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Sony VAIO K series review: Sony VAIO K series

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MSRP: $1,500.00

The Good Big 15-inch display; multiformat DVD+RW/-RW drive; 802.11b/g wireless.

The Bad Slow performance; giant AC adapter.

The Bottom Line Other mainstream notebooks, such as the Toshiba Satellite A45, offer more bang for the buck than the Sony VAIO K series does.

Visit for details.

6.8 Overall

The bulky new Sony VAIO K-series laptop will hardly turn heads, but this 7.8-pound mainstream notebook packs in plenty of useful features, such as a large 15-inch display, an integrated DVD+RW/-RW drive, and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. It also comes preloaded with some of Sony's cool multimedia applications for working with movies and music. Our Sony VAIO K15 delivered relatively poor performance, ultimately proving no match for the mainstream Toshiba Satellite A45. When similarly configured, the Toshiba also costs less than the Sony, making the Toshiba an overall better value for home or business users on a budget.

The Sony VAIO K-series laptop puts a no-nonsense notch in the company's notebook belt. Its 7.8-pound, mainstream case consists of silver plastic with gray accents, and it measures 2.3 by 13 by 10.9 inches. These moderate mainstream dimensions don't sound unwieldy--until you add the laptop's gargantuan, 1.7-pound AC adapter.

The Sony VAIO K-series laptop's most striking feature sits beneath its lid: a generous 15-inch screen with Sony's nice Xbrite technology, which cuts the harsh whites typical of a TFT panel without detracting from the display's overall clarity. The notebook doesn't offer many other fancy features--just a standard touch pad, two mouse buttons, a comfortable keyboard, and a strip of hollow-sounding speakers above the board.

Sony made some smart choices, however, when selecting ports and slots for the Sony VAIO K-series laptop. The company built one Type II PC Card slot, plus Ethernet, headphone, microphone, iLink (a.k.a. FireWire), and two USB 2.0 ports into the laptop's left edge. There's one more USB 2.0 port on the back edge, along with parallel, VGA, and 56Kbps modem ports. The right edge is home to the notebook's integrated DVD+RW/-RW drive. Finally, the front edge features a convenient wireless on/off switch (you can conserve battery life by turning off Wi-Fi when you're not using it), as well as a dedicated slot for Sony's chewing-gum-size Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro flash media cards.

Sony sells three preconfigured versions of the Sony VAIO K-series laptop on its Web site: the K12P, the K15, and the K17. Each configuration includes 512MB of 333MHz SDRAM, an ATI Radeon IGP 345M graphics chip with up to 64MB of shared video RAM, a 15-inch screen, and 802.11b/g wireless capabilities. While the K12P and the K15 ship with a 2.8GHz desktop Pentium 4 processor, the K17 steps the system up to a 3.06GHz mobile Pentium 4 CPU. Hard drive capacities come in 40GB, 60GB, and 80GB for the K12P, the K15, and the K17, respectively. A CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive comes standard with the K12P, but both the K15 and the K17 ship with a cutting-edge DVD+RW/-RW drive.

Which model should you choose? Speed seekers and even occasional travelers would be better off with the K17, thanks to the special battery-conserving features of its mobile processor, rather than the K15, which didn't do very well in our performance and battery-life tests. While you can save about $400 by going with the K12P, you can't mix and match components among models or personalize a K-series system for your particular needs.

All VAIO K-series systems ship with a copy of Microsoft's pared-down office suite, Works 7.0, Intuit Quicken New User Edition, and InterVideo WinDVD 5.0. Depending on which model you choose, you'll also get different combinations of Sony's movie and music-making multimedia apps, such as Click to DVD and SonicStage.

With regard to raw performance power, the Sony VAIO K-series laptop couldn't hold a candle to its top mainstream competitors, the Toshiba Satellite A45-S250 and the Dell Inspiron 1150. Despite similar specs and its powerful 2.8GHz processor, the Sony K15 we tested delivered significantly less oomph than these other systems.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating  
Sony VAIO PCG-K15
94 


Battery life  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes  
Sony VAIO PCG-K15
144 


System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 1150
Windows XP Home; 2.66GHz Intel Pentium 4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 GM/GME (up to 64MB); IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-K15
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon IGP 345M 64MB; Toshiba MK6021GAS 60GB 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite A45-S250 series
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 GM/GME (up to 64MB); Toshiba MK6021GAS 60GB 4,200rpm

Like many other laptop manufacturers, Sony offers a one-year warranty with the Sony VAIO K series. The term includes free parts and labor with return-to-depot service and 24/7, toll-free phone support. You can add three more years to your warranty for $329 by calling 800/747-1170. The company's support Web site pales in comparison to most, lacking helpful features such as model-specific FAQs and a user forum. The electronic user manual offers sections of most of the Sony VAIO K series' major parts--such as audio, storage, and wireless--but we wish it included a graphic tour of the laptop, as well.

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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