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Sony VAIO VGN-FW11ZU review


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

Review Date: 4 Aug 2008

Reviewed By: Mike Jennings

Price when reviewed: £1,004 (£1,155 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

5 stars out of 6

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.

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