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Sony VAIO FS500 review: Sony VAIO FS500

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The Good Light case for a desktop replacement; adequate battery life; double-layer, multiformat DVD burner; bright wide-aspect display.

The Bad Inferior performance; noisy keyboard; gap between closed lid and bottom could cause display damage.

The Bottom Line The Sony VAIO VGN-FS570 offers an adequate array of features but doesn't deliver enough performance to justify its premium price.

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6.1 Overall

Editor's note: When this review was first published, we inaccurately reported that the baseline warranty features return-to-depot service; Sony actually offers onsite service as part of the standard warranty. We regret the error. (4/1/05)

The Sony VAIO VGN-FS570 is among a new breed of Pentium M laptops that are transforming the definition of a desktop-replacement laptop. The VAIO VGN-FS570 measures 14.3 inches wide, 10.4 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick--almost exactly the dimensions of the Dell Inspiron 6000. But while the Inspiron 6000 weighs 7.1 pounds (8 pounds with its AC adapter), the VAIO VGN-FS570 weighs only 6.2 pounds--quite light for a desktop-replacement laptop, though still a bit too heavy for regular commuting. The Sony's reasonably sized AC adapter adds 1 pound to the mix, bringing the system's total travel weight to 7.2 pounds.

The quality of the VAIO VGN-FS570's design is mixed. We like the wide keyboard and the big, firm keys, but we found it noisy to type on. We also appreciate much of the keyboard layout, such as the delete key in the easy-to-find upper-right corner. The size of the touch pad is adequate, though the mouse buttons are a bit small. The keyboard sits lower than the wrist rest, which is a nice ergonomic touch; however, it also creates a gap between the closed lid and the keyboard that's big enough for a paper clip (or other laptop bag detritus) to slide through and nick the screen. It's nice that the VAIO VGN-FS570 has two programmable quick-launch buttons and a Wi-Fi on/off switch, but all of them are tiny.

Sony sells the VAIO VGN-FS570 through local retail stores, its toll-free sales number, various online resellers, and Sony's own shopping site. While in-store configurations are largely fixed, buying via phone or the Web gives you the opportunity to pick and choose from a variety of components. CNET's VAIO FS series review offers more details about configuration options.

Priced at $1,899, the VAIO VGN-FS570 model we tested offers decent components for the money. There's a new 1.73GHz Sonoma Pentium M CPU; 1GB of slowish 333MHz memory; an absolutely huge, 100GB hard drive spinning at a sluggish 4,200rpm; a cool double-layer, multiformat DVD burner; and a lower-end Intel 915GM chipset with an integrated GME 900 graphics engine that borrows up to 128MB of video memory from the main RAM. The VAIO VGN-FS570's very bright, 15.4-inch wide-aspect display features an average 1,280x800 native resolution; its reflective covering gives colors vibrancy but is annoyingly reflective. We also noticed some uneven backlighting along the bottom edge of the display. Our VAIO VGN-FS570 test unit included an Intel Pro Wireless 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card.

Slower components, particularly the RAM and the hard drive, took their toll on the VAIO VGN-FS570's performance in CNET Labs' benchmark testing. Even though it had the most memory of the machines in our test group, it trailed behind other comparable 1.7GHz Pentium M laptops, such as the Dell Inspiron 6000 and the Gateway M460; the VAIO VGN-FS570 could not even keep up with Sony's smaller VAIO VGN-S260. The VAIO VGN-FS570 turned in an adequate score in our Labs' battery-drain testing; it clocked 218 minutes--better than the Gateway but far short of the Inspiron 6000's 320 minutes.

The VAIO VGN-FS570 offers a decent array of ports and slots. You get one four-pin, unpowered FireWire and three USB 2.0 ports. There's a VGA connection for hooking up to an external monitor and one headphone and one microphone jack. For getting online, there's both Ethernet and 56Kbps modem ports. A docking port on the bottom of the VAIO VGN-FS570 lets you connect to a pricey, optional $199 port replicator. The FS series also sports two slots, one for a Type II PC Card, the other for Sony's Memory Stick flash-media cards (which would be more convenient if it supported other, more-common types of flash media, such as SD). On top of Windows XP Home, our VAIO VGN-FS570 test unit came preloaded with a ton of software, including the pared-down Microsoft Works 8.0 productivity suite, as well as a slew of multimedia apps, including PictureGear Studio for photo editing, SonicStage for organizing your tunes, and DVGate Plus for video editing.

Sony backs the VAIO VGN-FS570 with an industry-standard one-year warranty that features onsite service--a new and generous feature of Sony's support terms. Though warranty extensions are available for up to four years, you can access Sony's toll-free, 24/7 phone support only for the life of your warranty--not the life of the product, as with other vendors. Sony's disorganized, incomplete support Web site is weak; it lacks user forums and virtual chatting with tech-support reps--features common to most other support sites. We couldn't even find any FAQs related to our VAIO VGN-FS570 test unit.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating  

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate longer battery life)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes  

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 6000
Windows XP Pro; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M 730; 512MB DDR2 PC3200 SDRAM 400MHz; Intel 915GM Graphics Media Accelerator 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 40GNX 40GB 5,400rpm

Gateway M460
Windows XP Home; 2.13GHz Intel Pentium M 765; 512MB 533MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X600 128MB; Fujitsu MHT2080AH 80GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO VGN-S260
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 32MB; Toshiba MK6025GAS 60GB 4,200rpm

Windows XP Home; 1.73GHz Intel Pentium M 740; 1GB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel 915GM/GMS 910GML Express 128MB; Fujitsu MHU2100AT 100GB 4,200rpm

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