VAIO SX14 (2021) review | PCMag



It doesn’t have the old-school VGA port of the 2019 model, but the latest VAIO SX14 (starting at $ 1,249; $ 1,949 reviewed) has enough connectivity for an ultra-portable laptop. It also packs a lot of performance and versatility into a 2.54-pound package, making it worth checking out for anyone in the market for a 14-inch slimline. Still, the VAIO SX14 is a bit expensive and falls short of favorites like our long-time Editor’s Choice Award winner, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9.

A Classis VAIO chassis

Its days as a Sony brand are long gone, but VAIO (a backronym for “Visual Audio Intelligent Organizer”) is still a player in the laptop segment with three models: the ultra-light VAIO Z at a premium price made of carbon fiber and the 12, 5-inch and 14-inch SX systems. The SX14 starts at $ 1,249 with an Intel Core i5 processor and a full HD display (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) with no touch.

Photo: Molly Flores

For $ 1,949 (VAIO put it on sale for $ 1,699 during my tests), our review unit went up to a quad-core Core i7-1195G7 chip with 2.9 GHz (5.0 GHz Turbo) and an IPS touchscreen with the same 1080p resolution with 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB solid-state drive. It is available in Fine White or Urban Bronze as well as in our system’s black brushed aluminum with a carbon fiber lid. A flagship model “kachi-iro” (royal blue with gold trim) for US $ 2,499 has 32 GB of RAM and a 2 TB SSD.

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There is no 4K or other high resolution display available (this is reserved for the VAIO Z). Windows 11 Pro, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth are standard. The notebook passed MIL-STD 810H torture tests for shock and vibration, but there’s an annoying amount of flex when you grasp the corners of the screen or press the keyboard deck.

VAIO SX14 (2021) rear view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The SX14 measures 0.7 x 12.6 x 8.8 inches, which is just a hair larger than the Dell Latitude 7420 (0.68 x 12.7 x 8.2 inches). At 2.54 pounds, the VAIO weighs about the same as the HP EliteBook 840 Aero G8 or ThinkPad X1 Carbon and a fraction less than the Latitude. It’s not the lightest 14-inch laptop, however; the Asus ExpertBook B9450CEA weighs just 2.2 pounds.

Some ultraportables (if you look at them, Dell XPS 13) only give you USB-C / Thunderbolt 4 ports, so a DisplayPort dongle is required if you want to connect an external monitor. The VAIO has two Thunderbolt 4 ports on the right edge, but also an HDMI video output as well as an Ethernet port and two USB 3.1 Type A ports (one on each side).

VAIO SX14 (2021) left connections

(Photo: Molly Flores)

There is also an audio jack and a security lock slot, both on the left. We might argue that the wireless network is Wi-Fi 6 and not Wi-Fi 6E, but otherwise the SX14’s connectivity is fine, though some competitors come with an SD or microSD card slot or LTE cellular for outside use from Wi- Fi.

Right connections of the VAIO SX14 (2021)

(Photo: Molly Flores)

While it can’t keep up with its competitors’ 4K resolutions, the VAIO’s 1080p touchscreen is attractive, with sufficient brightness and good contrast. White backgrounds are crisp, helped by the ability to tilt the screen back as far as you’d like – even completely flat if pressing Fn + 2 turns the image upside down for someone to look at can be viewed on the other side of your desk. The viewing angles are wide and the colors are well saturated, although they don’t seem vivid. (More on the formal screen tests below.)

The bezels on either side of the screen are thin, although the top and bottom bezels are quite thick – in fact, the bottom bezel and the back of the display lid protrude down when opened to prop the keyboard at a comfortable typing angle, similar to what they did with the ErgoLift hinge works on some Asus ZenBook laptops. The bezel is deepened by two tiny knobs or feet that are noticeable when the system is on your lap.

VAIO SX14 (2021) front view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The backlit keyboard offers a flat, plastic-like typing feel. The top row keys (including Escape and Delete) and cursor arrows are tiny, and you’ll have to pair the latter with the Fn key if there aren’t any dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys. The touchpad glides and taps gently, but does not click – instead there are two narrow mouse buttons that make a quiet click with just the right amount of pressure.

