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Sony VAIO FXA review:

Sony VAIO FXA

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MSRP: $1,400.00
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The Good Low price; built-in DVD/CD-RW combo drive; robust software package.

The Bad Slow; short battery life; weak speakers; no built-in wireless connectivity; limited warranty.

The Bottom Line The Sony VAIO PCG-FXA63 is a below-average mainstream notebook with less than stellar specs, performance, and options.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

5.8 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 5.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Battery 6.0
  • Support 6.0

The low-priced Sony VAIO PCG-FXA63 is a mainstream notebook that's neither as flashy as Sony's sleek ultralights nor anywhere near as powerful as the company's big, desktop-replacement models. This bare-bones VAIO features an AMD Athlon 1600+ processor, 256MB of RAM, a small 20GB hard drive, weak speakers, and a lackluster battery. And while Sony offers a nice price and software package--as well as a few beefy specs--the VAIO PCG-FXA63 just doesn't dole out as much power and features as similarly priced notebooks, such as the Toshiba Satellite 1415-S174. You'll do better with a different choice of mainstream notebook.



You don't get a Sony Jog Dial on this model.
Open the charcoal-gray lid of the VAIO PCG-FXA63, and you'll see a standard Sony keyboard with wide keys. Unfortunately, these handsome keys have a hollow feel, and they clatter when you type. This VAIO is a stripped-down mainstream notebook that skips on extras--including the dedicated buttons for launching applications that you'll find on other notebooks in this class. The simplified design doesn't even allow for a Sony Jog Dial, which sits beneath the touchpad on the company's other notebooks and is useful for scrolling through pages or launching apps. Here, you'll find just a touchpad and two big mouse buttons (no pointing stick is available in this series).

Thankfully, the VAIO PCG-FXA63 measures 1.9 by 12.8 by 10.5 inches and weighs 6.6 pounds (7.5 pounds when you include its AC adapter), standard for a mainstream notebook. The big case makes room for a bright, 14.1-inch display with a native resolution of 1,024x768 pixels.

Weak audio is an unfortunate trend with many Sony notebooks, and the VAIO PCG-FXA63 is no different. A strip of speakers that lines the top of the keyboard serves up sound that lacks volume and depth. Little status lights reside just above the speakers to help you determine whether your battery is fully charged and if your system is in hibernation mode.




Little status lights help you monitor system functions.


The keyboard is big, but the keys have a hollow feel.


This Sony's selection of ports and slots is similar to that of most mainstream notebooks. The left edge offers two Type II PC Card slots, an iLink (a.k.a. FireWire) port, and headphone/microphone jacks. The right edge contains the floppy and combo drives, while the back edge contains 56Kbps modem, Ethernet, VGA, parallel, NTSC-out, and two USB 1.1 ports. The optional port replicator ($199) connects to a slot on the bottom of the notebook.


Sony sells the VAIO PCG-FXA63 as a fixed configuration; in other words, you get very few configuration choices when you order the notebook at the company's Web site. The model that we tested features an AMD Athlon 1600+ processor running at 1.4GHz, 256MB of RAM, and a small 20GB hard drive. Graphics are handled by a less than adequate 8MB ATI Mobility M1 graphics controller, and every system comes with a 14.1-inch, active-matrix screen with a native resolution of 1,024x768 pixels. We would prefer to have the choice of a larger screen, particularly since you can get the bigger VAIO PCG-GRX600 series with a 16.1-inch display. You can purchase a second battery ($249) to swap with the FXA63's floppy on long trips, or you can buy the port replicator--that's it for options.



The DVD/CD-RW drive is fixed, so you can't swap in another media module or an extra battery.


The VAIO PCG-FXA63 features a standard selection of ports.


A lack of built-in wireless networking is another weak spot in the PCG-FXA63. You can purchase a variety of 802.11a or 802.11b wireless LAN cards as an accessory on Sony's site or from other vendors. But that means you'll have to keep track of yet another loose part, and it consumes one of the two available PC Card slots.

If a large software selection is a must, you'll appreciate this VAIO's bundle. Although you get only one operating-system choice--Windows XP Home--Sony bundles WordPerfect Office 2002, Quicken 2002 New User Edition, Trend Micro PC-cillin, AOL, and EarthLink. Movie and TV titles include Sony's DVgate, MovieShaker, and PicoPlayer, as well as InterVideo WinDVD 2000, while Sony SonicStage and Screenblast Acid cover the music programs. Two image programs, Sony Digital Print and Sony Smart Capture, round out the robust package.


The VAIO PCG-FXA63 comes in at about the midpoint between the Toshiba Satellite 1415-S174 and the Compaq Evo N1015v in terms of mobile application performance. The VAIO PCG-FXA63's numbers are somewhat disappointing, considering that it houses an Athlon XP processor and has dedicated (not shared) video memory. Don't look for anything more than average mobile performance from this VAIO.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Toshiba Satellite 1415-S174
115 
Sony VAIO PCG-FXA63
89 
Compaq Evo N1015v
65 
 
Find out more about how we test notebook systems.

System configurations:

Compaq Evo N1015v
Windows XP Home; 1.27GHz AMD Athlon XP 1400+; 112MB SDRAM 100MHz; ATI Mobility UI 16MB (shared); Fujitsu MHR2020AT 20GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-FXA63
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Athlon XP 1600+; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility M1n8MB; Hitachi DK23DA-20 20GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite 1415-S174
Windows XP Home; 1.8GHz Intel Celeron; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 16MB; IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm


Don't expect the PCG-FXA63's battery life to make up for its performance; its 14.8V, 3,000mAh battery does not allow it to compete with the Compaq Evo N1015v's 14.8V, 4,400mAh unit. The VAIO PCG-FXA63 barely lasted more than two hours, far behind the Compaq Evo N1015v's nearly four-hour time. A two-hour-plus battery life is below average for mainstream notebooks.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate longer battery life)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 (Battery life is measured in minutes)  
Compaq Evo N1015v
235 
Toshiba Satellite 1415-S174
135 
Sony VAIO PCG-FXA63
125 
 
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both applications 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).

Find out more about how we test notebook systems.


System configurations:

Compaq Evo N1015v
Windows XP Home; 1.27GHz AMD Athlon XP 1400+; 112MB SDRAM 100MHz; ATI Mobility UI 16MB (shared); Fujitsu MHR2020AT 20GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-FXA63
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Athlon XP 1600+; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility M1n8MB; Hitachi DK23DA-20 20GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite 1415-S174
Windows XP Home; 1.8GHz Intel Celeron; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 16MB; IBM Travelstar 30GN 30GB 4,200rpm


Sony offers a standard warranty with the VAIO PCG-FXA63: a one-year, parts-and-labor guarantee with return-to-depot service, as well as toll-free, around-the-clock telephone support. You can--and should--extend these terms to three years for an extra $200. For another $49, Sony offers overseas support for certain countries, including Canada, Japan, and some European nations.

The company's Web support is nothing special, consisting of only a searchable knowledge base; a handful of Windows XP drivers; and a Hot News section, where Sony has lumped together information about all of its computing products. These Web resources pale in comparison to the much more comprehensive offerings of Dell, Gateway, and IBM; all of those companies provide user forums and the ability to chat in real time with a tech rep.

This VAIO is easy to set up, although Sony doesn't include detailed posters or guides. The manual is average and doesn't contain as much helpful information as the beefed-up paperwork of many other manufacturers, such as HP.

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