We've become fast fans of the new 18-inch laptop design, which is quickly becoming our go-to choice for mobile home theater use. These new 18-inch displays differ from the 17-inch systems they aim to replace by offering a 16:9 aspect ratio, which matches that of HDTV screens and works perfectly with HD content. Most current laptop screens are 16:10, which leaves you with black bars on the top and bottom of your screen when viewing HDTV programs or Blu-ray movies.
Sony is known for high-end, visually pleasing, but expensive, systems. But, of the 18-inch laptops we've looked at so far, the fixed-configuration $1,849 Vaio AW125J/H was surprisingly the least expensive Blu-ray equipped model, beating out the HP HDX18 and the Acer Aspire 8920 by a few hundred dollars (the 18-inch Toshiba Qosmio G55 lacks even an optional Blu-ray drive). Sony also offers similar models (such as the Vaio AW170) that can be configured with up to 1TB of hard drive space and cost up to $3,299.
With substantially similar hardware to the competition, looking nicer and costing less make the Vaio AW125 a top contender in the 18-inch category.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,849|
|Processor||2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400|
|Memory||4GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||320GB, 7,200rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel P45 Express|
|Graphics||512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||17.4 x 11.8 x 1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||18.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||7.9/9.2 pounds|
The Vaio AW125 shares the overall Sony laptop design aesthetic, with a dark gray chassis, uncluttered keyboard tray, flat, widely spaced keys (similar to the ones found on MacBooks), and an oversized round hinge with the power button on one end and the AC adapter jack on the other. It's a minimalist, understated look, unlike the overly shiny Qosmio G55 or the metal-accented HP HDX18.
Above the keyboard sits a standard row of touch-sensitive media control buttons, but the actual volume controls have been wisely moved to a separate row of keys just above the number pad. That's a smart move, as touch-sensitive volume buttons don't always respond quickly enough (or are sensitive enough) for our tastes, and having the volume controls as Function-key alternates is just a hassle.
The 18.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,920x1,080 native resolution, which is the same as a 1080p HDTV display, making the Vaio AW125 perfect for Blu-ray or other HD content. We've gotten used to the look of edge-to-edge glass covering the entire display, as in the HDX18 or the new MacBooks, so we were disappointed not to find it in the Vaio.
|Sony Vaio AW125J/H||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks w/optical audio output.||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader, CF card reader, Memory Stick reader.||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||BD-RE/DVD burner||DVD burner|
Sony also loads plenty of proprietary software on the machine, including photo and video editing software and media playback software. In a bit of corporate synergy, there's a slot for a Sony Memory Stick (Sony's in-house flash memory cards), and also a Compact Flash slot, which pro photographers will appreciate (as many dSLR cameras use CF cards).
While the Vaio AW125 is a fixed-configuration system that ships with a 2.26 Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU, our early review unit had a slightly faster 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400. The real-world difference would be minimal, and another recent laptop with the P8400, the Alienware M17, had benchmark scores in the same ballpark, although not as fast as the T9400. With either CPU, the Vaio 125 matches up well with the other 18-inch laptops we've tested, including the HP HDX18 and the Acer 8920.
The 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT (also found in the HP HDX18 and Toshiba Qosmio G55-Q802) adds the graphics muscle needed for Blu-ray playback, as well as for some basic gaming--we got an acceptable 48 frames per second at 1,440x900 resolution in Unreal Tournament 3.
The Sony Vaio AW125 ran for 1 hour and 53 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which isn't particularly impressive, even for a desktop replacement. Still, because large systems like this spend most of their time tethered to a single location, battery life isn't usually a big factor. Toshiba's Qosmio G55-Q802, however, seriously impressed with more then 3 hours in the same test.
Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, and support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and driver downloads. Extended warranties are an expensive add-on when purchased direct from Sony. For example, a three-year plan, which includes "Accidental Damage from Handling Protection," costs $349.