Tuesday, March 26, 2013

SONY VAIO - SVE14A390X Premium Plus - Review and Enhancements

First of all this is not an "expert review" and it will be totally bias.  Not that I am a fan boy of one brand or another, but I really dedicate myself to find what I want.


For this round I needed to find a laptop that fits all my needs like:

  • Power for development (lots of RAM, decent CPU, lots of memory)
  • Small and light so it can be with me almost everywhere (work, home, on the go...)
  • Touch screen and Windows 8 (to have latest technology changes)

In my wish list of laptops before I found the VAIO SVE14A390X the contenders were:  MacBook Pro - Retina Display and Asus Zenbook - UX51VZ.  But after considering issues I felt with those machines, not having touch screen for Windows 8, and the excessive price (at the moment $2500+), I finally hit the spot with the VAIO SVE14A.  The VAIO SVE14A390X Premium Plus is a customized version direct from Sony Store.  For flat $2000 I got a machine with very similar specs to the ones I was looking for and more...

These are some of the highlights:
  • 3rd gen Intel® Core™ i7-3632QM quad-core processor (2.20GHz / 3.20GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • 16GB RAM DDR3 @1600MHz
  • AMD Radeo HD 7670M (2GB) hybrid graphics
  • 1TB Hard disk @ 5400 RPM
  • Touch screen
  • Windows 8 Pro
  • 2 year SONY Protection plan (covers fall, spills, etc..)
  • Customization / additions included in the $2000 budget

My benchmark for performance was the Asus Zenbook - UX51VZ.  After switching the hard disk for SSD, I got to say the results are very close.  Also not having a RAID 0 SSD configuration is mind easing.  SSD are dangerous still for reliability so adding RAID 0 to the mix is not really something I am looking for.  Plus many reports questions RAID 0 over SSD, but this is just derailing the focus.  Graphics performance are satisfactory but I don't play games so I am good.  The noise of the fan is ok when hot but otherwise is silent.  Surprisingly the temperature of the machine never gets hot bottom or top wise, and this was after installing software for hours.   

So comparing Windows Experience Index we can see the following results:


SVE14A390X Premium Plus
Look at the hard disk transfer rate increasing from 5.9 to 8.1.  Also the memory operation per second went down, but I am guessing this part of not being good benchmark test process.  Just simple execute and done tests.

OEM Hardware

With Custom SSD


Swap HDD for SSD

The only major customization is swapping the HDD (hard disk) for the SSD (solid state drive).  Before I did it myself, I google around for DIY / tutorials about what is needed.  Unfortunately the information I found can be quite confusing for such an easy process.  For this scenario we are keeping the original configuration from the recovery disk and do a new install in the SSD.  Please don't just install an image in the SSD as this can result in bad performance and premature damage to your SSD.

1. Create the Recovery Media

Sony doesn't distribute the Recovery Disks anymore.  Instead they exists in a partition of your OEM disk.  All you have to do is follow the instructions in this link to burn the recovery disks.

2. Swap the HDD for SSD

Below are some images of the swap, but this should be plug and play.  Just take your time and don't force anything.  The only important note is to swap the bracket holding the HDD in place and place it in the SSD as shown in the photos below.

3. Re-install the system with Recovery Media

Once you finish placing the SSD now you need to install Windows 8 OS.  Follow this link for the instructions.  I got to say I am surprise with how easy is with Windows 8 to re-install the OS.  No questions about disk partition, file system format, etc...  Even no need to specify the activation as with Windows 8 this is kind of built in into the hardware (I think motherboard).

Replace DVD  for HDD

Now for the other modification of converting the DVD player into a secondary HDD.  For that we need the caddy to hold the HDD.  The process is simple but take your time!  There are plenty of tiny screws and the face plate is fragile.  Read the following instructions prior to starting the swap.

The only "hard" steps is shown below in the photos.  The trick for taking the face plate out press the tab down while pulling the plate in a rotational motion.  I don't remember the exact direction of the rotation, but just don't pull straight.  This is plastic so if you break it, you are going to be sorry.

The results.  Well the machine is a little heavier but not enough to make a real difference because this is not an ultrabook light.  Actually, having the hard drive makes the machine more sturdy when I grab it on that side versus feeling hollow.  Meaning I can hold it with a solid grip without worrying.  Having a 1TB disk is awesome for system image backups, store movies, ISOs, etc.  Since this is the OEM disk, it contains partitions for recovery and even Windows 8 still installed for the case my SSD fails and I need to react quick.  Noise and heat is the same or none.

