My Best Buy Blue Label laptop adventure: Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S

A few years ago, I bought a Sony Vaio Z Series laptop and loved it – fast, light, long battery life. Recently, I realized it was probably time to upgrade, and looked around for another laptop.

Store after store I visited had an abundance of 15 & 16” laptops, but not a lot of 12 – 14” machines. I prefer smaller laptops for the portability and more compact keyboards which tend to be a better fit for me.

pcmprd154000050000_scThen I happened across the Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S, a Best Buy Exclusive (Best Buy Blue Label 3.0), similar to Sony’s Vaio S Series. I tried it in the store… blazing fast with respectable specs including:

  • Intel® Core™ i5-2410M processor
  • 13.3″ LED-backlit widescreen
  • 4GB DDR3 memory
  • 500GB + 4GB SLC hybrid hard drive (apparently, a Momentus XT 7200rpm hybrid drive)
  • Blu-ray Disc-enabled DVD±RW/CD-RW drive
  • AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics
  • Backlit keyboard

As of May 2011, Best Buy is offering a package deal for $979 that includes the Vaio, a NetGear Push2TV HDTV adapter, and a year subscription for Kaspersky anti-virus. I didn’t need either of the add-ons but would never pass up something that’s essentially being offered for free. I haven’t tried out the Push2TV adapter, and will post a review when I finally kick the tires.

But I digress. Back to the Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S…

My bliss was short-lived as when I came home and turned the laptop on… only to find “OS not found”. Urgh! Ever the geek,  I headed over to Staples and brought home Windows Home Premium to install, as I knew I could download model-specific drivers from the Sony support site. A fine plan too, until I found that that blu-rays would not play on this Vaio without a Sony software called “PMB”, and despite PMB update availability on the Sony support site, apparently the full version of PMB software was required to even load the updated software!

Quite the dilemma. I asked Best Buy for help (hey, they sold it to me), but the sympathetic Geek Squad guy could only offer to swap it for another laptop. I contacted Sony support twice – the 1st time was directed to contact a Sony Service Center, and the 2nd time was chastised by a rude CSR who informed me that I shouldn’t have minded that the OS refused to boot up on my new laptop, and that I needed to press the “Assist” button to boot into the recovery partition. I felt frustrated, but went ahead and restored the OS using the recovery partition using the instructed approach.

I was left wondering whether Best Buy Blue Label laptops receive as thorough pre-shipping quality control as other Sony Vaio laptops.

After completing the install via recovery partition, I experienced software conflicts between some of the Sony Vaio software and Microsoft updates. Yay (NOT)! I finally installed the Microsoft updates one by one, and reinstalled several pieces of the Sony Vaio drivers/software and finally all seems well.

Now that the software headaches seem ironed out, how do I feel about this Best Buy Blue Label?

  • I love the laptop,  it includes the bundle of features I’d been wanting in a reasonably affordable package.
  • It’s fast and fun to use.
  • Love, love, love the backlit keyboard!
  • Startup and shutdown are amazingly fast.
  • The Blu-Ray player is a nice bonus.
  • The screen is lovely with good contrast and color saturation. The Aero theme wallpapers look fantastic on it.

Edited to add: I ran across another user review as I wrote this. His review is very detailed, and I agree with his points.

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42 responses to “My Best Buy Blue Label laptop adventure: Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S

  1. Just picked up one of these myself, which in fact was the only one in my local Best Buy and while I’ve had mixed results with Sony laptops in the past… I’m willing to give them one more try with these insanely feature packed machine. This is really kind of a hidden gem out there given the specs and price.

    I started out with another excellent BB machine, the Toshiba R835-P50x (both the Toshiba and the Sony are on 2nd generation intel Core processors and this is important if you want to utilize the PUSH2TV/Wireless Display functionality to its fullest 1080P ability as I did). The Toshiba plus the Netgear Push2TV adapter ended up at 850 bucks, and when I got to thinking about it, there was WAY more than 130.00 in parts and construction differences between the VAIO and the Toshiba.

