VAIO SX14: Developers Discuss the Larger Screen and Lighter Weight

Improvements without shortcuts


sx14-engineering article-1-2 Shuji Eguchi PC Division PC Design Department Project Leader Section Project Leader sx14-engineering article-1-3 Keiichi Ogawa PC Division PC Design Department Electrical Design Division Wireless Engineer
sx14-engineering article-1-4 Tatsuki Nagasaki PC Division PC Design Department Mechanical Design Division Mechanical Engineer sx14-engineering article-1-5 Takashi Sonehara PC Division PC Design Department Mechanical Design Division Mechanical Project Leader
A narrow bezel that does not affect wireless performance To start, explain the thought process behind narrowing the bezel on the VAIO SX 14. Shuji Eguchi, Project Leader: During the planning phase of the VAIO SX 14, our clamshell notebook size options were limited to 13.3 inches and 11.6 inches. Now, it has always been assumed that those who prefer mobility over screen size would choose the 11.6 inch VAIO S11 over the 13.3 VAIO S13, which also has the benefit of a full size keyboard. And since we always try to take the user experience to the next level, we decided to take the screen size to its limit. We used narrow bezel technology to mount a 14.0 inch display inside a 13.3 inch clamshell to avoid decrease its mobility just to increase screen size. sx14-engineering article-1-6 That makes it sound like there are no disadvantages to a narrow bezel frame, but is that really the case? Eguchi: Well, of course there are always going to be drawbacks. For example, most notebooks, including VAIO, have built-in antennas and cameras above the display with a cable that runs along the side of the LCD panel. Most narrow bezel products move the antenna and camera to the bottom of the display, but that was something we wanted to avoid. And why is that? Eguchi: We placed the antenna at the top of the display because wireless reception is best there. Moving it to the bottom of the display slows down speed and functionality. And if the built-in camera is to low, you risk looking up people’s noses during things like video conferences. (laughs) (laughs) I see. Keiichi Ogawa, Antenna Design: There are two major advantages to placing the antenna at the top of the display. First, radio waves can be transmitted and received further by being just a bit higher – it’s pretty much same reason why TV antennas are installed on roofs. Second, in clamshell notebook PCs, all of the circuits are located in the keyboard half the shell and we wanted to keep the antenna as far away from the noise they generate. Additionally, antenna performance can be adversely affected by metals used in that part of the frame. But it’s a height difference of just 10 centimeters, how much can that affect reception? Ogawa: It’s difficult to say for certain, but if one or more obstacles to reception overlap, it can fall to about one tenth of capacity. That much? Ogawa: Yes, but that it doesn’t mean all communication speeds will be at one tenth. While you may not notice a problem in areas with great reception, the big difference will be in spaces that radio waves have difficulty penetrating, like a sealed conference room. sx14-engineering article-1-7 Are there other things to consider if you’re committed to putting the antenna on top of a narrow bezel display? Ogawa: Since the VAIO SX14 size was determined by the footprint of the VAIO S13, the size of the antenna had to be considered respectively as well. To be specific, the vertical width is about 7mm which is about 2mm shorter than in the past. However, vertical width has a huge impact on reception, so if you shorten it you reduce the performance of the antenna. We had to enact two countermeasures to combat this issue. First, the grounding copper foil portion that extends from the antenna substrate was made as short as possible to reduce the gap between the antenna and the display panel. Then, to compensate for the shorter length, we added a three dimensional L-shaped sheet metal backing to make the antenna structure itself a performance enhancing feature. This is similar technique applied in smart phones. sx14-engineering article-1-8 The antenna at the top of the photo is for the VAIO SX 14. The vertical width is narrower, and the top portion is L-shaped. Below is the one of VAIO S13. As Eguchi mentioned earlier, due to the narrower bezel, there was a problem with the cable size that needed to run by the side of the display. This was resolved by reducing its thickness by 20%. Usually a thinner cable means reduced performance, but with the implementation of an L-shaped metal backing, we were able to match the level of performance in conventional models. Tatsuki Nagasaki, Display Design: Because of the narrow bezel design, we designed part of the cable to be behind the LCD display. This usually means if pressure is applied to the screen the image might be distorted or the cable might be disconnected. We circumvented these problems by running cable through unaffected areas, such as next to the frame at the left and right edges of the display. Since it was also necessary to reduce the thickness of the camera cable, we chose to use a flat winding cable that was to be stored behind the LCD display. sx14-engineering article-1-9 On the left is VAIO SX 14, and on the right is the conventional model (VAIO S13). VAIO SX 14 has a thinner, flat winding cable. A robust new internal casing neutralizes damage One of the big concerns with narrow bezel displays is the risk of internal damage, so how sturdy is the laptop after these changes? The bezel looks especially delicate. Nagasaki: The bezel on the VAIO S13 was thicker with a reinforcing rib wall running through it, so the strength of the display came from being secured between two walls and the outer shell. The VAIO SX 14 has no room for ribs in the bezel, so we decided to use a carbon top board which had previously been use in the compact VAIO S11 and the larger screen model. However, since the top plate