Tuesday, June 28, 2011

SONY VPCF13UFX/B Laptop Review 06-28-11 Update


06-28-11 Update: Some comment on the Atheros AR9287 PCI-e wireless card after switching a wireless n router. See at the back.

06-12-11 Update: It’s been another month, the laptop has been running pretty smoothly. The AC adapter seems fine for now. And almost no incident of BSOD after I figured out the driver conflicts except one incident where a kernel crash occurred one morning due to ntoskrnl.exe. But this is after almost a full month continuously running without shutting down. I’ve also upgraded the display driver to 270.61, which I had only encounter the driver kernel crashing for once. I’ve also tried encoding some video on this machine, while there’s definitely some speed boost, it’s not as significant as I had hoped. But I have to admit that my encoding parameters are quite demanding…

05-11-11 Update: First major follow up after two month and a half of heavy use. OK, bought this machine on Feb 25th, AC adapter started making constant high pitch buzzing noise on May 4th. Have to call SONY support on May 6th (Friday) to get a replacement AC adapter. Was told that it will arrive within 7 days. But received it on May 9th (Monday). That was pretty fast, but still disappointed at how unreliable the product was…

So the left is the replacement model VGP-AC19V45, the right is the original shipped model VGP-AC19V15. As you can see, the replacement is much larger, which translates to much heavier than the shipped one. But they did have the same spec (input, output). The replacement is still NOT entirely “quite”, you can hear the electronics (presumably a fan?) running if you stick your ears to it. It became more obvious in the night when everything is quite, you can hear it within a short distant. The packaging indicated that the replacement may or may not be refurbished. Upon checking, the 45 is indeed an old model that shipped with laptops manufactured last year, the 15 comes with the new ones shipped this year! One minor improvement for this replacement is that it handles the interference a lot better, you can barely hear the noise from headphone port, well, still a little during the night… So maybe the old adapter was DOA right out of the box? That’s what I want to say about the adapter for now. But I’m sure I’ll request another one AND the battery by the end of the one year limited warranty.

Another quality issue I have recently is the BSOD in Win 7 caused by drivers. The two types of BSOD I’m encountering are the netio.sys caused by the nic (not sure if it’s the Marvell Yukon gigabit or the atheros wireless) and nusb3xhc.sys caused by NEC USB 3.0 driver respectively. It would almost BSOD every single DAY, completely randomly! So I reinstalled the system from scratch, actually installed Win 7 Ultimate this time. But before that I went to the SONY website to pick up all the drivers, have to download that retarded taxi driver program… I opted to not install a lot of the unnecessary software this time, the installation is apparently smooth, every component worked fine except I didn’t install the hardware diagnose program and VAIO media gallery so that I can’t use the ASSIST and VAIO button. I didn’t install the auto update program as well since at this point I can no longer trust the “official” drivers from SONY. But as I had expected, this didn’t stop the machine from BSOD with the nusb3xhc.sys from crashing! Then I suspected it must be the “official” drivers! So I uninstalled it, and grabbed the driver from NEC directly. Now it seems to be working fine, at least for the past week I haven’t restarted the machine! I never installed the two network drivers BTW, therefore haven’t encountered any BSOD from netio.sys crashing. The atheros driver is from win7, the Marvell driver is from the manufacturer since win7 has a really old driver. So anyway, here are the drivers for NEC USB 3.0 controller (2034) [the official one from SONY is 2040 or 2041, but somehow 2034 is newer?] and Marvell Yukon gigabit (


BTW another issue I have is the Nvidia driver seems to crash from time to time, then had a kernal recovery. During the crash, there will be a split of second that the screen would go black, sort of like win7 switching from aero effect to no effect. But since this doesn’t happen too often and didn’t BSOD, I haven’t taken any action on this one. Well, the only thing I could do is to install a newer driver I guess. And hope for the best, it’s not a hardware issue! The driver from SONY (259.03) is apparently a special Tesla driver.

Also I’ve enabled Virtualization permanently in BIOS since I need to use VMware. There’s apparently very little impact on the fan noise unlike I said earlier.

04-07-11 Update: Minor follow up. Now I discovered that both running on AC or on DC battery, this machine will output some constant humming noise ALL the time, this is particularly noticeable if you are in a very quite environment. The noise comes from the power button area on the right.