    That negligible difference in price got me:
    *Core i5 2410M versus Core i3 2310M
    *Backlit keyboard.
    *7200 vs 5400RPM spindle speed AND 4GB Hybrid capability on the HDD.
    *A NON GLOSSY SCREEN. How hard is it to find THAT these days!
    *Blu-Ray Disc playback (INCLUDING playback to the Wireless Display output).
    *Some nicer metal constructed parts and pieces (though the machine as a whole is NOT metal).
    *Even though I don’t game, the Sony provides a Radeon Graphics card versus the sole Intel integrated graphics in the Toshiba, which of course is switchable for performance versus battery life.

    That is a hell of a lot of bang for the buck for 129.00 difference!

    NOW, that being said… I was slightly disappointed in Best Buy’s handling of their advertised price for this bundle. Even as we speak, if you visit the Best Buy site and type in “Blue Label” in the search box, you will immediately be presented with both this machine and a Toshiba Blue Label package. The Sony is clearly listed at $949.00 and when I pointed this out to the sales associate at the store, they went through a good 40 minutes of back and forth with managers and other superiors only to finally tell me they had to sell it for 979. Really?! You are going to jeopardize your integrity and a possible sale over 30 lousy dollars? Another major brick and mortar discounter has a policy that any price dispute under 50.00 is generally accepted at the customer’s word… so this is VERY stingy and old school thinking for BB on a price that is CLEARLY incorrect and mis-leading on THEIR VERY OWN website.

    However… they won back some kudo points too because apparently, more and more Best Buy locations are waving open box/restocking fees that used to be as much as 15 percent on laptops. This meant that I got to play with the Toshiba, test it out in my home, and swap it for the Sony with no penalty whatsoever. Major brownie points for finally seeing the light on silly restocking fees, Best Buy.

    Overall, I think for the few of us that have purchased this machine so far, it’s a fantastic buy. Still pricey when you have such great options even as low as $500.00 now, but not with nearly as high end and complete a feature set. Time will tell whether this Sony holds together and is remotely easy to upgrade in the future (a MAJOR problem with Sony laptops).

    Unfortunately you already discovered one other major drawback of Sony machines, the horrendously integrated proprietary control interface software for Sony’s access, volume and brightness buttons. Never fun to figure out and reinstall.

  2. Oh! And don’t forget the Bluetooth! The Toshiba machine sacrificed Bluetooth connectivity for the Best Buy specific WiMax card (elsewhere the Portege R830/835 comes with Bluetooth by default). Just another great feature of this Sony.

  3. Wow, lots of greats point, I.N.! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. Any thought on the fan noise ? mine seem to be running at full speed all the time. even just for light web surfing.

    • Hi Thanh, I apologize… I missed your question. The fan sometimes runs persistently — I tried the software James recommended (below) speedfan.com and it does seem to help.

  5. I got the sony as well. I too am having trouble with driver software issues. I don’t get it I can never upgrade the amd graphics card or intell drivers. These drivers that are in the sony are sony’s. I’m ocd on having the latest drivers. we all know that drivers fix things.so I get my sony and try to upgrade my grphics card and it will not work. it said go to sony. sony drivers are not updatability. so your stuck with that driver and sony will not update it untill it absolutely a big problem . We have to keep our original nonupgradeble Amd graphics card and all intell chips ,sound card , Drivers with perhaps a once a year or two. If your a junkie driver like me this computer is not for you. . My display looks horrible can anybody recommend something. I have went though calibration tweak graphics card and it looks really opache dull. I know it’s a matt display, but I don’t like the way the color. even turning up the enhancement and saturation it still doesn’t have any pop to it. Oh I found that if you load http://www.speedfan.com this it reall makes the fan quit and works in conjuction with many sensors to kee everything at the correct parameters.

  6. I got the OS Not Found error too…………when for the first time i took the laptop out of the box and then it worked after a few restarts…this is usually associated with a problem with the hardrive….could you give me a follow up on how the laptops working for you?

  7. Hi Rahat, after getting through the initial frustration and reinstalling from the recovery partition, it’s been solid. Speedy, great battery life, no sign of hard drive issues.