is one size larger on the VAIO SX 14, we have opted to use a 5 layer, highly elastic, unidirectional (UD) carbon fiber layer to add strength. This design, developed by partnering with Toray Industries, Inc., has about doubled the strength in the affected area compared to the conventional UD carbon installed in the VAIO S11. sx14-engineering article-1-10 In previous versions of our notebook PCs, the LCD display was secured to all four corners of the housing, but when it came to the narrow bezel of the VAIO SX 14, the display is instead cushioned on the left and right sides by tightly spread UD carbon fiber material. And now since it is an integrated part of the housing, it disperses damaging shocks at the surface. We also added cushioning materials between the LCD panel and the display housing to prevent damage from external applied pressure. We did everything possible to achieve a level of durable design and strength to match its anticipated use, even clearing strict quality tests unique to VAIO like the “Pencil Penetration Test,” and look forward to adding new tests like “LCD Display 180 Degree Torsion Test” to verify its strength in the future. So the same durable design has been achieved, but does that affect its use as a business tool? Nagasaki: Since this model is available for corporate markets, we had to consider repair and upgrade accessibility. If you don’t care about proper maintenance you can rely on double-sided tape, etc., however, we needed to create a design that was easy to dissemble and repair or upgrade as needed. Reaching that elusive 999g goal You added a larger screen to the same size casing and reduced the model’s overall weight, but why was 999g the goal? Eguchi: Despite its 14.0 inch display, the VAIO SX14 is still a mobile notebook that has to be lightweight. Normally we’d allow keeping the weight of the 13.3 model, but we knew we could make it lighter due to the strength of the UD carbon fiber backing. You could say the “overachiever” side of VAIO came out. [laughs] We figured since we were considering everything in the construction of this laptop, another great benefit for the user would be to make it under 1 kilogram. What problems did you encounter reaching 999g? Eguchi: They were countless. [laughs] Even though the carbon fiber layer is light, there were other heavier parts compared to consider. First, the display size increase to 14.0 inches as a considerable weight increase, which then increased the weight of the CPU and power supply. And when you add the USB Type-C ™ terminal, the weight of the corresponding circuits and connectors increase. Nagasaki: When we finally decided to use the UD carbon fiber backing we thought, “This is going to be easy!” But it was not. [laughs] Eguchi: Since the 14.0 inch LCD display is 20g heavier that the 13.3 inch, and the VAIO S13 is already 1070g, we had to reduce the entire weight by about 90g. And despite the UD carbon fiber top board being several grams lighter on its own, it turned out to be more difficult than we thought. So what was the solution? Takashi Sonehara, Mechanical Project Leader: We reviewed all materials relating to the structure. For mechanical parts that I am in charge of, for example, we reduced resin thickness and designed a lighter hinge cover. sx14-engineering article-1-11 Nagasaki: The hinge cover material was reduced by about 20% when we switched a domestic manufacturer. Foreign vendors warned us that the surface of the hinge could not be embossed if reduced in size, but we found a skilled domestic one who molded it beautifully. Sonehara: We also perforated parts that are not required for structural strength, and then removed a few more grams of weight by reducing the thickness and changing the grounding sheet attached to the inside of the display housing. Eguchi: Sonehara told me to drill holes in the board to lighten it. [laughs] Unfortunately, adding a USB Type-C ™ terminal this time meant we could not afford to do that. Nagasa: I was told to reduce the amount of solder used. [laughs] Eguchi: Additionally, we changed to a lighter weight speaker with the same sound quality. The can shield that covers part of the board now has perforations where it is bent. There are other reasons for doing this, but it contributed to the reduction in weight. sx14-engineering article-1-12 VAIO SX14 can shield (left) has holes drilled even where it is bent (see top edge). It sounds like the total weight reduction is the result of many small changes. Eguchi: Exactly. A lot of outside-the-box thinking was necessary for each modification. Remember, the VAIO SX14 was almost delivered with the same base as the VAIO S13, so we did our best despite not having an easy solution for each issue that came up. Sonehara: Even though we had aimed for 999g through a variety of modifications, the UD carbon fiber top plate probably contributed the most. The need to balance a lightweight design with strength meant we studied and considered various materials. We tested about 10 prototype patterns with different materials, even adjusting how the carbon fibers were arranged, looking for the ideal weight and rigidity. Nagasaki: We tried about 30 patterns if you count each little modification. Sonehara: In fact, if we had just prioritized the weight, it would have been possible to make a lighter UD carbon fiber top board. But because we also prioritized strength with the VAIO SX 14, we could not compromise its rigidity. It is pointless to achieve a 999g weight without VAIO’s trademark toughness. Sonehara: That’s right. The lighter weight alone is not what makes it a VAIO mobile notebook. Eguchi: Despite the hardships, we were able to increase display size without impairing mobility. The weight is even less than the 13.3 type VAIO S13. It’s top in its class for weight and size if you consider the 14.0 inch display. We are proud of the updates and think it is the ideal notebook for business. sx14-engineering article-1-13 (Originally published January 17, 2019 on vaio.com)