When on AC, there's also the noise from headphone port which I'm fighting with since day one. However, I found that if the battery level drops below 75%, even if you're recharging (means on AC), the noise disappears! But when charging above 75%, the noise starts returning. I don’t think there is any fix on this problem except attaching an external sound card!

03-07-11 Update: I’ve got the Realtek audio mystery mostly figured out. It’s more of a problem from my environment. Mainly the interference of the noise issue is from the power supply due to my building is NOT properly wired. When attaching the power plug in, the noise IS there, but when using internal battery, the noise is NOT present! Also, the SPDIF does support ac3 and DTS pass-through, but by default it’s off. 

I’ve been looking for a laptop for some time now. So I finally decided to bring home a SONY VPCF13UFX/B last week. Got it from local retailer store with somewhat OK price. I was actually waiting for the sandy bridge ones, but this Sony seems nice and have all the features I want. So I splurged some money on it, $800+tax to be exact, the most –expensive laptop I’ve ever bought so far.


Operating System: Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-740QM, 1.73GHz with Turbo Boost Technology up to 2.93GHz, 6MB Cache

Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® 310M with 512MB dedicated video RAM

Memory: 4GB DDR3 SDRAM Memory, Max supported = 8GB

Storage Drive: 500GB SATA Hard Drive

Optical Drive: DVD-Super Multi Drive

Display: 16.4" Display, 1600x900 resolution

Audio: Intel® High Definition Audio with Dolby® Home Theater Technology

Webcam: Built-in MOTION EYE® camera and microphone

Communications: 10baseT/100baseTX/1000baseT, Bluetooth with Integrated Stereo A2DP (2.1 + EDR), Atheros® 802.11b/g/n

Expandability: Memory Stick® Media Slot: 1, Express Card®/34 Slot: 1, Secure Digital (SD) Slot: 1

Ports: Headphone Jack: 1, Microphone Input: 1, VGA Output(s): 1, e-SATA: 1, HDMI™ Output(s): 1, USB 2.0: 1, USB 3.0: 2

Battery: Standard Lithium-Ion (5000 mAh)


Microsoft® Office Starter with reduced-functionality versions of Word and Excel, VAIO Care™, Media Gallery™ , PMB - VAIO Edition, Norton Internet Security™ 2011 30-Day Trial Offer


Some highlights are i7 740QM processor with quad-core 8 threads, 16.4” with 1600*900 resolution, Nvidia GF310M dedicated video card with HDMI output, 500GB 7200RPM Hitachi HDD, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB/eSATA port, backlit keyboard, bluetooth, crappy realtek HD audio with SPDIF digital output (shared with headphone), which are basically the things pushed me over to make the purchase. Another reason I got a SONY is because the PS3 leaves a very good impression, I hope this second big SONY product could work magic for the another time.

So here is my initial impression about the machine after a week of use.

First off, the build quality is decent enough, well for a $1000 retail priced machine, I definitely expect to get this. The most innovative? feature is that the power button is integrated into the hinge-shape that connects the lid and main machine. I really like this design. This machine also uses a slanted design where the front is thinner than the back which makes it look a bit slimmer. Well, it’s a 16".4” “desktop replacement”… It weighs a good 6.5lb BTW. It’s a bit heavy, but manageable if you want to use it on laps for a while. But the battery is probably gonna run out before your legs get sore… As the battery is only 5000mA standard 6 cell. The battery size is pretty small, if you want more capacity, I guess the battery will extrude out. I was able to run it for about 1hr and 50min before win7 reminds me to recharge, but I was running some video/audio application. The recharging is pretty slow, I think it took a good 3 hours for it to charge back! Well, this machine uses a 19.5V, 6.2A power brick, the ampere seems to be high enough to enable quick charge, but I’m not sure why it’s so slow…

SONY provides a battery care function. From my understanding, if you intend to use the laptop mostly with the AC adapter plugged in, it would be best to enable this function. This function only charges the battery to 80% full and maintains at it.