  8. Thanks …Karen………….I too was a little apprehensive but am falling in love with the machine but since i was still under the return policy wanted to confirm………..btw….super awesome blog….totally love it !!Am also a geek like you but never bothered to be a blogger ….so mighty impressed!!

  9. Rahat, I felt the same way! I was really hesitant and was watching every little thing. For me, this vaio has been working like a champ, glad yours is too! 😀

    There is a huge amount of interest in this laptop and not alot of user reviews online — if you decided to start a blog, a post about this laptop would get alot of attention. I’d love to read your perspective too — would be very interesting!!

  10. Hey…just wanted to post….I am already working on it ;)….As soon as i am done…you`ll be the first to know 🙂

  11. Here is my review on the machine….[http://trooper1414.tumblr.com/post/6545347379/it-aint-easy-to-choose-a-laptop-sony-vaio-vpcsc1afm-s]

    Hoping to spread the word around 🙂

  12. Wow, great and very thorough review, Rahat!! I hope you don’t mind, I posted a link to twitter to share it.

  13. Haha…no problemo….ill keep you posted 🙂

  14. Just updated my review….you should read it……….:(

  15. Thanks for the reviews and comments, they have been very helpful to me shopping for a replacement for my HP dv4 laptop.

  16. As a totally non-techie, about to be college freshman, looking for her first laptop, I can honestly say this review (and the other one) have been the most amazingly helpful thing I have found. The fan noise thing was a bit concerning, but I really like the way it looks and feels, and I believe aesthetics is really one of the most important things in choosing a machine that I’m going to have with me for the next four or more years (see, really non techie). Anyway I think I’m going to go pick one of these lovely machines for my self tomorrow, thanks for taking the time to write this ever so helpful review 🙂

  17. Hi, nice review. I also had the “No OS found” error. I called Bestbuy.com and they said they’d ship me a new one but I would have to take this one to a store to return. It did eventually boot up but I’ve heard the error could mean the hard drive was damaged in shipment (they shipped the unit in a freaking bag rather than a proper shipping box!).

    So far, I like it a lot though I find that the bottom gets a bit hot – hot enough to be uncomfortable on my lap. Any way to fix that? I manually added another 4GB of ram too.

    Best of all, though it wasn’t listed as a qualifiying laptop, I called and they gave me one of the free Xbox units instead which is valued at $200 (google the microsoft free xbox deal with a new computer purchase). All you need is access to a .edu email address to get that.

  18. Thanks, Barry, for sharing your experience. There are laptop pads/stands that one can use with the laptop on their lap that might be helpful.

    Smart move asking for the free xbox deal!

  19. I’m really trying to love this computer but have been let down twice. The first one went well for 9 days then I got the blue screen….Crashing already!?! They exchanged it….High expectations after reading this review only to be let down again. I now get a “Power Surge on Port Hub” notice everytime I start or awaken the machine. When I first purchased it was with the free X-box and then they didn’t have an unopened box but what now appears that it was the Blue Label set up? That wasn’t mentioned, they explained it in a different way “Some customers prefer the Geek Squad service, PC set-up & restore.” As I look at my receipts the computer was $825, Solutions Plus was $154.99 (Blue Label package?) My service receipt just shows the exchange for $825 no mention of the Solutions Plus but they did do the PC Setup & restore BUT a few things were different then the first computer. I don’t have the Geek Squad icon, I keep getting Vaio updates (?) (they mentioned that those will be removed I didn’t get them popping up on the first computer) And yesterday while I was watching a youtube video I got an AMD fail notice & a red screen on the youtube video (still playing the video, I could hear the music but the video was just red) and seconds later got the blue screen crashing again!?! I haven’t been able to return the computer and will wait for next paycheck to either upgrade to a better PC or even a MAC. But the free X-box may play a factor in my return. Any suggestions?

  20. Nina, if I’m understanding your message, you’ve bought two of the Vaios and experienced problems with both (the blue screens sound like software/driver conflict to me). I’m not clear on whether you had Best Buy do some kind of set up / file transfer for you. I didn’t have any kind of Solutions Plus fee (I don’t even know what Solutions Plus is). I’m not clear why your Vaio was sold open box — mine was sealed.

