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Sony VAIO VGN-FW51MF/H review

Verdict

Sony’s Blu-ray-touting VAIO brings in the New Year with Windows 7 and a glorious high-definition display

Review Date: 29 Dec 2009

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £902 (£1,037 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

Sony’s Blu-ray might have won the war of the high-definition formats, slaying HD-DVD in the process, but the jury is still out as to whether Blu-ray and laptops are a match made in heaven, or just a luxury for the gadget-obsessed. Sony’s VAIO VGN-FW51MF/H wants to convince you that it’s not the latter of the two. With a generously proportioned 16.4in 1080p display to make the most of that HD source, and a beefy specification under the hood, it seems to be the very definition of an entertainment-focussed notebook.

The eagle-eyed might recognise the Sony’s rather familiar figure, however. Indeed, the VGN-FW51MF/H isn’t so much fresh-faced debutante as surgically-enhanced starlet. Now in its fifth iteration, little has changed since the FW-series first launched onto the scene in the summer of 2008. The gunmetal-grey lid is still chiselled in all the right places, and the curvy hinges and wide, smooth wristrest are just as we remember them. But while the FW-series was once the epitome of style, it's beginning to look like it’s in need of some extensive plastic surgery.

Sony VAIO VGN-FW51MF/H

It’s a touch on the heavy side, too. That isn't surprising given the 16.4in display hiding beneath that taut grey lid, but at 2.87kg without the power supply, and 3.31kg with, this is a laptop you’d be wise not to pop in your bag too often. Not that you’ll be going far before the battery runs out. It survived just 3hrs 10mins in our light-use battery test, and 1hr 34mins when pushed – results that put paid to thoughts of watching Blu-ray movies on the move.

But, although the Sony’s figure is beginning to look a touch out-of-date, the presence of 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium goes a long way towards teaching the old dog a few new tricks. A generous 6GB of DDR3 memory goes hand-in-hand with 500GB of storage. The only minor let down is that there isn’t a Core i7 processor nestling alongside. Fortunately, Intel's P8700 is still a good choice, and with its nippy clockspeed of 2.53GHz, not to mention all that memory at its disposal, it achieved a decent score in our application-based benchmarks of 1.25.

The ATI Radeon HD 4650 graphics chipset deserves a mention too. In addition to shrugging off the demands of decoding high-definition Blu-ray discs, it proved itself more than capable on the gaming front. It wasn’t until we tasked it with our most demanding Crysis test that the frame rate dropped to an unplayable 12fps, suggesting it will dispatch most titles at reasonably high detail settings and resolutions without too much of a struggle.

And, crucially for a laptop equipped with a Blu-ray reader, the Sony’s display is simply marvellous. The 1080p resolution ensures that every single scrap of detail is reproduced faithfully; the dual-lamp backlighting technology makes for startlingly vibrant colours and superb contrast levels. Wide horizontal viewing angles also mean it's possible for a couple of people to watch a movie without the image fading away. But, while that makes for some staggeringly crisp images, all those pixels crammed onto a 16.4in display can make text on documents or websites appear a touch too small.

The speakers, however, soon break the spell cast by the superb display. Slightly muffled, lightweight audio is the best the Sony can muster, and most people will be left reaching for the headphones in no time at all.

By the time the closing curtain falls, Sony’s VAIO VGN-FW51MF/H proves itself to be a competent, reasonably powerful entertainment laptop. But, despite the presence of Windows 7 and a superb display, it's not quite enough. An ageing chassis, below par battery life and a high price undermine all its good points.

Author: Sasha Muller

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User comments

Another review of an obsolete Laptop

This laptop has just been dropped by Sony, according to their website. Not the first time I've seen this from PC PRO. Come on ladies and gents how about reviewing some up to date just released laptops in 2010 instead of laptops that have been in the market for months. I could name a more than a dozen Windows 7 laptops from a host of manufacturers that you have not reviewed yet! very poor show.

By andyrs1 on 30 Dec 2009

@andyrs1: They're saving the up-to-date reviews for the magazine, so you'll buy that.

By phantombudgie on 30 Dec 2009

but surely

They can only review what they've been given?

I can't really see Sasha etc walking into PC World and telling the Customer Services guy "I want that one. For a day or so."

By khellan on 30 Dec 2009

@andyrs1- hey, i feel gutted as i ordered this laptop back in November but they still delivered due to 'out of stock'. Do you know if sony are bringing out a new range of FW? Any info/links will be great help, thanks.

By chigger on 30 Dec 2009

I'm sorry to disappoint you, andyrs1, but I was not made aware that it was being discontinued. It is still available from several major retailers such as Play.com, Ebuyer, Laptops Direct and Dabs.com amongst others.

If there are any laptops we haven't reviewed, then suggest them and I'll try to get them in for review. But, with CES looming, most manufacturers are saving their new releases for January...

By SashaMuller on 30 Dec 2009

@andyrs1- hey, i feel gutted as i ordered this laptop back in November but they still delivered due to 'out of stock'. Do you know if sony are bringing out a new range of FW? Any info/links will be great help, thanks.

By chigger on 30 Dec 2009

Core i7

There are reports in various fora of a bug with Core i7 systems using the P55 chipset not being able to sync ipods. May have something to do with slow emergence of Core i7 on laptops.

By jknight on 31 Dec 2009

Back In Stock? - Maybe

Yes, my apologies, I have seen the laptop back in stock at several retailers myself....including Sony last week. However on checking the website this morning....use this link... https://www.sonystyle-europe.com/SonyStyle/catalog
/categorieInPath/%28layout=15_132_61_48_133_137_2%
29/.do?key=0/3E99541A304E7370E10000002BC29B8F/4874
DDA413D900EAE10080002BC29B86 none of the FW series are available, and customisation is also off line. My gripe is simply that a number of laptops reviewed by PC PRO tend to be a few months old and thus the challenge, in my opinion, is that with suppliers like Sony providing new versions in the same chassis every few months, reviews should be completed sooner. I agree however that with the imminent launch of new Core processors for Laptops that this is no doubt part of the problem. Sony have not launched, that I know of, any Core i7 Laptops yet. Happy New Year all.

By andyrs1 on 3 Jan 2010

Inside information

As the question has been asked I just thought I would say that I dont have any inside information regards Sony. However, I suspect that the FW series might be replaced as it has been out for a while now. However I could of course be very wrong.

By andyrs1 on 3 Jan 2010

'temporarily unavailable'

None of the FW series laptops are avaliable on the website. Seems like they are up to something, bad show for not keeping us informed.

By chigger on 6 Jan 2010

Time for a change?

Looks like a huge swathe of Sony's more elderly ranges are being retired.

All will be revealed at CES I wager...

By SashaMuller on 6 Jan 2010

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