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Sony Vaio FW480J/T review: Sony Vaio FW480J/T

Sony Vaio FW480J/T

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.

OVR
7.7

Sony Vaio FW480J/T

The Good

Sleek design, seamless Blu-ray functionality, plenty of RAM, good battery life.

The Bad

Midlevel discrete graphics, no 1080p screen resolution, no touch-sensitive media controls.

The Bottom Line

As an above-average Blu-ray-playing laptop with impressive looks and good under-the-hood power, Sony's Vaio FW480J/T is a solid portable multimedia machine.

In a growing field of Blu-ray-playing laptops, it's important to take note of Sony, who created the Blu-ray format in the first place. The company's Vaio laptops, particularly its higher-end lines, tend to be specifically oriented toward media playback.

The last model from Sony's FW line we reviewed, the Vaio FW351J/H, cost $949 and came with less-than-impressive graphics, but had an attractive aesthetic and good Blu-ray playback on a large 16.4-inch screen. The FW480J/T costs a bit more money--$1,199--but it offers improvements to the processor and graphics. If you expected something more affordable, because Sony does make you pay for the improvements--there are Blu-ray equipped Vaios available for less money, such as the sub-$900 15-inch NW180.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $1,199
Processor 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo P7350
Memory 6GB, DDR2 RAM 800MHz
Hard drive 400GB hard drive
Chipset Mobile Intel PM45
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650, 512 MB
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
Dimensions (WD) 15.1x10.3 inches
Height 1.14-1.46 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 16.4 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 6.3/7.3 pounds
Category Mainstream

Like the Vaio FW351J/H, the Vaio FW480J/T has an elegant, sleek style to it that's reminiscent of Apple's design work with the MacBooks. While the previous FW we reviewed came in a metallic gray color, this model has an all-black interior, with an attractive Chocolate Brown color on the outside. The materials inside and out are mostly plastic, but the layout and construction have a formal high-end look to them. Sony's style tends to lean toward minimalist chic, and this Vaio fits right into that mold, and the slightly updated look is an overall improvement.

The raised keyboard is similar to the VGN-FW351J/H, and is wide and comfortable. The touch pad--which has a smooth feel and clicky, flush buttons beneath--is good, too. Some still prefer keys with more of a traditional feel and travel, but we've always liked this flat-key style, also found on everything from MacBooks to Acer's new Timeline series to and many newer Netbooks.

Above the keyboard are a set of physical buttons for media playback and volume control, but these are not backlit touch-sensitive buttons, as found on many multimedia machines. The media playback buttons include a shortcut key that acts as a mute button by default, and an AV Mode button that brings up a PlayStation 3-style media bar browser as an alternative to Windows Media Center. While the media control buttons are responsive, they're all identically shaped and not backlit, which is unfortunate--in dimly lit viewing conditions, it's hard to feel for the right controls.

The speakers lie in a bar above the keyboard and under the screen, and their exposure gives them good sound quality--although they're not the loudest or best speakers we've heard, they're more than adequate--although perhaps not for gathering a group around the screen for a Blu-ray movie.

Built into the screen's hinge are the AC charging port on one side and a glowing power button on the other. There's also an LED ring around the hinge that changes color when charging/charged and pulses when sleeping. This is one of the few touches of color on an otherwise austere Vaio.

Sony Vaio laptops have been known to pile on the preinstalled garbageware, creating an uncomfortably cluttered laptop that must be cleaned out before being used. The FW480J/T, thankfully, didn't have this problem. Included software such as the song-recommendation program MusicBox are fun additions, and certainly aren't intrusive. Sony also includes Vaio Movie Story and Media, which are proprietary video editing and media management programs.

The 16.4-inch screen which Sony touts as being "ultra-widescreen" has a 1,600x900-pixel native resolution, which is a 16x9 aspect ratio. That's lower than some 16-inch laptops such as the Dell Studio XPS 16. While its size is great for movie watching, this model's resolution--like the previous FW351J/H model--aren't true 1080p resolution, making Blu-ray watching a compromised experience. You could always watch the Blu-ray on an external HDTV using the built-in HDMI port, but we wish that this Vaio had increased resolution (there are Vaio laptops available with 1080p, but not this retail-specific fixed-configuration version).

