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Like its predecessor, the $2,049 Sony VAIO VGN-FS680/W falls somewhere between a desktop replacement and a mainstream laptop. It measures approximately 14.5 inches wide, 10.4 inches deep, and 1.5 inches thick at the hinge. At 6.32 pounds, it's a bit too heavy for regular travel. In fact, with its huge 1.7-pound AC adapter, it's too heavy to move any further than room to room, and with its set of external speakers and TV/DVR dock, it's too much to carry without an assistant. We also prefer the smaller, business-class VAIO VGN-S470P/S's silver aesthetic to the VAIO VGN-FS680/W's putty-and-black color scheme.
The VAIO VGN-FS680/W's full-size keyboard is comfortable to type on, and its touch pad and mouse buttons are adequately sized. The laptop doesn't have many multimedia controls; besides two tiny programmable buttons that sit above the keyboard, it makes do with key-combination shortcuts for volume and brightness adjustments.
Sony's laptop displays are usually as crisp and bright as they come, and the VAIO VGN-FS680/W's is no exception. The 15.4-inch wide-screen's 1,280x800 native resolution offers a typical degree of detail for the size of the display, but the screen is considerably brighter than those on the Dell Inspiron 6000 and the HP Compaq Presario V4000. Audio was less impressive: the VAIO VGN-FS680/W's built-in stereo speakers sounded weak and soft, especially compared with the Dell's booming set.
Like Sony's enormous desktop replacement, the VAIO VGN-A690, the VAIO VGN-FS680/W comes with a number of accessories: a TV/DVR (digital video recorder) docking station and a set of external speakers. The speakers definitely make up for what the built-in set lacks. They go loud and sound crisp and full, and the docking station provides considerably more connectivity--most importantly, a TV tuner, which you can use with the included VAIO Zone software to watch and record programs. You can add the A/V dock to less expensive configurations for a whopping $300 on Sony's site.
Although the VAIO VGN-FS680/W has considerably fewer built-in multimedia features than other comparable systems, it still provides the minimum you'll need for basic connectivity and productivity: four-pin FireWire, VGA out, LAN, and modem connectors, along with three USB 2.0 ports (all on the right edge), a PC Card slot, and a memory-card reader that supports only Sony's own Memory Stick format. You also get microphone and headphone jacks, a handy wireless on/off switch, and an optical drive (in our case, a cutting-edge double-layer DVD burner). Sony throws in a decent software package, including Microsoft Windows XP Home, a few commonplace disc-burning apps, and the aforementioned VAIO Zone multimedia utility.
We think that at $2,049, the VAIO VGN-FS680/W deserves better components than it has. Built around a 1.86GHz Pentium M processor, our test unit came with 1,024MB of slow 300MHz RAM and an Nvidia GeForce Go 6200 graphics card with 128MB of video RAM. We like the big 100GB hard drive, though it's a slower 4,200rpm model. Nevertheless, the VAIO VGN-FS680/W performed below expectations in CNET Labs' benchmark tests, falling considerably behind the far less expensive Presario V4000 and Inspiron 6000. It didn't fare much better on our battery-life tests, mustering only a poor 2 hours, compared with the Compaq's more typical 3 hours and the Dell's amazing 5.3 hours. Sure, the Sony is powerful enough for surfing the Web, sending e-mail, and even watching a DVD or two, but we don't recommend it for power users of any stripe.
Sony backs the VAIO VGN-FS680/W with an industry-standard warranty: one year of free service (including free shipping both ways) and 24/7 toll-free telephone tech support. After the year expires, support calls cost $20 per incident. Sony offers an array of warranty extensions; a three-year plan with onsite service costs $250. The company's Web site has a good knowledge base and e-mail support from Sony technicians. Sony provides copious, clearly written electronic documentation for the VAIO VGN-FS680/W, though very little printed documentation--a problem if the machine malfunctions.
For more detailed information about warranties and service plans, check out Computer Shopper's overview of 37 major computer vendors.
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Sony VAIO VGN-FS680/W
Windows XP Home; 1.86GHz Intel Pentium M 750; 1GB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 6200 128MB; Fujitsu MHU2100AT 100GB 4,200rpm
Compaq Presario V4000
Windows XP Pro; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760; 1GB DDR2 PC2700 SDRAM 333MHz; Intel 915GM Graphics Media Accelerator 128MB; Toshiba MK8025GAS 80GB 4,200rpm
Dell Inspiron 6000
Windows XP Pro; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M 730; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC3200 400MHz; Intel 915GM/GMS, 910GML Express (up to 128MB); Hitachi Travelstar 40GNX 40GB 5,400rpm