The power plug is on the left side opposite to the power button. It is 90 degree angled which is another design I always liked. I hated the straight plugs used on Toshiba, they also have a design flaw where the power plug will waggle which causing the inside power connector breaks. That’s how my first Toshiba laptop was broken, I had to disassemble the machine to solder the connector, but eventually some other stuff got broken along the way... But this SONY and the other Fujitsu I reviewed both have right angle adapter and stays on very tight. The power brick is quite large, it’s warm to touch after a couple hours of using. That’s all I can say so far.

The machine surface, mainly the lid, is quite easy to catch smudges, it’s hard to clean, while it’s no fingerprint collector. This is about the only thing I don’t like as far as the overall construction goes.


The machine doesn't show any hint that you can access the BIOS during bootup, but the key is "F2". The BIOS is super simple, there's not much you can change except adding password and boot order. By default, the virtualization is turned off. If you turn it on, the fan seems get a bit noisier. Since I'm not using any virtual machines at the moment, I have it off.  

So let me walk you around the laptop and its connectors first:


On the right side of the machine, it has a headphone/optical out, a mic that’s powered by junk realtek, 2 USB 3.0 powered by Renesas, and an DVD burner by Optiarc. I don’t like the placement of these ports, I think it would be better to have the drive in front, the USBs in the back like my DELL, and better yet the audio port in the direct front where the wireless on/off switch and card readers are which I’ll talk about later. Right now if you plug in something into the ports, it’s a great hinder to use mouse if you are right handed, but anyways... The DVD drive, I’ve only used it for burning the 3 backup discs which everything went smooth. I’m not sure if this drive is able to bookset DVD+R DL to DVD-ROM though.


I haven’t tried the USB 3.0 transfer yet, but earlier the year, I got a Seagate goflex adapter, and paired it with an NEC card for my desktop, I could never go back to USB 2.0 again! This is also another factor that pushed me to make the purchase. I thought there’s only one USB 3.0 connectors, but it turns out both of them are USB 3.0 indicated by their blue paint! 04-07-11 Update: Now I have tested the USB 3.0 port with the Seagate adapter, everything worked, the transfer rate is maintained at around 70MB which I'm quite satisfied with. 


Move to the left side, here you get wired lan, VGA, HDMI, eSATA/USB 2.0 combo, ExpressCard 34, and a Firewire 400 connectors. The eSATA/USB 2.0 port is definitely powered by another controller. I do have an eSATA enclosure, but I would rather use USB 3.0 NOW. The expresscard slot could be handy if I want to expand some stuff, maybe an SSD? The Firewire, oh well, I remember my first Toshiba had that but I’ve never used it, probably won’t use it here either unless I got a better camcorder. But don’t most of the camcorders come with SD cards nowadays? The upper left part is the CPU ventilation. I think overall this laptop stays quite and the heat generation is acceptable. Well it does generate heat since it’s got a i7 740QM and Nvidia GF 310M inside… The fan is mostly ALWAYS running on low level unless you run some heavy applications.






(04-07-11 update, for the sake of testing, I attached a drive to the firewire port, it works fine)


Now the front connectors include a wireless ON/OFF switch, an MS and SD card reader. The card readers work, that’s all I can say. The provider is Ricoh. I definitely appreciate a hardware wireless ON/OFF switch, but this switch controls both Bluetooth and wireless lan. So if you turn this off, you lose Bluetooth as well…


The keyboard is the chiclet type. Some key placement needs to get used to (especially page up and page down buttons, hated the horizontal placement), but overall the response is OK. Well, I never have any particular problem with any of the notebook makers… I’m typing this review using this laptop right now. Since it’s a 16.4” laptop, it comes with a dedicated numerical keypad which is one of the features I absolutely NEED! (Well, that pretty much limits me to shop anything beyond 15.6” class) The keyboard also has backlit LED so that when you in the dark, you can still see it. It could be conspicuously speculated why there’s no anti-glare coating on the shiny reflective glossy screen, ‘cuz SONY wants you to use this in the dark! Well, I’m not sure how much anti-glare coating would be cost, or SONY’s fearing that the coating will have negative impact on the color reproduction performance on the screen (well, the screen color output already look a little dull to me). But I definitely appreciate the anti-glare filter on that Fujitsu laptop I bought for my uncle. Back to topic, the laptop has a light sensor in the middle of the keyboard area. The backlit could be activated when the light is low. But you can also config it using the “S1” shortcut. 