  Sony Vaio FW480J/T Average for category [mainstream]
Video VGA-out, HDMI VGA-out, HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, Mini-FireWire, SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, Mini-FireWire, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, modem Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive Blue-ray player/DVD burner DVD burner

The FW480J/T comes with a hefty 400GB hard drive and a beefy 6GB of DDR2 RAM (upgradable to 8GB). It must be noted that similarly priced Asus and HP configurations have 6GB of RAM as well, and include 7,200rpm 500GB hard drives standard, which is even better.

The included collection of ports runs to the media-oriented, with Mini-FireWire and HDMI being the most notable. There are only three USB 2.0 ports, but the memory card reader is actually dual-slot: one for Sony's proprietary Memory Sticks, and one for SD cards. Although Mini-FireWire is starting to disappear from use, it's still nice to have for older hard drives and camcorders.

The Vaio FW480J/T comes with a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350, a good mainstream processor that's an upgrade over the previous FW model's T6400. In benchmark tests against our other two similarly priced multimedia laptops, the Vaio outperformed both the HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX and the Asus G71GX-RX05 in CNET's multimedia multitasking and iTunes/Photoshop tests. As a game machine, however, this Vaio isn't as impressive. The included ATI Radeon 4650, while having 512 MB of dedicated memory and being a far better graphics option than the last FW series Vaio, played games only adequately compared with the dv7 and G71GX. Far Cry 2 had a slow framerate in our anecdotal play session, even on medium settings, but it's still perfectly fine for casual mainstream gamers, especially if you keep the resolution dialed down.

Juice box
Sony Vaio FW480J/T Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.59
Sleep (10 percent) 1.33
Idle (15 percent) 18.75
Load (15 percent) 61.76
Raw kWh 110.06
Annual energy cost $12.49

The Sony Vaio FW480J/T's battery ran for 3 hours and 31 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included 12-cell battery. That's better than average for this category of laptop, and despite a beefy battery, the system isn't that heavy. That number outperforms HP and Asus' configurations by at least a half hour. In our power consumption tests, the FW480J/T also came out on top, costing only an estimated $12.49 a year to run. While it's only a few dollars of yearly savings, Sony's Vaio is the more power-efficient machine.

Annual energy cost
Sony Vaio FW480J/T
$12.49 
HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX
$16.18 
Asus G71GX-RX05
$22.75 

Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. While retail shops are happy to sell you an in-store extended warranty, they are often expensive and hard to use, so we don't recommend them. Vaio support is accessible through a 24-7 phone line (but it's not a free call), and a well-laid-out Web site, with an online knowledge base and driver downloads.

Note: while this machine comes with Windows Vista, many retailers, including Best Buy, and some hardware manufacturers are offering a free upgrade to Windows 7 for systems purchased after the end of June.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio FW480J/T
929 
HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX
931 
Asus G71GX-RX05
949 

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio FW480J/T
137 
HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX
142 
Asus G71GX-RX05
154 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio FW480J/T
160 
HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX
161 
Asus G71GX-RX05
185 

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x800, 0X AA, 8X AF*  
1,440x900, 4X AA, 8X AF  
Asus G71GX-RX05 @ 1280 x 720
100.6 
HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX @ 1,280x768
53.1 
Sony Vaio FW480J/T @ 1,280x768
47.8 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio FW480J/T
211 
HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX
184 
Asus G71GX-RX05
159 

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Asus G71GX-RX05
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8700; 6,144MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm.

HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Quad-Core Q9000; 6,144MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm.

Sony Vaio FW480J/T
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350; 6,144MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650; 400GB Toshiba 5,400rpm.

OVR
7.7

Sony Vaio FW480J/T

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Battery 8Support 7