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Sony VAIO FW review: Sony VAIO FW


Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
5 min read

Sony's new Vaio FW140 covers a few firsts for us. It's the first 16-inch laptop we've gotten our hands on--and the display's movie-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio will become more popular in the next year or two (we've already seen it in the excellent 18-inch Acer Aspire 8920). It's also the first laptop we've tested that's built on Intel's new Centrino 2 platform and features the new 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo P8400 processor. While the new Centrino 2 CPU here didn't show much of a boost in raw processing power in CNET Labs, we were pleased with the battery life, thanks to a more power-efficient CPU design. At $1,750 for a fully decked-out model with Blu-ray (basic versions start at $1,000; our Blu-ray-less review unit costs $1,150), you'll pay a slight premium for the new screen size and sharp design, but Vaio buyers have always been willing to spend a little more to stake their claim as the coolest kid in the coffee shop.



The Good

If this 16-inch laptop is any indication, the Centrino 2 platform offers excellent battery life; 16:9 screen perfect for HD movies; excellent keyboard; attractive, simple design.

The Bad

No immediate performance gains seen here from Centrino 2; screen not really true 1080p, despite the sticker on the system that says so; clicky media buttons seem old-fashioned; still some advertising clutter, but less than previous Vaio models.

The Bottom Line

Sony's smart design, long battery life, and a big 16-inch screen, make the Vaio FW140--the first Centrino 2 laptop we've seen--an excellent, but still portable, media hub.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $1,150 / $1,000
Processor 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400
Memory 3GB DDR2
Hard drive 250GB, 5400rpm
Chipset Intel GM45 Express
Graphics Intel GMA 4700MHD (integrated)
Operating system Windows Vista Premium
Dimensions (WDH) 15.1 x 10.4 x 1.1 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 16.4 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 6.2/7.0 pounds
Category Mainstream

Sony's Vaio laptops are known for their eye-catching designs, and the FW140 is no exception. Its silver chassis and flat-key keyboard fit the Sony mold while giving the laptop a MacBook-like feel. The flat, widely spaced keys are a hallmark of both Sony and Apple laptops. They're an acquired taste, but one we like.

The keyboard tray has a Spartan look and feel, with only a large 3.5-inch touchpad below the keyboard and a few media control buttons above. Unlike the recent trend of touch-sensitive media control buttons, these are of the old-fashioned click variety, which is a shame. One of them, labeled AV Mode, launches a Sony onscreen toolbar that sits at the top of the screen and provides quick access to Sony's proprietary media playing software (we have yet to find custom media-playing software that is less clunky than Windows Media Center or iTunes, so we generally suggest avoiding these apps).

The large, round hinge (and hinge-side power button) is similar to recent designs from Dell and Asus, and might be called a current laptop design trend--but we've seen it in select Vaio laptops at least as far back as the TZ150.

As laptop makers (spurred by the companies that make displays for both laptops and HDTVs) move to new 16:9 models, we'll see a lot more 16- and 18-inch laptops. Fortunately, the handful of models we've seen have only marginally larger footprints than most 15- and 17-inch laptops, and we generally like the increased screen real estate for a minimal increase in mass. The FW140 is wider but otherwise virtually the same size and weight as Sony's 15-inch Vaio FZ180.

We were pleased to see less of the usual adware and bloatware that we've come to associate with Sony laptops. This time, we got only a handful of AOL desktop links, although the Web browser had its home page set to AOL, included the AOL toolbar, and Internet Explorer's search box was set to use AOL Search, which you'll probably use accidentally once before switching it to Google.

The 16.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,600x900 native resolution, which makes the "Full HD 1080p" sticker on the wrist rest a bit misleading, to say the least. While the 16:9 display is perfect for playing HD content, it's not truly 1080p. You'll need an 18-inch screen as found on the Acer Aspire 8920 to hit that resolution. Sony explains the 1080p sticker by saying the system offers "full 1080 HD content when connected to a compatible HDTV." Quite a qualification.

  Sony Vaio VGN-FW140 E/H Average for category [thin-and-light]
Video VGA, HDMI VGA, S-Video
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, Memory Stick slot, SD card slot 3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/54 ExpressCard/54
Networking modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

The first Centrino 2 laptop we've tested, the Sony Vaio FW140 uses Intel's new 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU. The P, as opposed to the current T designation, means this is part of a new Intel laptop chip series that has a thermal envelope of 25 watts, unlike the previous 35-watt models. For practical purposes, that means that we can (hopefully) expect better battery life from Centrino 2 systems in general (we seemed to get it in this specific model). We found it to be comparable or slightly slower than some recent Core 2 Duo T9300 and T8300 laptops in our benchmark tests, but the difference would be negligible in everyday usage. The P8400 is the slowest of the new crop of Intel Centrino 2 processors, a line that also includes the Core 2 Duo P8600, P9500, and T9400.

One big advantage of the new Centrino 2 chipset is that the integrated graphics chip (Intel GMA 4700MHD) is DirectX 10 compatible and also plays back full-definition Blu-ray or HD content without a hitch--although it's still not going to do much in terms of gaming.

The Vaio FW140 ran for 3 hours and 14 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is between 40 and 80 minutes longer than most of the recent 17-inch laptops we've looked at. We'll need to test more Centrino 2 systems before we speak in general terms, but the lower thermal envelope of the new Centrino 2 chips certainly seems to be paying off with the Vaio FW140.

Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, while upgrading to a three-year mail-in plan is $299 (or $359 for a three-year on-site plan). Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and driver downloads.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VGN-FW140 E/H

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VGN-FW140 E/H

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VGN-FW140 E/H

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VGN-FW140 E/H

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Sony Vaio FW140
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400; 3072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Intel GMA 4700MHD; 250GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm

Asus M70
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD3650; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm (x2)

Gateway P-172X FX
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800M GTS; 160GB Seagate 7,200rpm (x2)

HP Pavilion dv9700t
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300; 3072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8600M GS; 250GB Hitachi 5,400rpm



Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Battery 8Support 6