    The Vaio updates are pushed to your machine when there’s a newer version of a driver or Sony software installed on your machine. Generally, they’re a good thing and I’d suggest installing them.

    Personally, if I had problems with a make/model laptop twice in a row, I’d return it for a different make/model.

  21. The computers were only open box due to Best Buy doing the PC Set-up & Restore process instead of the purchaser. The 2nd computer was sealed but they had to do an even exchange, they wouldn’t credit the PC Set-up & Restore fee so I left the computer to the Geek Squad and picked it up 6 hours later.
    So now I start over…..so dang frustrating.

  22. Barry, my wife just purchased this laptop from Best Buy yesterday. She is a student and has a .edu address. Is it too late to get the Xbox deal? Who should we contact for this?

    Thanks

    • Hi Ron, I’m not sure if Barry is subscribed to this thread.

      Recommend you contact the manager at Best Buy to see if you can get the xbox deal — can’t hurt to ask.

  23. Has anyone had issues or difficulties upgrading this machine to Win 7 Pro? I had a Samsung QX-411 and used Windows Anytime Upgrade. It screwed up all settings and drivers. Anyone upgrade it to WIn 7 Pro?

  24. Awesome blog. Thanks for your effort. This was a major factor in my decision to get this computer. My daughter loves it, BUT…

    After I downloaded all 50 GB of pictures and movies AND activated the Sony Media Gallery, the computer maxed out its CPU for about 5 hours last night. That settled down, but for no apparent reason, the CPU maxed out again today, though not as much.

    Does anybody have experience with the Media Gallery? Should I delete it? What media manager do you recommend?

  25. This has been the single most helpful piece of content in my decision to purchase the Blue Label version of the Sony Vaio. You are a rock star my friend for having this blog and sharing it with us. Best to you!

  26. Hi i am an international student, i m here in us right now but i would be leaving this country and will be going back to india, i really wanted to buy this laptop, but i m concerned abt it’s international warranty as most of d sony laptops do come wid international warranty, but dis 1 is made spcl for best buy so im not sure, no info was given on d best buy site. Ny 1 can help me wid dis ny info? i hav 2 make a decision by dis weekend

    • Hi Kunal, I would not expect this model to have an international warranty since it’s sold by a U.S. store.

  27. I have one of thes which i purchased bout a month ago, after a week or so i also got the o not found message a few times, i tried reseating the hard rive connector and such and seemed t work everytime, since then i havent gotten it, i found the laptop to boot quick and have enough speed and power for most users. I own some other systems with momentus ts on them and they are good drives. The laptop does heat up a bit but this is due to the metal casing transmitting the heat a bit and also all the parts being so close. I also have experienced the jet like sound of the fan. Since i have added 4gb of ram, an ssd and sheet battery, since this i have not gotten any errors, laptop heats a lot less which i expected as the momentus one issue is they are fast but also produce plenty heat. I use this laptop for extended periods on my lap and dont suffer of heating problems, also battery life is a bit better, needless to say booting times are even better. You can get a 128gb ssd for 200 or so online and is worth the upgrade, also you can get one on ebay for much less, doesnt have to be the latest as any last gen will be quicker. Also since a new bios has come out that is supposed to solve the No os found issue, and resolves the fan speeding up issue i have flashed it and used the laptop for a full day and havent heard the fan at all. Other than those initial things the laptop has been great, took a while, and some upgrades but i am totally pleased, also i did buy the one with the geek squad setup and kepersky and the box is opened as they have to take it out. I deleted that geek squad setup and kept the AV, i also did and anytime upgrade to pro as i needed xp emulation for work and was done in under 20 mins and had no issues!!!BTW when moving to ssd i just cloned it so i havent reinstalled windows or anything since i got it. Overall i was a bit worried but has turned out to be a worthy purchase. The protege 835-p56x was my other choice weighs a bit less and battery life is a bit better, but the look is a bit dull.

  28. Wow, this is great info! Thanks for taking the time to post!

  29. NP….I too found very little info on this exact model, so i figured id share my experiences as you did and hope it reaches people thru your blog. Keep it up!!

