As the first of Sony's new EB Series laptops to hit the pages of PC Authority, the VAIO VPC-EB16FG didn't have to do much to grab our attention. But as well as a box-fresh design and new graphics chipset from ATI, there's one component that makes this laptop truly exciting: Intel's Core i3 mobile processor.
With the quad-core mobile Core i7 making a triumphant debut a few months back, we were eager to find out how its budget dual-core sibling would stack up.
It lacks some of the fancy features found on the pricier models, such as the excellent Turbo Boost technology, which dynamically overclocks certain cores at the expense of others when a task would benefit.
But it does support hardware virtualisation, and we're pleased to see Hyper-Threading present, allowing the two cores to handle as many as four threads at once in appropriate applications.
While the 2.13GHz Core i3-330M model at the Sony's heart is the cheapest of Intel's Core i3 range, you're not likely to find that a problem in everyday use. An overall score of 1.35 in our application benchmarks makes the Core 2 Duo look geriatric, and a closer look at the numbers only reinforces the i3's superiority.
In particular, its score of 1.61 in our multitasking test puts it in a different league from its predecessors.The Core i3-330M's strength isn't only its speed, though. The 32nm die and TDP of just 35W theoretically make it efficient too, so we were keen to put the VAIO through the wringer away from the mains.
With this in mind, a light-use battery life of just 3hrs 16mins is disappointing; pushing it to the limit reduced this further to 1hr 12mins.
It isn't the result we'd hoped for, but there are other factors in play than just the processor. Rather than making use of the Core i3's on-chip graphics to keep power draw to a minimum and maximise battery life, Sony has seen fit to pair the Core i3 with discrete graphics in the form of ATI's Radeon HD 5650. Graphics chips guzzle power, so it's tough to gauge the Core i3's real-world efficiency on this showing.
Allow the Sony to play to its strengths as a desktop replacement rather than a true portable, and there's plenty to like. It raced through our 1024 x 768 Low quality Crysis test with ease, and gave the 1280 x 1024 Medium test a good shot.
An average frame rate of 17fps isn't playable, but lower a few settings and you'll find the Sony a workable, if unspectacular, gaming partner.
The VAIO is refreshingly full-figured, with a 15.6in display housed beneath a pale silver lid, and a wide frame that weighs a considerable 2.6kg. It's a big laptop, then, but the solid build and clean, slick design make it look sleeker and classier than you'd expect.
Sony's classic Scrabble-tile keyboard is in evidence once again, and since it stretches across the entire width of the machine there's enough space to squeeze in a numeric keypad alongside. The keys themselves have just the right amount of travel, and the crisp, precise action at the end of each stroke leaves you in no doubt as to whether or not you've hit your key.
Fire up a DVD, though, and this Sony's budget begins to show. Quite apart from the relatively low native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, poor viewing angles and weak contrast leave everything looking washed out. Soundtracks fare little better, with the tiny stereo speakers above the keyboard dissolving into distortion at top volume, and providing little in the way of clarity even when turned down.
The VAIO VPC-EB16FG is a capable desktop replacement, but we can't shake the feeling that it isn't the right showcase for the Core i3 mobile processor.
Factor in the Sony's expected price - perilously close to the A-Listed Dell Studio 15 with a more powerful Core i7 processor - and we find ourselves far less enamoured with the laptop than with the exciting technology inside it.
This is just the beginning, and the future for Core i3 is bright. When Core i3 systems arrive in force, you'll be spoiled for choice when it comes to budget, high-performance laptops.