Want an ultraportable Sandy Bridge system but don't like the look of the new MacBooks or Lenovo's ThinkPad X220? Perhaps Sony's latest Vaio S will strike your fancy. This 13.3" system weighs less than four pounds and is under an inch thick, yet it packs a discrete graphics processor, an optical drive, and USB 3.0. Take that, Thunderbolt.
SuperSpeed USB connectivity comes standard with even the base configuration, which starts at $970 with a Core i5-2410M, Radeon HD 6470M graphics, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. Folks with deeper pockets can configure the Vaio with all sorts of more indulgent options, including a Core i7-2620M CPU, a faster Radeon HD 6630M GPU, and a Blu-ray burner. Fully loaded with those extras plus 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage, the Vaio rings in at just over $2500. Interestingly, that SSD config purportedly uses a pair of 128GB drives running in a RAID 0 array. There's no option for a single solid-state drive.
Sony says the Vaio will squeeze as much as 7.5 hours of run time from its 6-cell battery with the default screen brightness. Crank the 1366x768 display's LED backlight up to its highest setting, and you're supposed to get at least 6.5 hours of battery life.
Vaios have always been a little expensive for my tastes, but this one looks more affordable than previous designs. Having multiple discrete graphics options is certainly a refreshing touch, especially for a system that's this thin and light. AMD may lack an Optimus-like feature that automatically activates the discrete GPU only when it's when needed, but the Vaio's integrated Radeons can be enabled and disabled without a reboot, which is almost as good. They may well be doing an Optimus imitation before long, too; back in January, AMD told us that automatic graphics switching was coming to the 6000M series "soon." You can check out more angles on the Vaio S in the image gallery below.