  30. Oh on a side note for those who dislike the power brick for 40 bucks online you can get the Targus APA69US, which is a universal charger much thinner and compact, actually smaller than even an apple power adapter, well it is thinner, cable not as long but i find it adequate for regular use.On a plus side you can charge a phone or other gadgets with it at the same time, the fplug fits nicely even if its a bit too long. So far so good!!

  31. Bought the Vaio at Best Buy in Billings, MT in May. Overall, it has been a good replacement for my wife’s 4yo Dell Latitude D630 – thin, light, fast, backlit keyboard, widi, etc. However, there are two things driving me mad right now about it. First, the SD reader will not even recognize a card – any card. I’ve tried 16MB old crappy cards to brand new 8GB SDHC cards. The light comes on by the reader, but it will not auto-run and you can’t browse to it from Explorer. Have installed and uninstalled the drivers from Sony’s support site a couple of times. Second, at least every third boot the Windows was not shut down properly message comes up and you have to tell it to go ahead and start Windows normally. Sony tech support via IM tried almost nothing in regards to the SD issue and simply said to blow away Windows and reinstall everything. That’s sorta like cutting off your hand when you get a blister. Anyone experience either of these issues?

  32. Bought one around the same time as the original post – great review…fortunately I didn’t have any of your starting problems and the laptop’s been great. Currently running two LDC monitors and USB keyboard/mouse off it without problems, though it took some trial and error to get it running smoothly. In case no one’s tried, I’d like to add that while the comp has both HDMI and VGA out, it won’t be able to run two separate monitors from both ports at the same time, so one of my monitors runs off a USB to VGA adapter instead. I’m not using a port replicator/docking station (would like to, but it’s expensive) – just running straight from the laptop.

    Have you or do you know anyone who’s upgraded the memory on it? I’m thinking of doing that now but surprisingly I haven’t upgraded laptop memory before so I’m not sure what to get. Thanks!

    • Hi Alan, thanks for taking the time to share your comment. Good question! I haven’t tried upgrading memory so am not sure either.

  33. I upgraded HD and Memory, currently running and 256GB SSD and 8gb RAM, both very easy upgrades for anyone a bit tech savy, ram is easy as there is one open slot, just need to buy an 4gb stick and you are set for anything windows related, as for HD its a tad bit more technical cause some screws need to be removed but realy not difficult, have had the laptop since june of last year an so far it has held up, SSD is a welcome upgrade as my boot times are under 20secs, and wake from sleep is under 6-7 secs max including time to connect to wifi…hope it helps..BTW ram is cheap for under 40 bucks you should be able to bump it to 8gb…hell i liked this one so much ive been thinking bout buying an SA an give this one to the wife…though i ve been almost pulling the trigger i deceided to wait fort ivy bridge in order to get the next gen processors.

  34. Actually thats return from hybrid sleep just to be clear

    • Thanks, Karen and Frank. Upgrading to SSD crossed my mind, most likely will wait until it’s time to get a new comp due to the upgrade being a bit expensive for me at this point but will definitely be upgrading memory. Nice wake-up times though for sure.

  35. Actually if you look into some of the 128gb ssds, you will find that they are cheap enough to buy and the speed you gain is considerable, initially i had a 128gb ssd with a 64gb SDXC on the laptop and worked like a charm, later on i got into some money and managed to buy a 256gb ssd, but for the money you cant beat that upgrade, also it will literally prolong the life of your laptop, you’d probably get at least6-12 months more at today’s standards unless you need the latest and greatest, heck, i plan on putting the ssd on my next laptop so its an upgrade thatll last even after i change this laptop.

  36. I have the vpcsc41fm/s, but so far its been a great laptop. Bought it because I think Sony makes good electronics, and so far they haven’t let me down.

    Did a format and clean install when I first got it, and no complaints or problems. Its been a great laptop for what it is. Boots up\down and comes out of sleep amazingly fast with the hybrid drive. WiFi and Bluetooth work great.

    What I noticed on the fan. If the vents on the bottom of the laptop are covered then the fan works pretty hard sometimes, but if its propped up so the vents aren’t covered it quiets down.

    I would definitely buy another one in the future.

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