Sony VAIO VGN-AW21XY/Q review

7 May 2009

The RGB LED screen, Blu-ray writer and awesome specification result in the best all-round desktop replacement on the market.

Price when reviewed: 
2,338(£2,408 inc VAT)
5

Only an elite few machines soar above the £2,000 mark, and laptops like this hugely-expensive Sony VAIO need something special to justify the outlay.

The Sony VAIO VGN-AW21XY/Q sets its stall out as an entertainment powerhouse thanks to several attributes, not least its stunning screen. As well as boasting a diagonal width of 18.4in and a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, it uses the same RGB LED technology that so impressed us in the Dell Studio XPS 16.

The extra two inches mean that the panel's sheer vivacity and sharpness look even more impressive than the Dell's screen, though. And we were also pleased to note that the colours weren't quite as saturated as they were in the Studio XPS, which required tweaking before looking its best. The VAIO required no such adjustments and is one of the best laptop screens we've ever seen - ideal for both work and play in equal measure.

Sony's audio heritage means that the VAIO doesn't boast brand label speakers, but the pair you get - in concert with the single subwoofer - combine to produce plenty of volume and impressive clarity.

The commitment to quality extends to the chassis, which is one of the sturdiest and most stylish we've seen. There aren't many flashy touches - the VAIO logo across the glossy lid and the green ring around the hinge is about as extravagant as this machine gets - but the leather across the wrist-rest and glowing media buttons just ooze class.

The familiar scrabble-tile keyboard is one of the best examples we've tried too, offering more travel and a more positive action than keyboards of the Apple MacBook Air or the more recently-reviewed 17in MacBook Pro. The trackpad is another highlight: it's wide and responsive pad with a pair of comfortable buttons. And, scattered around the chassis is a decent selection of ports and sockets, including USB, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire and an HDMI output.

Performance continues the already-impressive trend, with a high-powered Intel 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo T9800 processor helping the Sony to a 2D benchmark result of 1.51 - it's among the fastest laptops we've ever tested. And with an Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics chip on board, there's gaming potential too.

The VAIO returned figures of 79fps and 24fps in our low and medium-quality Crysis benchmarks. The scores aren't the best we've ever seen - the Asus W90 with its pair of Radeon HD 4870 chips is quicker - but there's still more potential here than with most laptops.

Elsewhere, a Blu-ray writer is a cut above the read-only drives that are in the majority of HD-equipped machines, and the dual DVB-T TV tuner is another another rarity that allows the AWrarely seen in either desktops or laptops, and able to record and view different channels at the same time.

Also worth mentioning is the innovative storage. The main disk is a 500GB Fujitsu model running at 4,200rpm, but the operating system - in this case it's Windows Vista Ultimate - is deposited on a pair of 64GB Samsung SSD drives running in RAID 0. It's far more imaginative than most laptops, and the result is consistently faster access for vital system files.

All of this luxury isn't without its downsides, however, and battery life is chief among these. The 4,800mAh power pack lasted just a mere two hours in our light use test. The VGN-AW21XY/Q is expensive, too: £2,157 exc VAT is an awful lot to spend on any laptop, even one this powerful.

Details

Price ex VAT £2,033
Price inc VAT £2,338
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 5
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 437 x 386 x 40mm (WDH)
Weight 3.800kg
Travelling weight 4.3kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T9800
Motherboard chipset Intel PM45 Express
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 18.4in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,080
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT
Graphics card RAM 512MB
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 628GB
Hard disk usable capacity 569GB
Spindle speed 4,200RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/150
Hard disk Fujitsu MHW2500BT-G1/2 x Samsung MMCRE64GFMPP-MVA
Optical disc technology Blu-ray writer
Optical drive Matshita BD-MLTU3230AS
Battery capacity 4,800mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

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 yes
ExpressCard34 slots 1
ExpressCard54 slots 1
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 3
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader yes
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard, bottom
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 150
Battery life, heavy use 50
Overall application benchmark score 1.51
Office application benchmark score 1.68
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.65
Encoding application benchmark score 1.28
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.42
3D performance (crysis) low settings 24fps
3D performance setting Medium

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate
OS family Windows Vista
Recovery method Recovery partition
Software supplied Adobe Photoshop Elements 6