Laptops in the Year 2000 Were the Smartphones of TodayS

Now I want you to close your eyes and squint really hard. Because I'm going to tell you about a time that feels ancient, a time when Sony made some of the baddest laptops around.

Way before the internet made the idea plausible, Sony was ripping optical drives out of laptops to make them as portable as possible. One such computer, the $1,500 Sony VAIO PCG-SRX99 (circa 2001), weighed just 2.76lbs and made do with a 10-inch screen.

Inside, it had plenty of power, an 850MHz Pentium III-M, 256MB of RAM, and 802.11b for wireless networking (if you could find a wireless network, that is). Plus it had 20GB of storage, FireWire and even one USB port.

(I'd mention that it ran XP, but that part is a bit too familiar for nostalgic comfort.)

Today, the closest analog to the PCG-SRX99 is a netbook. For about $300 and a weight just shy of 3lbs, you can score a system that, from the outside, is remarkably similar. And on the inside, its clock speed has about doubled, plus there's anywhere between 4x and 8x the amount of RAM and storage.

But if you were willing to look a bit beyond skin deep, I'd argue that the contemporary smartphone is more similar to the PCG-SRX99 than the netbooks of today. Take the iPhone 3GS. In terms of sheer tech specs, it's pretty much a midrange smartphone...and it's about identical to our retro Vaio.

The 3GS has a 600MHz processor and an identical amount of RAM to the PCG-SRX99—256MB. And it holds anywhere from 16 to 32GB in flash storage. Amenities like Wi-Fi (faster 802.11g). Turn to a company like HTC, and you can double the RAM while including a processor as fast as 1GHz.

Still, while Sony's Vaio PCG-SRX99 couldn't fit in our pocket, we've championed its form in an entire wave of cheap, portable computers today. Oh, and that whole ditching the optical drive idea? Sony spotted that trend a mile away. [Product Page and Review]