The light sensor can be also used to control screen brightness dynamically via this “S1” VAIO control center software.


The keyboard also has 4 media keys. Too bad no mute and volume keys, you’ll have to use FN+F keys to do those. There are also 3 dedicated SONY keys, ASSIST is for maintenance, S1 is for setup, VAIO is for SONY’s own media player which I’ll talk about at the very end.

The touchpad is OK, it is a bit slow by default. It is just another standard Alps multi-touch touchpad, but I haven’t found any software that can take advantage of this multi-touch function… I thought they were mostly for mobile device where the entire screen is act like an input interface. I definitely miss the “nipple” on DELL or thinkpad though. But SONY does provide a Bluetooth option which I’ll talk about later. 

First time boot, the setup is pretty easy, but it seems the product registration is enforced? You get free one year lost&found service and one year warranty on the machine. The hidden backup partition takes 10GB, which takes 3 D5s to backup on optical media. The backup program does provide data verification once burned. Like other notebook makers, there’s no partitioning tools provided. I really liked the one Fujitsu provided, the setup is very seamless and smooth. On this SONY, it took me a while to find a working 64bit supported partitioning software…


I cannot comment on the processing power at the moment since I haven’t used this laptop to do any serious work yet. But for everyday internet browsing, simple Photoshop editing (32bit seems very unstable?) are fine. M$ index performance is pretty good except the aero part. Well, since it came with the Nvidia card, I tried some intense application such as madVR filter for MPC-HC, and the playback is unfortunately not smooth.


Seeing 8 threads is pretty exciting, as so far the best machine I’m using only has 2 threads, which is a core2duo 8200 desktop. I’ll try x264 encoding which takes advantage of a lot of threads some day…

Memory, it comes with 4GB, which seems pretty standard nowadays. But somehow I was expecting more ram for this price, oh well. The system takes max 8GB ram. Being installed with 4GB ram, the OS is windows 7 home premium 64bit. Almost half of my applications don’t have 64bit build though…

HDD, it comes with a Hitachi 500GB 7200RPM drive. Hitachi HTS725050A9A360 to be exact. I haven’t done any intensive HDD reading/writing yet, so can’t comment on the performance. But the world is moving fast to SSD nowadays…

Both memory, HDD, battery are easily replaceable just like other brands.


Video Aspect:

Here I’ll talk about the screen, the video card, and the camera. 

The screen is a GLOSSY 1600*900 16.4” CCFL backlit LCD. So no LED. There is no anti-glare coating on it, so it reflects lights when it’s on and works as a mirror when it’s off. The reflection is slightly better than the Toshiba I bought for my mom more than a year ago. I definitely appreciate the resolution as I intend to use the machine as some design work. I think the color is bit dull, I’ll have to see if I can calibrate it. Otherwise I’m OK with the performance of the screen so far. And SONY provided a dedicated “DISPLAY OFF” button so that you can turn off the screen when not needed which I really appreciated.

The video camera on the center of the lid has the motion eye technology which can track your movement according to my understanding. But I was unable to find any SONY proprietary software to do this, rather it came with bundled arcsoft camera software… The quality of the camera is about what you can expect from a laptop, not bad nor particularly good. I don’t need video chatting anyways…


Video card, it comes with Nvidia 310M 512MB memory. This is another reason that pushed me to make the purchase since I wanted an Nvidia card. I have a few software that can take advantage of the CUDA acceleration. For video output, you get VGA and HDMI, I’m not sure if you can use them at the same time.


HDMI connection works beautifully upon first try. Well, since I got the intel HD graphics worked on the Fujitsu, this is definitely what I expected to get from Nvidia…


Audio Aspect:

I’ll talk about this a bit more than other parts. For this machine, you basically get these ways to output audio:

1. Speaker

In front of the keyboard, there are the speakers. These are really terrible speakers with absolutely no bass, no treble… They do get loud, as loud as my DELL can. This is the only good side… The speakers are simply the worst part in the package! I missed the days when Toshiba pack in Harman/Kardon speakers even on their Celeron lines.

2. Headphone

The sound card from realtek, has the same problem as all other laptops I tried, when plugging in my SONY MDR-V6 monitor, it makes all sorts of noises and crackling sounds. I’m starting to suspect that maybe it’s an interference with the monitor? Since if I plug some crappy earbuds, I don’t hear any problem… Well, maybe due to the high impedance?

