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Sony VAIO GRT review: Sony VAIO GRT

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The Good TV-recording capability; awesome gaming performance; bright, 16.1-inch screen; built-in DVD+RW drive; many configuration options when you buy.

The Bad Huge and heavy; big AC adapter; short battery life; weak speakers.

The Bottom Line The big Sony VAIO GRT is a perfect laptop for a multimedia buff who doesn't travel much.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.9 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery 4.0
  • Support 7.0

Review Sections

summary

The Sony VAIO GRT series--the company's biggest desktop-replacement laptop--further blurs the line between computers and home-entertainment centers. Thanks to Sony's Giga Pocket technology, this 9.1-pound laptop can record TV shows to its hard drive, and it lets you watch those shows on the notebook or burn them to disc using the built-in DVD+RW drive. Plus, the VAIO GRT's outstanding 3D performance also makes it a killer gaming machine. Unfortunately, the laptop's battery lasts less than 90 minutes, meaning you can't stray far from a power outlet. Nevertheless, if you plan on parking your laptop on your desk, this is one of the best big, home-entertainment portables.

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The big VAIO GRT series includes a firm, wide keyboard. The enormous power brick weighs a hefty 1.8 pounds.

The Sony VAIO GRT series is not for weaklings. Its formidable 9.1-pound case measures 14.1 by 11.9 by 1.9 inches, one of the larger footprints around. You can eliminate a few tenths of an inch by ordering the notebook with the 15-inch display rather than the 16.1-inch version, but regardless of which you choose, you'll still get the large, 1.8-pound AC adapter.

You'd think a notebook this big would come with two swappable media bays, but the VAIO GRT series includes just one bay for your choice of a CD-RW drive, a DVD+RW drive, or a second battery. (If you plan on leaving this notebook on your desk, one media bay is really enough, because you won't need to swap in an extra battery, and the 80GB hard drive negates the need for a second hard drive.)

Media bay aside, the laptop's girth allows it to pack in some top-notch features. For starters, its firm keyboard is nice and wide. In addition to the two standard mouse buttons beneath the keyboard, the laptop also includes plenty of extra buttons, such as volume up and down, TV-channel up and down, wireless on/off, and a magnify button that instantly enlarges your onscreen image.

The VAIO GRT also has plenty of room for its abundant ports and slots. On the back edge sit NTSC video-out, Ethernet, 56Kbps modem, microphone, headphone, and three USB 2.0 ports. The left edge includes the system's remaining ports and slots, including FireWire, S-Video in, AV in, VHF/UHF in (for connecting your cable box to the notebook), one PC Card slot, and a Memory Stick slot for optional, flash-media cards. The VAIO GRT series' ample specs and numerous configuration options give it plenty of dream-machine potential. You can choose from among three processors: desktop Pentium 4, running at 2.4GHz, 2.66GHz, or 2.8GHz; mobile Pentium 4 at 2.2GHz, 2.4GHz, or 2.6GHz; and the 2GHz mobile Celeron. Fast 266MHz DDR SDRAM starts at 256MB and ends at 1GB. Hard drives come in 40GB, 60GB, and 80GB sizes. Secondary storage drive choices include DVD/CD-RW and DVD+RW, a choice that conveniently accommodates both rewritable DVD standards: DVD+RW and DVD-RW.

Two display sizes are available--15 inches and 16.1 inches--with various native resolutions, ranging from the standard 1,024x768 to the graphics-friendly 1,600x1,200. Select screens also include Sony's Xbrite technology, which enhances the brightness and the sharpness of your images. If you buy the 15-inch display, you'll get a 32MB Nvidia GeForce 420 Go graphics card; notebooks with the 16.1-inch-display option ship with a fast 64MB Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5600. If you're a gamer, get the faster Nvidia card.

