One of the surprise laptop stars of 2011 has been AMD’s new Fusion platform, combining a CPU and GPU on a single chip, and providing a low-cost and decent performance upgrade to Intel’s Atom platform. We’ve seen it most commonly in 11-inch laptops so far (although we’ve also seen a version in a larger Toshiba C655), and the few models we’ve tested to date have felt like much more useful machines than Atom-powered 11-inch laptops.
Sony was one of the last PC makers to enter the Netbook market, and the company has made some decent (if expensive) ones. Sony is also one of the first PC makers to unofficially ditch the Netbook, and at CES 2011, it introduced the Fusion-powered Vaio YB 11-inch, but no new or even updated Netbooks.
The Vaio YB is similar to HP’s Pavilion dm1, but adds more RAM and a bigger hard drive, along with a more high-end chassis. That also leads to a more high-end price, and the Vaio YB, in its single currently available configuration (with either pink or silver lids), is $599 versus $449 for the HP. In our benchmark testing, the two systems each came out on top in different tests, but the HP had better battery life.
If it were $100 less, the Vaio YB would be a no-brainer. As is, it’s a well-made 11-inch that will provide nearly mainstream performance in a pricey, but portable, package.
Many of the classic Sony Vaio design traits are found here, such as the large rounded hinge with a lighted power button on one side and power plug on the other. The body is mostly plastic, but feels stiff and solid, and though our review unit has a pink lid, which extends to the inner screen bezel, a more muted silver version is also available. This is a smart-looking laptop, and looks more expensive than the otherwise similar HP Pavilion dm1 (which makes sense as it is more expensive).
Some recent Vaio laptops have had a series of quick-launch buttons above the keyboard, but this smaller model has only a single button labeled “Assist.” That launches a suite of system and diagnostic tools that isn’t indispensable, but is still pretty handy.
While many Vaio laptops have excellent keyboards and touch pads, the Vaio YB makes a few too many compromises. The island-style keyboard is solid, with well-spaced (but smallish) keys, but a handful of important keys get overly miniaturized. The right Shift key is painfully small, as is the Tab key, making accurate typing a slog at times. The touch pad is a good size, with a pleasing matte texture and two large buttons, but the two-finger scrolling gesture control is so wonky as to be unusable.
The 11.6-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366×768 pixels, which is standard for most laptops between 11 and 15 inches. The screen is crisp and bright, with excellent off-axis viewing, and works fine for personal video viewing.
In addition to the usual collection of ports and connections, because this is a Sony laptop, you’re also going to find a Memory Stick slot as well as the normal SD card slot. Other features we expect in this price range, such as Bluetooth and an HDMI output, are also here. One nice touch in this area is the color-coded audio jacks. The headphone jack is black, whereas the mic jack is red, so even in low-light situations, you can plug into the correct one.
AMD’s new Fusion platform has quickly become a favorite of ours, offering first a combo CPU/GPU that outperforms standard integrated graphics, and also good all-around multitasking. The AMD E-350 CPU in this model isn’t on par with standard voltage Intel Core i3 CPUs, but the experience is still far better than you’d get with an Intel Atom Netbook (even a dual-core one), and fine for most mainstream use. You can, however, get largely similar performance from something like HP’s Pavilion dm1 for $150 less, by giving up some RAM and hard-drive space.
The graphics part of the Fusion experience is actually an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310 GPU. Similar to the HP Pavilion dm1, it ran Unreal tournament 3 at 27.2 frames per second and Street Fighter IV at 26.1 frames per second, both at 1,366×768 pixels. That’s not exactly hard-core gamer-ready, but it shows us that one could dial back the settings a bit and get a playable experience from many midlevel games.