03-07-11 Update: I’ve got the Realtek audio mystery mostly figured out. It’s more of a problem from my environment. Mainly the interference of the noise issue is from the power supply due to my building is NOT properly wired. When attaching the power plug in, the noise IS there, but when using internal battery, the noise is NOT present! Also, the SPDIF does support ac3 and DTS pass-through, but by default it’s off. So you can have three solutions here: 1) Pass through an AVR, 2) Stay in an properly wired building (sometimes NOT your choice…) 3) Switch to external sound card.

Once I plug it into my receiver, via analog, then route back to the monitor, the noises did go away but I think it’s just the AVR is doing its work to filter them out.

3. Optical output

For optical output, you’ll need an optical to 3.5mm adapter which I got from the turtle beach sound card (will talk about later). Or if you want to use coaxial connector, there’s also such an adapter. Either way, the adapter is not included. The optical output is actually good, but by default it can only output stereo, you’ll need to enable ac3 and DTS pass-through in win7 control panel.

The Realtek even supports 96Khz (needs your AVR to support it as well). And in optical output through the AVR then pass back the signal to SONY MDR-V6, the noise goes away, presumably filtered by my AVR.

It even has Dolby Digital Live (DDL) mixing capability which mixes all your audio to DD5.1 before sending out to your AVR, not something I’ll be using, but nice to have. So I’m actually pretty happy now with this digital output route.


4. HDMI via Nvidia GF 310M

I did see Nvidia audio driver installed, but I cannot confirm if there’s audio output via the HDMI port. The best would be HD audio bitstreaming, but I don’t think 310M supports that. I hope it does support LPCM 7.1 output though. But I don’t have an HDMI equipped AVR to test it…

turtle beach_analong SONY V6

So to solve the crappy realtek problem all together, I decided to buy another external USB sound card. This time I ordered Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro II USB Analog & Digital Audio Adapter as I really want to use my SONY MDR-V6 to monitor the audio without AVR. The reason I picked this is because of its form factor, it’s a dongle rather than a big square sound card like my previous Creative MP3+ Sound Blaster which is still in service after so many years. Another reason is that it comes with the optical adapter for 3.5mm connector, which I can use either for this SONY’s internal Realtek or the new Turtle Beach card. I didn’t buy those super cheap adapters since I already got one of those, and they don’t help getting rid of the noise issue. The creative one I got works beautifully, but this time I want something more slim. I got the adapter last night and set it up. It sort of worked, the audio quality is slightly better (Realtek, if no interference, is actually a quite capable sound solution?), but there’s still some noise left over which I’m not satisfied!

So I’m moving on to my next journal, I ordered a DIAMOND Xtreme Sound 7.1 USB Audio Device last night. I’ll try to see if this one works better than turtle beach. But this one is unfortunately a large external USB sound card. It uses C-media solution which is pretty common chip aside from realtek (means cheap). If this one doesn’t work to my expectation, I guess I’ll have to go back to Creative or maybe go get another monitor other than V6 since Creatives are so damn expansive… After some fiddling, I decided to keep this one, see my review HERE.

Network connecting ability:

The wired lan uses Marvell Yukon 88E8057 Gigabit controller, which is something different. I was able to sustain a 70-75MB transfer rate from another network shared PC. So I guess the performance is decent enough.

The wireless lan is provided by Atheros, capable of b/g/n running at 2.4Ghz bandwidth only. not much to say about, at least the connection is steady. I have no issue with it.


The Bluetooth module is provided by Foxconn. Bluetooth function is the most interesting feature (when paired with PS3) on this laptop. By default, this laptop shipped with Bluetooth turned off, probably to save some battery. You have to manually turn it on via the SmartWi utility. I was able to connect a mouse, and an earphone.


When pairing with PS3, you can connect this keyboard to PS3 temporarily. Obviously you can’t use the keyboard for two devices at once… This feature is very handy for people who need to use keyboard on PS3 sparingly such as video/audio/game tag editing, sending/receiving messages etc. I think basically the keyboard here is actually a Bluetooth one, that’s why it’s possible to connect to PS3 wirelessly. It would be interesting if they can make the keyboard detachable from the laptop base though…

Lastly the review ends with some exclusive features available to SONY laptops.

