Sony has announced plans to sell off its iconic VAIO brand of PCs to a Japanese investment fund. While Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) will continue selling VAIO-branded computers in Japan, Sony plans to now focus on its mobile lineup of smartphones and tablets. VAIO, which stands for Visual Audio Intelligent Organizer, was first introduced 18 years ago in 1996.
While VAIO and bio sound identical in Japanese, the VAIO name also has a phonetic connection to the word violet. Sony started building its PCs with purple color schemes, and the firm has transformed the brand into a name that has been associated with high-end computers ever since.
VAIO might not be dead yet, but take a moment to look back at some of Sony’s historic, beautiful, expensive, and crazy PC creations.
- Vaio PCV-90 The first Sony VAIO PC arrived in 1996. Sony’s PCV-90 combined a 166MHz processor with 16MB of RAM, a 2.1GB HDD, and a 28.8-kbps modem. It shipped with a 3D graphical interface on top of Windows 95, aiming to entice novice computer users.
- Vaio PCG-505 One of the first-generation VAIO notebooks shipped in 1997. For $2,000, Sony’s PCG-505 included an Intel Pentium MMX processor, 32MB of RAM, and a 10.4-inch SVGA screen. It was designed to be “SuperSlim,” and manufactured with a four-panel magnesium body.
- Vaio PCG-707 Sony also launched the PCG-707 in 1997. With a CD-ROM drive, TFT LCD screen, and Intel Pentium MMX processor, its battery lasted for around three hours. Sony also shipped an extended battery to boost battery life, a trend that continued on to other VAIO laptops.
- VAIO C1 PictureBook Branded “PictureBook,” Sony’s VAIO C1 series introduced the idea of a built-in webcam to its notebook range in 1998. It was a tiny notebook with an 8.9-inch display and a 0.27-megapixel camera built into the lid that could swivel around. Windows 98 shipped with the original model.
- VAIO MX series Sony returned to its Walkman roots with its MX series in 2000. Early models included an FM tuner, MiniDisc player, and built-in amplifier. The front of the PC tower also featured an LCD display with audio information. Combined with a set of speakers and a remote control, it was Sony’s fist attempt at an all-in-one media PC.
- VAIO LX series Sony’s VAIO line entered a truly experimental phase in late 2000. The high-end model of the LX series shipped with a stylus and a display that tilted up to 65 degrees. It also included a palm rest and keyboard cover, and Sony’s pen-equipped PC shipped a whole year before Bill Gates unveiled Microsoft’s Windows XP-powered tablet PC.
- Vaio W all-in-one The original VAIO W, released in early 2002, combined a PC with TV features. A built-in antenna input brought TV to this 15.3-inch PC, and the keyboard folded up onto the display thanks to a hinge mechanism. This particular model debuted ahead of Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition, software that started to combine TV and media features into a single hub.
- Vaio U series Originally introduced in 2002, Sony’s U series of VAIO computers looked like tiny portable DVD players. Initial models shipped with Transmeta Crusoe processors, before moving to Intel Celeron and Pentium processors. At the time, it was the world’s smallest and lightest PC running Windows XP.
- Vaio PCG-z1 Sony’s first VAIO Z notebook arrived at the dawn of Intel’s Centrino era, and just as Wi-Fi networks were becoming more popular. With a sleek and attractive design, it shipped with a 14.1-inch 1400 x 1050 display that was unique at the time. An extended battery allowed the slim Z to run for seven hours on a single charge years before anyone knew what an "ultrabook" was.
- Vaio X505 Sony’s VAIO X505 had some impressive specs when it first debuted in 2004. It was just 0.38 inches at its thinnest point, and used Intel’s ultra-low voltage Pentium processor. It was the first laptop to feature a "chiclet" keyboard, named for its small rounded keys that resemble Chiclets gum. All of this was packaged into a $3,000 notebook years before Apple unveiled its MacBook Air.
- Vaio UX While Sony introduced its U series previously, the UX series followed two years later just as Microsoft’s ultra-mobile PC initiative with Samsung was starting to take shape. The UX models included a slide-out keyboard, touchscreen, and Intel’s Core 2 Solo processor. A 4.5-inch display was the centerpiece of the device, with buttons on either side for additional controls. Sony also shipped the UX with a fingerprint reader. Sony’s UX made its way onto several TV shows and movies, including Terminator Salvation and Quantum of Solace.
- Vaio SZ The VAIO SZ was yet another expensive, high-specced machine, featuring the latest processors, display technology, and even a fingerprint sensor, all in a tiny package. Its claim to fame, however, was its hybrid graphics. Each notebook gave users the ability to switch between integrated Intel graphics and a discrete GeForce GPU from Nvidia. The Intel option would give long battery life, while the Nvidia card would give you the power needed to play games. The same concept is now used in popular notebooks from several manufacturers, although modern machines are now capable of switching graphics automatically while the laptop is on.
- Vaio VA After its experiments bringing TV and PC features together, Sony launched an all-in-one in 2005 with Windows Media Center Edition. A built-in TV tuner card and 20-inch display made it a good alternative to other media center PCs available at the time. It was also a powerful PC with a 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 250GB of storage.
- Vaio VGN-AR70B At the height of the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD war, Sony released the world’s first first Blu-ray-equipped notebook in 2006. It went on sale for a pricey $3,499 at launch, and was largely considered a desktop replacement. High-end models shipped with a 17-inch display running at full 1080p resolution and Intel’s latest Core Duo processors. It might have been the first with Blu-ray at the time, but with a battery life between 1.5 and 3 hours it wasn’t the best choice for portable computing. Sony’s support of Blu-ray helped the format win the standards war in 2008 after Toshiba stopped developing HD DVD players.
- VAIO VA1 At first glance, visitors to the Sony Store in 2006 could be forgiven for thinking the VAIO VA1 was a flat-screen TV. Created at a time when PC manufacturers were convinced media center PCs were the next big thing, it paired a 19-inch 1680 x 1050 display with a powerful CPU, large hard drive, built-in TV tuner, and a DVD drive.
- VAIO P series Sony’s VAIO P first launched in 2009 as an ultraportable notebook in a tiny form factor. Designed as an expensive and smaller alternative to popular netbooks at the time, the VAIO P shipped with an 8-inch display and 1600 x 768 resolution. You could use it as notebook replacement, but the underpowered Intel Atom processor meant performance wasn’t great. Due to its size, Sony originally marketed the VAIO P as a pocket-friendly notebook, but the device barely fit into jean pockets despite Sony’s advertising.
- VAIO X series Sony’s experimentation with slim and lightweight laptops culminated in the X series. At just 655 grams with a special lighter battery, Sony claimed it was the world’s lightest notebook back in 2009. However, due to its use of an Atom processor, some considered it a netbook-class machine. Either way, it was sleek, thin, and lightweight.
- VAIO Z series The last ever VAIO Z featured practically everything anyone could ever want in a laptop. Stupidly thin and light, it came with a 13.1-inch full HD matte display, an SSD, and a suitably powerful processor. It also had an interesting port called Light Peak, based on Intel optical technology that we now know as Thunderbolt. With the Light Peak port, you could connect up an external dock that had a discrete graphics card and a Blu Ray drive.
- Modern VAIO In recent months, Sony has introduced convertible and flipping VAIO PCs alongside Windows 8. Some use magnets to hold themselves in various positions, while others like the VAIO Tap take an interesting approach to the hybrid concept with a keyboard that’s completely separate to its tablet. These latest designs come at a time when the PC market faces a major decline in sales, and it will be up to Sony’s new VAIO owners to decide if convertibles is the way forward or not.