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. 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)
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.
Find out more about how we test notebooks.System configurations:
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