A couple of other Sony VAIO GRT-series features are also noteworthy: Every model comes with an internal, 802.11g mini-PCI Wi-Fi card for the fastest wireless communications available. Some models with a G at the end of their product names (for example, the VAIO PCG-GRT260G) include Sony's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex_1&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Esonystyle%2Ecom%2Fis%2Dbin%2FINTERSHOP%2Eenfinity%2FeCS%2FStore%2Fen%2F%2D%2FUSD%2FSY%5FBrowseCatalog%2DStart%3Bsid%3DzNMQz591h1YQi99shKoaxNB7%2DKTi%5F7ecvWM%3D%3FCategoryName%3Dpr%5Fp%5Fvaio%5Fsoftware%5Fgigapocket%5Fcpu">Giga Pocket technology, which turns the notebook into a personal video recorder. Unfortunately, you won't get great sound from the GRT's middling speakers, located above the keyboard. Hook up some external speakers if sound is paramount to you.

Three operating system choices suit both home and work use: Windows XP Home, Windows XP Professional, and Windows 2000. The notebook is short on productivity software, including just the Microsoft Works 7.0 minisuite with Money 2004, but it's miles long on multimedia apps, with highlights that include PictureGear Studio for cropping and organizing photos; the aforementioned Giga Pocket for TV recording; SonicStage for music editing; and DVGate for importing, editing, and recording video to your hard drive or disc. 3D graphics performance
When running real-time 3D graphics, the Sony VAIO PCG-GRT260G has a major advantage: it packs the most powerful graphics subsystem of this small test group. As a result, the Sony VAIO GRT scored the highest by far of the three systems in our 3D test, outpacing the Fujitsu LifeBook N series and the Toshiba Satellite P25-S607. The Sony scored more than 25 percent higher than both, posting one of the highest laptop scores we've seen on this test. If gaming is your bag, rest assured that the Sony VAIO PCG-GRT260G has the goods to play games at a fast clip.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 SE  

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 SE. We use 3DMark to measure desktop replacement notebook performance with the DirectX 8.1 interface at the 32-bit color setting at a resolution of 1,024x768.

SysMark 2002 performance
The Sony VAIO PCG-GRT260G came in last in maximum performance in this small roundup of desktop-replacement laptops. The Sony VAIO PCG-GRT260G had an Internet-content-creation score of 322 and an office-productivity rating of 135. Both of these scores are lower than the scores for the Fujitsu LifeBook N series and the Toshiba Satellite P25-S607. It's difficult to determine why the Sony scored so much lower, but it may have to do with its very large 80GB hard drive. Performance has been known to suffer in SysMark 2002 tests when running on hard drives larger than 60GB.

Maximum application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2002 rating  
SysMark 2002 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2002 office productivity  
Toshiba Satellite P25-S607
254 
367 
176 
Fujitsu LifeBook N series
237 
348 
162 
Sony VAIO PCG-GRT260G
208 
322 
135 

To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

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

System configurations:

Fujitsu LifeBook N series
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 8500 64MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-GRT260G
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5600 64MB; IBM Travelstar 80GN 80GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite P25-S607
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5200 64MB; Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB 5,400rpm To complete a full run of MobileMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark, a laptop's battery must last at least 90 minutes. Unfortunately, the Sony VAIO GRT series did not meet this requirement, but it's important to note that this is not that unusual. Many of the largest desktop-replacement notebooks don't complete this battery test.

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 analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

System configurations:

Fujitsu LifeBook N series
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 8500 64MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-GRT260G
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5600 64MB; IBM Travelstar 80GN 80GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite P25-S607
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5200 64MB; Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB 5,400rpm When you pay top dollar for a laptop, you want great service and support to go with it. Unfortunately, the Sony VAIO GRT series ships with a one-year warranty that includes return-to-depot service. To be fair, a one-year warranty is pretty much the industry standard for laptops, but we think you should get more for such an expensive piece of equipment. You can opt to extend the warranty to three years for another $200, a reasonable price. Toll-free, 24/7 telephone support lasts for the length of your warranty.

Sony does a better job with the VAIO GRT's manual, which includes an extensive section on the Giga Pocket technology (if your system includes it) and other audio and video features. The searchable knowledge base on Sony's support Web site provides you with a hodgepodge of answers to keyword searches--some useful, some not. We'd rather see user forums and the ability to engage in a real-time chat with a tech-support rep. On the other hand, Sony has an excellent set of online tutorials on a wide range of subjects, including how to set up and use the Giga Pocket software.

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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