Editors' note: This review is part of our spring 2010 retail laptop and desktop roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
When we imagine what an ideal high-end laptop should be, most of us have a laundry list: a great look and feel; a big, high-res screen; Blu-ray; and, most likely, some pretty good graphics under the hood. Depending on who you are, you'll either want this laptop to sit on your desk and replace your bedroom home entertainment center, or you'll want it to be a sleek, ultraportable work of art.
The Sony Vaio VPCF115FM/B is most certainly the former. With a 16.4-inch 1080p screen, Blu-ray, an Nvidia GeForce 330M GPU, a Core i7 processor, and a keyboard as wide and as comfortable as the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car, this isn't a laptop for those who are afraid of size or weight. Though it won't invisibly slide into a backpack or survive more than 2 hours on a battery charge, at $1,349 it's a heck of a lot of computer. There isn't a lot we can think of that's been left out of this laptop, although it's also near the top end of the price scale.
The only question is: do you need all the computing power this Vaio provides? For only $829, the Samsung NP-R580-JSB1US has a still-excellent Core i5 processor, Blu-ray, and a less-powerful but still serviceable Nvidia graphics card, but lacks a 1080p display. Five-hundred dollars more for what this Sony offers is a lot to spend, but you're also taking a nice leap up in features and horsepower, too. If you're a serious video editor or do graphics work, or would like some better gaming graphics to go with your Blu-ray, this is an excellent pick.
|Price as reviewed||$1,349|
|Processor||1.6 GHz Intel Core i7 720QM|
|Memory||6GB, 1066 MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GT 330M (1GB)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||15.3 inches x 10.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||16.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.7 / 8.0 pounds|
From the outside, this Vaio F won't stand out much from the crowd of supersized laptops. The thick, slightly tapered body has a lid emblazoned, as most Vaios are, with a large chrome logo smack in the center. The matte black surface of the outer lid is smooth to the touch, and slightly prone to smudges and fingerprints. The Vaio VPCF115FM/B is almost a throwback look, full of plain lines, crisp angles and a uniform black-and-dark-gray color scheme.
Inside, a somewhat raised and textured palm rest and speaker bar/media button dashboard frame a large, comfortable, chiclet-style raised keyboard and number pad, with dark, silvery, gray-colored plastic predominating. Unlike some squished number pad and keyboard combinations we've seen lately, Sony's is spacious, well-centered, and great to type on. The keys are covered with a soft, almost rubberized surface that seems to help the keys feel less oily after a lot of typing (at least, that happens to us on raised keyboards).
The touch pad, ever-so-slightly recessed from the palm rest, is very smooth to the touch, but it responds very well. Buttons beneath are plain and flush with the touch pad, but have good click to them. Though the overall design of this Vaio F is somewhat somber and professional, we have to credit Sony for not overdesigning things here: this Vaio is clean-cut, user-focused, and solid-feeling. Above the keyboard, a simple line of dedicated keys control basic media playback, display On/Off, and quick-launch buttons for Sony's Media Gallery software and help center. Volume control, bafflingly, is still isolated to hitting a function-combo with the F3 and F4 keys. Out of all those dedicated buttons on top, volume would make more sense than display On/Off.
At a weight of around 8 pounds, this Vaio isn't made for easy travel. We were able to jam it into a very capacious Booq Bow Flow backpack, but its dimensions are just on the other side of cumbersome, despite having a display smaller than 17 inches. This Vaio's best left on a desktop and taken out for walks only once in a while.
The Sony Vaio VPCF115FM/B's glossy 16.4-inch LED-backlit display has a 1,920x1,080-pixel native resolution, which is a pleasant surprise for a screen of this size. The inset display has no edge-to-edge glass over the rest of the lid, which helps reduce glare somewhat, but it can be a bit hard to see details in bright light. This Sony's screen wasn't stupendously bright, but its detail and color clarity were great when playing games and watching Blu-ray movies. Also, it's really nice to see a 1080p display married with a Blu-ray player--so many times, Blu-ray laptops come with screens at either 1,600x900 pixels (or 720p). In full 1080p resolution, it can be a little hard to read text in dialogue boxes, since so much screen real estate is crammed into a 16.4-inch panel, but you can always lower the resolution if you must. We're not complaining.
Built-in audio comes through stereo speakers under a grille above the keyboard. Though volume got loud enough for our tastes, the clarity and depth of the sound never rose far beyond that of standard television speakers. That's a bit of a letdown for Blu-ray and game playing, but it's nothing that a good pair of external speakers or headphones can't fix.
|Sony Vaio VPCF115FM/B||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA and HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, 1 eSATA/USB, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader, mini-FireWire||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray player/DVD burner||DVD burner [high-end: Blu-Ray]|
As is common in many midrange-to-high-end Vaios, a nice number of ports are thrown in to satisfy nearly any need. USB, eSATA, HDMI, FireWire and ExpressCard are all represented, and our only real complaint is that there are only three USB 2.0 ports, including the eSATA combo port--then again, the sides of this Vaio are already jammed to capacity. Bluetooth is also included.
Six GB of RAM is included in this fixed retail Vaio F configuration, as well as a 500GB hard drive. We're thrilled about the generous RAM, but the hard drive runs at a slow 5,400rpm--for a media/gaming machine at this price, 7,200rpm would be expected.
The Core i7 720QM processor included in this Vaio F is one of the best laptop CPUs available, and its quad-core multitasking capability should satisfy any hardcore user without reservation. The Vaio VPCF115FM/B is the fastest laptop in our spring 2010 retail laptop round-up, beating the Asus G73JH by a hair. The Asus G73 we reviewed is also less expensive despite having more powerful ATI graphics, but it lacks a 1080p display and Blu-ray. In terms of general processor computing power in our iTunes, Photoshop, and multitasking benchmarking, however, both are essentially identical.