Sony VAIO FRV series review: Sony VAIO FRV series

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.9
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 6.0
  • Battery life: 7.0
  • Service and support: 6.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Integrated DVD-RW drive; lots of ports and slots; spacious keyboard; excellent multimedia software.

The Bad Slow; no integrated wireless; enormous AC adapter; short power cord.

The Bottom Line The VAIO FRV's mainstream design is nice enough, but it has too many trade-offs to keep pace with the best mainstream notebooks.

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Unfortunately, the Sony VAIO FRV series fall short of the must-buy mark for a budget-conscious, mainstream notebook. The laptop does have points in its favor, such as a built-in DVD-RW drive, three USB 2.0 ports, a comfortable keyboard, and excellent multimedia software. But those benefits can't overshadow the notebook's deficits: slow performance, no integrated wireless, and a huge AC adapter. If you're going to spend $1,700 on a laptop (the price of an FRV model), you might as well get one with more of everything, such as the Dell Inspiron 5150.

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The comfortable keyboard has wide, quiet keys.

As with its predecessor, the VAIO FXA, the upgraded FRV series features a straight-up case design. Its 2.3-by-13-by-10.8-inch dimensions and 7.7-pound weight make it an average-size mainstream notebook. But the enormous 1.7-pound AC adapter is anything but average size. The case includes one fixed bay that comes with either a DVD-RW or DVD/CD-RW drive, depending on which configuration you choose.

Open the FRV series' lid, and you're greeted by a basic notebook keyboard, touchpad, and dual mouse-button arrangement. The keyboard is quite pleasant to use, with wide, quiet keys. A strip of speakers lies above the keyboard; the location prevents your wrists from further distorting the speakers' already mediocre sound. The 15-inch screen looming above the board includes a cost-saving, 1,024x768 native resolution that makes for big text but hardly the image granularity sought by graphics pros. Two rubber bumpers on either side of the keyboard help keep the display from smashing against the board when closed.

Things get a bit more interesting when it comes to the FRV series' ports and slots. The left edge sports a Memory Stick slot for optional flash media cards. The same edge includes two Type II PC Card slots, plus headphone, microphone, FireWire, AV-out, and two USB 2.0 ports. A third USB 2.0 port lies along the back edge, joined by 56Kbps modem, Ethernet, parallel, and VGA ports. That's a fairly nice selection of ports and slots, though we can't help but notice one obvious omission: integrated wireless. Your only wireless option with the FRV series is a PC Card, which not only fills up one of your slots, but also means one more extra part to keep track of.

Sony doesn't offer much wiggle room when it comes to the VAIO FRV series' components. The company sells three fixed configurations on its Web site: the FRV26, the FRV28, and the FRV37. A few parts differentiate the three, including a 40GB or 60GB hard drive as well as a DVD-RW or DVD/CD-RW drive. Otherwise, all FRV-series models ship with a 2.8GHz desktop Pentium 4 processor, an ATI Mobility Radeon graphics chip that shares up to 64MB of video RAM with main memory, and a 15-inch screen. The total package is acceptable for a mainstream notebook, but it's not fantastic. One sorely missed feature is built-in wireless. If you want wireless in the FRV series, a PC Card is your only option.

In light of its limited spec selection, it comes as no surprise that Sony offers only one operating system: Windows XP Home. The notebook comes with just one office productivity suite as well: the Microsoft Works 7.0 minisuite with Money 2004.

However, Sony is never at a loss when it comes to multimedia apps. As with most VAIO laptops, the FRV series ships with Sony's PictureGear Studio for photo editing and SonicStage for music mixing. And Click to DVD comes with FRV models that also feature a DVD-RW drive. InterVideo's WinDVD 4.0 lends a hand with DVD viewing, while Easy Systems' Drag 'n' Drop CD+DVD aids with both CD and DVD burning.

Although its score is low when running office and content-creation apps unplugged, the Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37 managed to come in first place in mobile performance in this small test group. The system beat the Sharp PC-RD3D by 24 points. Since each system has such similar specs, this is most likely because the Sharp PC-RD3D throttles its CPU speed lower than the Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37 does. (Notebook processors lower their speed when running unplugged to conserve battery power.) The Toshiba Satellite A25-S279 does this as well, but not as much as the Sharp PC-RD3D, and thus the Toshiba came in second place, 11 points behind the Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37. The VAIO PCG-FRV37 won this round, thanks to efficient use of its processor's power.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating  
Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37
78 
Toshiba Satellite A25-S279
67 
Sharp PC-RD3D
54 

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Sharp PC-RD3
Windows XP Pro; 2,800MHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go; Fujitsu MHT2060AT SP 60GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37
Windows XP Home; 2,800MHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Radeon IGP 345M 64MB; IBM Travelstar 60GN 60GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite A25-S279
Windows XP Home; 2,800MHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Trident Video Accelerator Cyber-XP4 32MB; Toshiba MK4004GAH 40GB 4,200rpm

Walk softly but always carry a big battery. This must be the philosophy that Toshiba took when designing the Satellite A25-S279, as it was able to crush its peers in this test, thanks to its powerful 10.8V, 8,400mAh (91WHr) battery. The Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37, with its 14V, 4,000mAh (59WHr) battery, came in last place--two minutes behind the Sharp PC-RD3D, which houses an 11.1V, 6,000mAh (67WHr) battery. The Toshiba Satellite A25-S279 lasted well over three hours compared to the Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37, which lasted only a bit over two hours. The Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37 delivers disappointing battery life, thanks to its low-power battery. When running office and content-creation apps in an unplugged state, don't count on getting too much work done.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes  
Toshiba Satellite A25-S279
218 
Sharp PC-RD3D
128 
Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37
126 

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark 2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

Battery life analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Sharp PC-RD3D
Windows XP Pro; 2,800MHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go; Fujitsu MHT2060AT SP 60GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-FRV37
Windows XP Home; 2,800MHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Radeon IGP 345M 64MB; IBM Travelstar 60GN 60GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite A25-S279
Windows XP Home; 2,800MHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Trident Video Accelerator Cyber-XP4 32MB; Toshiba MK4004GAH 40GB 4,200rpm

The VAIO FRV series' warranty matches its hardware: merely average. The policy includes a year's worth of free parts and labor with return-to-depot service and toll-free, 24/7 phone support. Sony is banking that this policy will be enough; the company doesn't offer extended-warranty options.

The FRV series comes with a fairly easy to follow setup guide, but its manual covers mostly complex topics, such as interpreting BIOS errors and lowering CPU clock speed, that will be understood by only more-advanced users. Sony's support Web site features a good selection of FAQs and tutorials, but they're targeted at the operating system running on your notebook rather than on your specific laptop model.

To find out more about how this product's warranty really stacks up and what you should look for in terms of service and support, take a look at CNET's hardware warranty explainer.

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Sony VAIO FRV series

Part Number: PCGFRV37

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Resolution 1024 x 768 ( XGA )
  • Installed Size 512 MB
  • Weight 7.7 lbs
  • Optical Drive DVD-RW - fixed
  • Graphics Processor ATI Radeon IGP345M
  • CPU Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GHz
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