. I wrote the review, and I clearly spelled out the potential concerns. The hardware did not throttle for most use cases. If you want to run Furmark or do heavy 3D rendering or video encoding, then I'd stick with other options -- Dell's XPS 15 comes to mind as a competitive solution that can handle a quad-core CPU.

    Claiming bias just because someone likes a laptop that you haven't even used or probably seen is... well, biased. As for Notebookcheck, all they have is links to external reviews of the same laptop, most of which give the SE an 80%+ rating. That's a pretty good score in my book.

    Sounds like you just have an ax to grind with Sony, with your complaints about customer service, dead pixels, etc. If you buy a laptop in the US and you don't like it, you can pretty much always return it for a refund -- worst case you pay a 15% restocking fee. For Poland (I assume that's where you're from), maybe they're not as willing to take back hardware. But once again, you're biasing your review off of your own location.

    VAIO SE summary:
    Good IPS display, a display that's better than any TN laptop IMO, reasonable cost, good performance
    Not perfect colors, questionable exhaust location, loose hinge

    The editor's choice is almost purely for the virtue of including an IPS display for a laptop that costs less than $1000. There are many users who want exactly that. "OMG bias -- you like good displays!" Yup. Sorry.
  • Zoomer - Saturday, April 14, 2012 - link

    The temps are likely a design decision, not random. The fan probably is running at the minimum speed while keeping temps below some threshold. Sony's engineers probably decided that 90-ish degrees is acceptable.

    Screen wise, some idiot manager/marketer probably forced that through to shave an extra 0.5 mm off the thickness.

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