You may be thinking that we recently reviewed this notebook, and in many respects you'll be right. However, Sony is never wont to sit on its laurels and it has already upgraded the specification of the VAIO S Series sufficiently to see it as a whole new beast.
They say you can never go home again but when you're on to a good thing, aren't we all tempted? So it is with the Sony VAIO VGN-S3XP, as there seems little change in both look and feel, with the VAIO VGN-3XP being essentially the same as its predecessor. The ultraportable notebook weighs in at 2kg, yet still manages to cram in a 13.3-inch TFT panel, which offers a widescreen display of 1280 x 800 pixels as well as using Sony's X-black technology. Image quality is exceptional and whether it's playing a game, watching a DVD or simply forcing yourself to write that report, the VAIO wins on every level.
At this weight-class you'll be surprised to find that an optical drive is also fitted. Sony has upgraded this to a dual-layer DVD rewriter, so you'll now be able to write discs with up to 9.4GB in capacity.
However, it is on the inside of the S3 where the most marked differences have taken place. The S3 uses the latest Intel 915 chipset, which is the first such chipset designed truly with mobile performance in mind. When used with Pentium M processors, in this case running at 2GHz, you'll see a marked improvement in performance.
The chipset supports the use of DDRII memory as well as offering a faster 533MHz bus. If this all sounds like wild science, it merely means that even the most basic of programs will load quicker and run faster.
As the new chispet has mobility in mind, it uses less power than older versions, therefore creates less heat. Sony in its wisdom has chosen to use this spare power in its choice of graphics card, the Nvidia GeForce GO6200. Previous versions of the S Series used ATI graphics, so this is a major change for Sony. The 6200 card is designed with mainstream performance in mind. So, while it runs with 128MB of memory on-board, it can also use up to 128MB of system memory should it need to. With 1GB coming as standard, this isn't a problem.
What proved to be a problem, though, was the extra heat generated by the VAIO. While it still meets the necessary thermal limits to run, you'll find that it grows warm to the touch down the right-hand side. What's more, there is a marked increase in fan activity, especially when putting the system under stress.
The upgrades to the Sony VAIO VGN-S3XP make for a compelling story, all of them making logical sense and while this remains an expensive notebook, it's worth the asking price. However, we can't help feeling that this current iteration of the S Series has reached the end of its upgrade path. Whether it's a stopgap until Sony can produce a notebook that can better handle the heat we'll have ti wait and see. It's still a great notebook but perhaps it's true that even if you do go home again it's ever quite the same.
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