Sony VAIO VGN-FW11ZU review

4 Aug 2008

Quick, packed full of features and boasting a 16:9 high definition display, but it's too expensive for its own good.

Price when reviewed: 
1,155(£1,179 inc VAT)
4

Plenty of laptops arrive at PC Pro with entertainment in mind, but few are as capable or well-featured as the new Sony VAIO VGN-FW11ZU. It's one of the first machines of any kind - desktops included - that we've seen with a Blu-ray writer, for instance, and a raft of Centrino 2 components provide more than enough power to cope with high definition video playback.

The screen doesn't let the VAIO down when it comes to home entertainment, either. It's a 16.4in panel that exudes quality in almost every department, with colours that appear bright and punchy. Light areas are suitably sun-drenched, and darker shades are moody and atmospheric. Detail is rendered equally well, with the various nuances and improvements brought about by the move to HD clearly evident.

It's worth bearing in mind, though, that the native resolution of 1600 x 900 means that full HD images need to be slightly scaled to fit - although with a panel this size you'd be hard pressed to spot any discernable difference between the scaled image and a full 1080 HD movie.

The fine screen is complemented by speakers that are surprisingly full and punchy, and more than a match for most entertainment laptops we've seen recently. Treble and high-end sounds are suitably distinct and, although the bass is a little weak, the sound won't affect your movie-watching enjoyment too much.

The exterior qualities of the VAIO continue thanks to a good-looking chassis, although it's not the toughest we've ever seen. The panel feels reasonably solid, but the wrist-rest, particularly on the right, feels flimsy. The metallic shell also felt cheaper once we started handling it. It's certainly not as durable as the hard-as-nails chassis that encases the Dell XPS M1730, for instance.

The now-familiar 'Scrabble-style' keyboard layout has been retained in this new generation of VAIO and, as before, it's extremely comfortable to use for prolonged typing sessions. The position of the keyboard is also a minor, if welcome, highlight: it's slightly nearer to the front edge of the machine due to the large speakers above it and, coupled with the slight tapering of the laptop from front to back, makes for an exceptionally comfortable typing position.

The trackpad is also impressive: it's large enough to make scrolling around the screen a breeze, and offers a decent level of precision. The mouse buttons are responsive and light, too.

Inside, Sony has seen fit to include an impressive specification that's packed with powerful, new components. Underpinning the whole system is an Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile T9400 running at 2.53GHz.

There's a headline-grabbing 4GB of RAM, but as 32-bit Windows swallows up nigh on a gigabyte of that for memory addressing space, 3GB would have been a more economic choice. Still, there's a generous 300GB hard disk, and the Centrino 2 sticker on the front heralds the appearance of Intel's new 5100 WiFi link and PM45 chipset.

This selection of superb components provides a suitably impressive set of benchmark results. In our 2D tests, the VAIO scored 1.4 overall - one of the best results we've ever seen, and faster than many desktop systems. It's proof positive that the FW is more than just an entertainment laptop.

In fact it's quicker than every laptop we've ever seen bar one: the Alienware Area-51 m15x scored a stunning 1.48 in our benchmarks, although it's worth bearing in mind that the Alienware costs £1,843 compared to the Sony's £1,004.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,004
Price inc VAT £1,155
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 4
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 384 x 258 x 39mm (WDH)
Weight 2.900kg
Travelling weight 3.4kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T9400
Motherboard chipset Intel PM45
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 1

Screen and video

Screen size 16.4in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,600
Resolution screen vertical 900
Resolution 1600 x 900
Graphics chipset ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650
Graphics card RAM 256MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 300GB
Hard disk usable capacity 268GB
Spindle speed 4,200RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/150
Hard disk Fujitsu MHX2300BT
Optical disc technology Blu-ray writer
Optical drive Matshita UJ-220S
Battery capacity 4,800mAh
Replacement battery price ex VAT £143
Replacement battery price inc VAT £164

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
USB ports (downstream) 3
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 2hr 15min
Battery life, heavy use 58min
Overall application benchmark score 1.40
3D performance (crysis) low settings 35fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate
OS family Windows Vista
Recovery method Recovery disc
Software supplied Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, Adobe Premiere Elements 4, Microsoft Works 9, Roxio Easy Media Creator 10 LJ