Originally Posted by PC Pro UK Sony Vaio Review
VERDICT: Features, performance and design are practically beyond reproach, making this our power notebook of choice. But you certainly pay for the privilege.
Featuring a huge 17in display, the A197VP may share the X505's superb style, but certainly not its diminutive stature. Weighing in at a huge 4.1kg. It's one of the largest notebooks ever made, beating even mammoth examples such as AJP's D500E. But its size is somehow masked by its sleek, curved edges: it's the first notebook we've seen to be both big and beautiful. It's not a laptop that's been designed for carrying around all day though, as its battery life of just 74 minutes in our intense-use test proved.
Black is very much in season chez Sony, and the A197VP is suitably dressed for the party, coming in a sturdy charcoal plastic casing. As you'd expect from Sony, it looks stunning; and in our opinion, superior even to Apple's 17in PowerBook. However, as with the Apple, you're paying dearly for its looks.
We have few complaints about the VAIO's insides either. The version we reviewed features a 1.7GHz Pentium M processor, 512MB of PC2700 memory and a huge 80GB hard disk. But this isn't the top-of-the-range specification - a version with 1GB of memory and a 1.8GHz Dothan Pentium M processor, the VGN-A197XP, will also be available, although this wasn't ready at the time of going to press.
The model we reviewed is no slouch when it comes to both office and multimedia work though, as its overall score of 1.47 in our real-world tests demonstrated. It scored particularly well in office tasks such as word processing and spreadsheet manipulation, although it did tail off slightly when faced with multimedia tasks such as video encoding. However, being equipped as it is with ATi's Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics chip, it races through 3D tasks like very few others. In fact, it's one of the few notebooks to attain usable frame rates in our tough 3D tests. It mustered a very passable 40 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 2004 (SXGA, 32-bit colour depth) and 19 frames in Halo at the same settings.
The 17in widescreen TFT is more than capable of showing off these excellent scores. It boasts native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 and uses Sony's X-Black technology. This was formerly known as ONYX Black, which can be seen in the SDM-HS73P standalone TFT (see p70). The overall effect of the dual lamp strategy is quite mixed, as while it's amazing at DVD playback and more than capable at gaming, the reflective nature of the coating on the screen makes it quite a strain when it comes to office tasks or anything else that has a white background. Turn the lights down low, however, and you've got one of the most crisp, responsive and colour-accurate screens we've ever seen, and it's therefore ideal for image and video editing. Handily, a copy of Adobe's excellent Photoshop Elements 2 is bundled.
The rest of the chassis is practically beyond reproach. In order to maintain its slick curves, Sony has hidden the majority of ports under flaps round the back: 10/100 Ethernet, S/PDIF optical audio out, two USB 2 ports and a VGA output are tucked away there. We were a little surprised by the lack of parallel port in such a well-featured notebook, although its use is very limited these days - frankly, if you can afford to buy one of these, you should be able to fork out for a more modern printer too. A further USB 2 port and a mini-FireWire accompany the PC Card slot, headphone and mic jacks at the side.
This notebook proved a bit of a mixed bag in everyday use though. Our first issue is with the touchpad. While it may be a large, responsive offering, its two accompanying buttons are very thin and awkward, taking quite a bit of getting used to. We also had issues with the keyboard design. The good news is that it feels very comfortable to type on, with a decent amount of travel and large alphanumeric keys. However, we were dismayed that Sony hadn't made full use of the available real estate that such a chunky chassis provides; some keys are doubled up onto one button where there is clearly no need. Another, rather odd flaw is the positioning of the modem. Sitting right next to the DVD writer, and with a chunky rubber flap concealing it, it's awkward to use, and it's particularly tough to get a disc out of the drive when a modem cable is attached.
But these foibles don't detract significantly from the overall picture. The VGN-A197VP is a very high-quality desktop replacement with all the features and power you'll need, and some more. Our only real issue is the immense price - you could afford to buy two of Systemax's excellent Tourbooks (see p44) for less than the asking price of one of these, and the aforementioned AJP is nearly £1,000 cheaper. Also consider Asus' W1000N (see p54). But if style and DVD playback are as important to you as performance and basic notebook features, this beautiful VAIO should be on the top of your list.
SPECIFICATIONS: 1.7GHz Pentium M; 512MB PC2700 SDRAM; 80GB hard disk; Sony DVD writer; 64MB ATi Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics; 17in 1,920 x 1,200 TFT; V.90 modem; 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11b/g WLAN; Bluetooth; 3 x USB 2; FireWire; infrared; parallel; VGA; S-Video out; Type II PC Card slot; SD slot; Windows XP Home; Adobe Photoshop Elements 2, Microsoft Works 7; 1yr RTB warranty. Dimensions: 406 x 45 x 280mm (WDH). Weight: 4.1kg.