Sony VAIO VGN-FW51MF/H review

29 Dec 2009

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

Price when reviewed 
1,037
4

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But, although the Sony’s figure is beginning to look a touch out-of-date, the presence of 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium goes a long way towards teaching the old dog a few new tricks.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.

Details

Price ex VAT £902
Price inc VAT £1,037
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 3
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 384 x 267 x 37mm (WDH)
Weight 2.870kg
Travelling weight 3.3kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo P8700
Motherboard chipset Intel PM45
RAM capacity 6.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 16.4in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,080
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Graphics chipset ATI Mobility Radeon HD4650
Graphics card RAM 1.00GB
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 500GB
Hard disk usable capacity 466GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Seagate ST9500325AS
Optical disc technology Blu-ray reader
Optical drive Optiarc BC-5500S4
Battery capacity 4,400mAh
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
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 1
ExpressCard54 slots 0
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 1
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 no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? yes
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 3hr 10min
Battery life, heavy use 1hr 34min
Overall application benchmark score 1.25
Office application benchmark score 1.22
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.48
Encoding application benchmark score 1.16
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.13
3D performance (crysis) low settings 78fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery disc