1. Remote Play with PlayStation 3.

This is a new feature that’s available to SONY laptops since the end of last year I think. Previously you can only control your PS3 with PSP, but now it’s expanded to mobile phone and PC. I think the connection is attached to MAC address. The software has lots of limitations.


First the max resolution is limited due to connection speed is limited to a max of 1000Kbps…


I’m not sure if there are any game that supports remote play. Even if they do, I don’t think you would want to play it under such a  low resolution… Well, at least the keys are fully mapped.


The video, it can stream videos instantly, the videos have to be on PS3’s HDD. Videos on memory cards or USB drives will NOT be accessible. You have quite some control here, including fast forwarding, rewinding, scene search, play/pause etc. Blu-ray is automatically eliminated which you won’t see the icon. I guess that’s to difficult to stream in real time, even if it’s possible, there maybe concerns for piracy…


The audio playback is more limited, when choosing a folder, the playback starts right away rather than you can pick which song is…


The picture viewer is probably the most useless one as the resolution is just way too low!


2. Media Gallery.

This is SONY’s version of media player. You can access this program within windows media center or in the start menu. Both will jump you to its standalone UI. Or you can press the dedicated VAIO button, which will start playing medias randomly. The unique feature is SensMe, which it analyzes the audio pattern and group the music according to “mood”. The function is used in PS3 and SONY’s mp3 players I believe.





















Once you add your media, it starts analyzing the pattern. You have the option to share these files. Once you choose to sharing, they will appear in the VAIO media plus which I’ll talk about later. After you sharing the media, they will be available to DLNA compatible devices such as PS3.


3. VAIO Media Plus.


This is a SONY’s media sharing program (DLNA). Although the sharing performance is not really good. I would much prefer TVersity. You can access this program within windows media center or in the start menu. Both will jump you to its standalone UI.


It features the classic XMB interface. The navigation is not very smooth though.




The overall design of this SONY is very similar to the Fujitsu I reviewed earlier, the only thing it doesn’t have is anti-glare coating and spill-proof keyboard. I’m satisfied with the performance so far. There’s not much surprise on the machine, as it is built around all the standard parts like other brands. But there are definitely some issues here and there. Some big problems are no anti-glare coating on a glossy screen, crappy speaker, “crappy” on-board sound card under some certain condition, and some questionable placement of the ports that could easily block using mouse on the right side.


Connections as of 06-12-11:

And here is the most recent status of this laptop. So I managed to clutter it again. I originally bought it for slight portability, but now it seems it’s impossible to move…



I was using a Bluetooth mouse in the review, but now I changed to a Logitech mouse. The Bluetooth mouse has some problems with clicking, it’s very hard to press. The Logitech one is pretty nice, but that means I’m not using the Bluetooth, so I have an extra dongle, which means I have to actually use a USB hub since I have so many devices attached… The mini dongle is for mouse, the white cable is for a wacom tablet I’ve got recently. The black cable is for a wired keyboard. This is needed since the video screen I output to is on another desk (I have an L shaped desk, which is pretty much two desks assembled together). The only way to reduce clutter is to get a better Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, but I’ve yet to find any one with good reviews, almost all products suffer from intermittent connection problem? Not sure if it’s the problem with Bluetooth in general or the OS.


06-28-11 Update:
So my old D-Link router broke last week, I have to get a new router, a 802.11n 2.4G+5.8G dual band one. I’ve been playing around with its settings and tweaking the wireless card on this laptop. This laptop comes with an Atheros AR9287 PCI-e mini wireless card, according to the official web, this one is supposed to support full 802.11n spec which means can achieve 300Mbps throughput. But I’ve only been able connect it at 144Mbps on windows 7. On my mom’s Toshiba, which has an Realtek chip, can connect at 72Mbps.
Well, the only successful tweak I’m able to come up with is to set the AdHoc 11n to enable for the wireless card. With this enabled, I can finally stream full Blu-ray rips upto 48Mbps without any hiccups over the wireless network.



  1. Thank you for updating this blog. I bought this laptop last month and is enjoying it.

  2. Thanks for the review. I am going crazy about the fan noise, I think my older VAIO with Core Duo 2 has more fun without noise.