The webcam has a sliding privacy shutter and records 1080p videos instead of the usual minimum 720p resolution found on competing laptops. His pictures are reasonably well lit and colorful, but plagued by noise or static electricity. The camera has face recognition technology for Windows Hello logins and the included VAIO Control Center software enables it to be used as a proximity sensor. The cam can lock the system if you leave and wake it up when you return.

VAIO SX14 (2021) keyboard

(Photo: Molly Flores)

There’s another Windows Hello option in the form of a fingerprint reader built into the power button, but it’s so small that it was difficult to train it to recognize my fingerprint. The VAIO Control Center also offers microphone and loudspeaker noise suppression and allows you to set the quiet, normal or high-performance operating mode for the CPU and fan. I noticed a frequent, loud hiss in the performance mode that I used for our benchmark tests.

Speaker slots on the leading edge create one of the worst sounds I’ve heard from a laptop, hollow and harsh with a flat, reverberant effect. Our review unit also comes with an AAAA battery-powered stylus pen, which VAIO sells separately for an exorbitant $ 119. It’s enough for simple doodles, though digital artists may miss it.

Testing the VAIO SX14: The Core i7-1195G7 takes the lead

For our benchmark charts, I compared the VAIO SX14 with four other 14-inch laptops with 11th generation Intel Core i7 CPUs: the Acer Swift 3X and the aforementioned Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9, Dell Latitude 7420 and HP EliteBook 840 Aero G8. All rely on Intel’s built-in Iris-Xe graphics, with the exception of the Acer, which features the chipmaker’s seldom seen discrete Iris-Xe-Max GPU. You can see their basic specifications in the table below.

Productivity tests

UL’s main PCMark 10 benchmark simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content creation workflows to measure overall performance for office-oriented tasks such as word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing, and video conferencing. We also run the PCMark 10 Full System Drive test to evaluate the loading time and throughput of a laptop’s memory.

Three other benchmarks focus on the CPU using all available cores and threads to evaluate the suitability of a PC for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses this company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we’ll use the open source HandBrake 1.4 video transcoder to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (shorter times are better).

Our final productivity test is PugetBench for Photoshop from workstation manufacturer Puget Systems, which uses Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe’s famous image manipulation program to evaluate a PC’s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It’s an automated extension that performs a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks, from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image, to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.

All five laptops offer more than enough performance for Microsoft Office or Google Workspace sessions (we consider a 4,000-point score in PCMark 10 as an indication of sufficient productivity). The SX14 also shone in our CPU tests, its Core i7 showed more power than its siblings and its PCI Express Gen 4 SSD also led in the PCMark memory benchmark.

Graphics tests

We tested the graphics of Windows PCs with two DirectX 12 game simulations from UL’s 3DMark, Night Raid (more modest, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with a discrete GPU).

We also run two tests of the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which uses both low-level routines such as texturing and high-level game-like image rendering. The 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase tests were rendered off-screen to accommodate different screen resolutions, exercise graphics, and compute shaders using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation, respectively. The more frames per second (fps), the better.

The VAIO’s Core i7-1195G7 set the pace in these tests as well, although the results are a bit misleading – built-in graphics basically favor casual gaming rather than the fast-moving titles that can be played on gaming laptops with a separate GPU (the Iris Xe Max doesn’t). really count). Neither the SX14 nor any of its competitors are ever mistaken for a serious gamer.

Battery and display tests

We test the battery life of laptops by playing a locally stored 720p video file (the open source Blender movie) Tears of steel) with a display brightness of 50% and an audio volume of 100%. We make sure the battery is fully charged before testing, with WiFi and keyboard backlighting off.

We also use a Datacolor SpyderX Elite monitor calibration sensor and its Windows software to measure the color saturation of a laptop screen – what percentage of the sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 color bars or palettes the display can show – and its 50% and peak brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).

The VAIO’s battery life is satisfactory – it will get you through a full day of work or school – but it has fewer reserves than the other laptops here and is seven hours behind the class-leading Lenovo. Likewise, the screen’s brightness and color accuracy are acceptable, but nothing special, with the HP Aero’s display taking the lead.

VAIO SX14 (2021) right-angled

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Not bad, but you can do better

The SX14 plays in an incredibly competitive league – lightweight 14-inch laptops are the backbone of business computing and also attract power-user consumers – and it has several good points, but not enough to get noticed. The price cut offered during our test is a good sign, but we’d still lean towards one of the rivals for the VAIO from Lenovo, HP, or Dell – especially the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9.

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