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.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,150 / $1,000|
|Processor||2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400|
|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|
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|
|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.