Sony VAIO VGN-AR11S review
An impressive showcase for the first Blu-ray drive in a notebook, but the price is very high
Review Date: 23 Jun 2006
Reviewed By: Ross Burridge
Price when reviewed: (£1,999 inc VAT)
With HD DVD finally making its debut last month in Toshiba's Qosmio G30, we didn't have to wait too long to see Blu-ray hit back. This month sees Sony introduce both the VAIO RC-204 PC and the VAIO VGN-AR11S - the first notebook to include the next-generation format drive. While the industry is still split, it's the high-end consumers that are initially being targeted, with both the Qosmio and AR11S being flagship products.
The VAIO's size is striking - despite having the same 17in widescreen TFT, the inch-thick bezel makes the AR11S seem much larger than machines such as Acer's Aspire 9410. It's also very definitely black, with the glossy, fingerprint-attracting finish feeling both luxurious and a little overwhelming.
The X-black screen is similarly glossy, running at an indulgent 1,920 x 1,200 pixels, and it's bright too. Horizontal viewing angles are good, but not top-notch vertically - the panel needed a little adjustment to keep the contrast even from top to bottom. As we'd expect, video playback and digital photos benefit from the apparent extra contrast from the glossy screen, although some slight motion lag is evident.
We found the front-mounted mouse buttons tricky at first, especially as the keyboard is pushed so far up. It's otherwise comfortable to work on, though, with good travel and a rock-solid foundation. There's no numeric keypad, with the space used for shortcut buttons.
With Windows MCE 2005 installed, there's an integrated hybrid analogue/DVB-T TV tuner to take advantage of its PVR capabilities - an infrared receiver is on the front for the included remote. The coaxial input is helpfully full sized, negating the need for breakout cables. The speakers give a reasonable volume, but bass response is limited, and you'll need more to really get immersed in music and movies.
Most of the expansion ports are tidily hidden under a series of flaps along the sides. The Type II PC Card slot is as legacy as this VAIO gets, with three USB 2, a mini-FireWire and an ExpressCard/54 slot catering for modern peripherals. A media card reader supporting Memory Stick and SD formats sits in the front, and a 0.37-megapixel webcam is hidden stylishly in the top bezel of the screen. Considering the AR's high-definition playback credentials (up to full 1080p), the HDCP-compliant HDMI output is welcome, and there's also S-Video in/out and a VGA output.
10/100 Ethernet and a 56K modem at the back right complement the 802.11a/b/g WLAN and Bluetooth, and the left side hosts the Blu-ray optical drive. It's worth noting that this also supports dual-layer DVD+/-RW and CD writing, as well as dual-layer Blu-ray discs up to 50GB (slated to start shipping in August). Just note that even 25GB discs currently cost around £15 each. Fixed storage comes courtesy of two 100GB 5,400rpm drives. They can even be set as a striped or mirrored RAID array.
Processing power comes in spades, with a 2GHz Core Duo T2500 and 1GB of RAM managing 1.07 in our application benchmarks. 3D capability is less all-out, with a modest Go 7600 GT chip. But it still provides enough power for today's games at modest settings, and more than enough to cope with the demands of Windows Vista when it finally arrives.
You won't want to carry this notebook very far. At 3.8kg, it's more suited to a sedentary existence, and an appalling 1hr 37mins of battery life under light use is an inevitable result of the large, bright screen and the relatively small battery.
Sony's software bundle is an eclectic mix of try-before-you buy products, plus the more useful Microsoft Works 8, an array of Adobe Elements packages and the requisite, if rather basic, Blu-ray authoring software. You also get VAIO recovery, which sits on a hidden partition and will restore the factory image in case of a Windows-based disaster.
- What's on this week's PC Pro podcast?
- Universal wireless charging gets a boost from Microsoft
- Amazon Phone: release date, features and 3D display
- Apple offers sneak peak at OS X via Beta Seed
- American grip on web loosens ahead of key net meeting
- Apple fixes security flaw, fingerprint scanner with iOS 7.1.1
- Heartbleed: LibreSSL scrubs "irresponsible" OpenSSL code
- Windows Cloud: should Microsoft mimic Chrome OS?
- Lytro unveils its next light-field camera: the $1,599 Illum
- Microsoft supercharges PowerPoint with Office Mix
- Hello Cortana, it's nice to meet you
- Windows 8.1 Update: an abject surrender
- The insane economics of Sky Now TV
- No such thing as a free app... so pay up if you want quality
- Time to outlaw crapware-laden installers
- Windows Phone 8.1 video: hands-on
- Office for iPad: key information
- Why every PC buyer owes Richard Durkin a debt of gratitude
- HTC One M8 vs Samsung Galaxy S5: 2014's big-hitters compared
- Windows XP end of life: key information
- How to upgrade from Windows XP to Ubuntu
- The great iPhone ripoff and how it works
- Heartbleed: what you need to know and do
- Data recovery: inside the clean room
- Best tablet PCs to buy in 2014
- How much RAM do you really need?
- News of the weird: the strangest ever tech stories
- Five hyped technologies: disruptive or not?
- Piracy's dying: why we're all going straight
- Office: should you buy it, rent it - or dump it?
- Why laptops with serial ports matter to the Internet of Things
- Make your mobile battery last longer
- Small steps into handling Big Data
- Nexus 5: does it really run stock Android?
- How to get broadband to a garden office
- How to write your company's IT security policy
- Raspberry Pi and Wolfram: a must-have for every child
- Could you get by with Office Web Apps?
- The best Android antivirus apps for 2014
- Headings vs headers: how to use both in Word