The silver-and-black VAIO FE has a rather minimal design that's similar to that of the VAIO FS series. A few external buttons launch applications and control the volume, but the VAIO FE lacks the dedicated multimedia controls and the high-end speakers found on the Pavilion dv5000t and the Inspiron E1505. We did find, however, that the VAIO FE's speakers emit clear, if not multidimensional, sound. The keyboard and the touch pad are plenty broad, but the mouse buttons are annoyingly small.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen display has a standard 1,280x800 native resolution and looks brighter and crisper than most any display you're going to get from Dell or HP. There's a 1.3-megapixel camera integrated above the screen--a handy feature for snapping quick shots and video clips. Our test unit came loaded with Microsoft's Media Center Edition 2005 operating system, a great bundle of Sony multimedia applications, and the Microsoft Works 8.5 basic productivity suite.
The VAIO FE has a decent array of standard ports and connections: you get S-Video out, VGA, and three USB 2.0 ports (compared to the dv5000t's four); FireWire, 56K modem, Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks; and one Type II PC Card slot, one ExpressCard/34 slot, and one Memory Stick flash-media slot (compared to four-in-one and five-in-one media-card readers on the Pavilion dv5000t and the Inspiron E1505).
Our VAIO FE570G test unit came with a decent mix of components for the price: a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300 processor; a goliath 160GB, 4,200rpm hard drive (the Pavilion dv5000t and Inspiron E1505 max out at 100GB and 120GB, respectively); 1GB of 533MHz memory; a double-layer DVD burner; and integrated Intel 945GM graphics, which borrow up to 128MB of main memory. At $1,730, this configuration is a bit more expensive than competitors with similar--or superior--components. A $1,610 configuration of the Inspiron E1505 brought together the same processor, memory, graphics solution, and DVD burner, albeit with a smaller hard drive and less multimedia software. We built a $1,700 Pavilion dv5000t that had roughly the same components plus an ExpressCard TV tuner and an Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 graphics card, though again a smaller hard drive (100GB).
The VAIO FE570G turned in an uneven performance in CNET Labs' benchmark tests. It delivered solid numbers on SysMark and our homegrown multimedia dual-core tests but produced inferior results in our MobileMark test. Why? The VAIO FE's processor throttles down considerably to keep the system cool, and its unplugged performance (which is what MobileMark measures) suffers somewhat as a result. What it means: the VAIO FE will have no problems with standard office and multimedia tasks, though we don't recommend it for gaming or graphically intensive projects. In addition to exhibiting diminished performance while unplugged, the VAIO FE made an average showing in our battery-drain tests, lasting for 228 minutes--about what you'd expect for a system of its size and make, though not as long as the Lenovo ThinkPad T60p we tested, which had half the RAM and hard drive capacity and a discrete GPU.
The VAIO FE's base warranty is a cut above the industry standard: while it lasts for the typical one year, it also includes onsite service (most basic warranties come with mail-in service). Toll-free, 24/7 telephone support is available for the length of the warranty. Though Sony's support Web site lacks a user forum, it provides the convenient ability to chat in real time with a tech-support rep.
|Mobile application performance|
Windows XP Media Center; 2.2GHz Turion 64 ML-40; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon Xpress 200 128MB; Fujitsu MHV2120AT PL 120GB 4,200rpm
Windows XP Pro; 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC5300 666MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 256MB; Fujitsu MHV2080BH 80GB 5,400rpm
Sony VAIO VGN-FE570G
Windows XP Media Center; 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM PC4300 533MHz; Intel 945GM Express 128MB; Fujitsu MHV2160BT 160GB 4,200rpm