Only weird finding is that I can access my old user account in Windows 8 partition.  I don't know what credential Windows 8 in the SSD found to give me access to the old user account, but that sounds like security breach to me.

Press the tab:

While pulling in a rotational manner because the tabs have hooks:


  1. Wow. I just purchased this exact setup and I've already ordered all the same customizations. I would love to see how the CD/HDD caddy installation went!

    1. Awesome! I will report back and update with the caddy change. Honestly the SSD is such a big difference. My system felt really slow with the original 5400RPM disk. Now even with all the dev servers and things I have installed, the machine still only takes 10-13 secs to boot from restart. From sleep mode is just 2 seconds.

    2. Nice! Thank you Jonathan for posting this. Information about this model and upgrades is non-existent. You made me feel much better about my recent purchase.

      I look forward to your info on the caddy change. If I get all my stuff delivered and installed before you post, I'll let you know how it goes.

  2. Fyi, becareful with the faceplate swap. Is fragile and tricky. I will post better notes later but to get it out you need to follow some instructions AND USE A ROTATIONAL PULL to disconnect.

    1. All right Jonathan!!

      Thank you so much for posting the how-to. I hope my upgrades go as well as yours did. I've done this sort of thing before, but there is always a pucker factor when dealing with new equipment.


  3. I can confirm Jon's setup. I did the exact same thing myself (with Jon's blog as guidance) and it rocks.

    The only thing I would add is don't over-think removing the DVD. There is a single screw that holds the caddy in place. It's marked with 3 dots on the bottom. Remove that screw and use a paperclip in the DVD face. The whole thing pops right out.

    Thanks again Jon for putting this together.

  4. Tray! How you like the new machine?

    I can say I am very happy with it. Happier that is not an ultrabook and is actually a good all around machine. Developing has been amazing fast too compile and load tools. But the best part is doing system images to the 2nd HDD. My current image is ~250GB and takes less than 30mins to complete. I probably have to clock it next time.

  5. I'm definitely enjoying it. I can run multiple, high powered virtual machines at the same time for developing and it's FAST. While not technically an ultrabook, it travels well.

    All in all, I'm very happy with my decision. Thanks for all your help!

  6. Hi Jonathan,
    I am also considering this laptop. I went to Best Buy to see a base model so I can get a feel for what this would look like and I had a concern about the graphics. The colors looked really dull even with the brightness set at 100%. The base didn't have the AMD graphics card so I wasn't sure if this made the difference. Do you find the colors and graphics good?

    Here are the specs I am looking at:

    3rd gen Intel® Core™ i7-3632QM quad-core (2.20GHz / 3.20GHz with Turbo Boost)
    Windows 8 Pro 64-bit
    No Fresh Start
    Microsoft® Office 2013 trial version
    14" LED backlit display (1600 x 900)
    Touch screen
    AMD Radeon™ HD 7670M (2GB) hybrid graphics
    256GB (256GB x1) solid state drive
    8GB (8GB x1) DDR3-1600MHz
    Blu-ray Disc™ player
    Large lithium-ion battery (7950mAh)


    1. Hi John,

      I wonder what you call the "base" model if it doesn't have the AMD graphics card. Might not be even the same screen then what you look at. Just because is Series E, there could be some significant differences. Focus in the Model number: SVE14A390X.

      This laptop comes with either 1 or 2 GB Video card besides the Intel graphics. If you see my benchmarks there are two sections for graphics. Desktop mode uses the Intel chip graphics for saving battery while Gaming will use the AMD Video card (which honestly haven't tested yet).

      I am happy with the laptop screen, except the glossiness. But I don't need anything WOW! for screen besides the touch capabilities for development.

  7. John:
    I am sure you have moved on beyond this system, but I should tell you that following your useful review I bought a refurbished SVE14a390x to use aas a portable development machine, and I just last week installed a large SDD as the main drive, with the original HItachi HDD in the same caddy you recommended. The re-installation of the original WIN8 version and subsequent upgrades (to Win 8.1 etc>) all went smoothly. However, I have one major problem, and many attempts to re-install etc have not solved it. Although the diagnostics that Sony provides (as well as other tools, e.g., the Acronis disk imaging tools) all find and correctly identify the HDD in the caddy when they boot outside of Windows, Windows 8 itself canNOT find or recognize the HDD in the caddy. I suspect a CMOS problem, since the Vaio BIOS reports (incorrectly) that the HDD has a 750GB capacity (which was that of the original Hitachi main drive), although Windows has no trouble correctly identifying and using the new 1TB SSD. However, inside Windows the HDD in the caddy remains completely invisible. Has no one else reported this problem with the caddy-mounted HDD? Any suggestions?