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Sony VAIO GRV680 (Pentium 4 2.6 GHz review: Sony VAIO GRV680 (Pentium 4 2.6 GHz

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MSRP: $2,400.00
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The Good Cutting-edge multiformat DVD-RW drive; big screen; great software package.

The Bad Extremely big and heavy; no integrated wireless; slower USB 1.1 ports.

The Bottom Line The Sony VAIO PCG-GRV600 won't work for frequent fliers, but it's a decent desktop replacement with an awesome multiformat DVD-RW drive.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 5
  • Support 7

Review Sections

A clean, sophisticated look distinguishes the Sony VAIO PCG-GRV600 series, a huge desktop-replacement notebook with a swappable, multiformat DVD-rewritable drive. The new series also includes a massive 16.1-inch display, a desktop Pentium 4 processor, and a fast, ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics chip with 64MB of memory. Unfortunately, this enormous, 8.7-pound heavyweight doesn't deliver overwhelmingly good performance or great battery-test results, and it lacks integrated wireless. Graphics pros, gamers, and business users who rarely travel might like this VAIO--the DVD-RW drive makes it extremely tempting. If you don't need DVD burning, though, we suggest the similarly priced Dell Inspiron 8600. If you're willing to spend more, the Apple 17-inch PowerBook offers a larger screen, DVD burning (in fewer formats), and the wireless integration that the PCG-GRV600 lacks. The VAIO PCG-GRV600 series looks like several other big Sony notebooks, such as the VAIO PCG-GRX600 series and the GRX700 series. Its light-purple case has an appealing look, and it stretches to 1.8 by 14 by 11.8 inches, enough room for a bright and crisp 16.1-inch screen with a native resolution of 1,280x1,024. But all that real estate adds up to a back-straining 8.7 pounds--and that doesn't include the ridiculously big, 1.46-pound AC power adapter.



We like the pretty colors, but this notebook is huge.


The nice, big screen measures 16.1 inches.


On the other hand, the huge case allows room for a convenient swappable bay that supports your choice of an awesome DVD-/+RW drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, or an extra battery. (With respect to the alphabet soup of DVD-RW formats, the multiformat drive can record and play back the four most popular types of DVD media: DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, and DVD+RW.) If you want a floppy, you'll have to buy an external USB drive. Unfortunately, the two USB ports on the GRV600 series are of the slower 1.1 variety.

Nor is sound a plus on the VAIO PCG-GRV600 series. A strip of speakers lines the top of the keyboard, providing sonics that are sufficiently clear but lack volume and depth. The keyboard itself is expansive, but the keys have a hollow feel, and they clatter while you type. We do, however, like the big, purplish touchpad and the two roomy mouse buttons. The pad is your only input option, however--there's no pointing stick on the VAIO PCG-GRV600 series.




The keyboard is a bit too loud, but the speakers above it sound fine.


You won't find a pointing stick on this notebook.


Sony's selection of ports and slots falls in line with that of most desktop replacements. In addition to its swappable bay, the left edge offers Sony's signature Memory Stick slot; two Type II PC Card slots; an iLink (a.k.a. FireWire) port; and one USB 1.1 port. The back edge includes the second USB 1.1 port, as well as 56Kbps modem, Ethernet, VGA, parallel, and NTSC-out ports. Amazingly, the GRV600 series does not include built-in wireless networking, an oversight on a big desktop-replacement notebook. There is a workaround: if you buy a GRV600-series system through Sony's Web site, you get a free VAIO 802.11b WLAN PC card by mail when you send in the coupon.


When buying from Sony.com, you'll find few configuration options for the VAIO PCG-GRV600 series. The three models in the line have the same CPU, memory, 16.1-inch screen, and case. Your only important choices are drive type for the swappable bay (a DVD+/-RW combo drive or a DVD/CD-RW combo drive), OS type (Windows XP Home or Pro), and hard drive size (40GB or 60GB). Each of these options changes the system's price, which ranges from $1,999 to more than $2,500. CNET Labs tested the GRV680 model, featuring a 2.6GHz Pentium 4, 512MB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive.



The PCG-GRV600's DVD drive does it all.


You'll get plenty of graphics performance but no wireless.


All three models in the series--the GRV670, the GRV670P, and the GRV680--come standard with 512MB of RAM and a fast ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics chip with 64MB of memory. However, the standard configuration does not include integrated 802.11b wireless (Wi-Fi), a noticeable omission in a desktop replacement these days. You can get a free wireless LAN card if you send in a coupon from the Sony.com site, but this setup is less convenient than integrated wireless: the card is another loose part to keep track of, and it consumes one of the two PC Card slots.

The VAIO PCG-GRV600 series' hardware features may be hit-or-miss, but its extensive software bundle is a joy. The GRV600 ships with either Windows XP Home or XP Pro. Plenty of apps come standard with every system, including Microsoft Works 7.0 and Microsoft Money 2003, as well as moviemaking titles such as Adobe Premiere LE, Sony DVgate, and Sony Click To DVD; music programs such as Sony SonicStage and Screenblast Acid; image editors, including Adobe Photoshop Elements and Sony PictureGear studio; and Trend Micro PC-cillin antivirus software.


Mobile application performance
Although the VAIO PCG-GRV680's processor is clocked 200MHz higher than the processors from the other systems in this small test group, the Sony came in last in mobile performance. The VAIO PCG-GRV680 houses a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor, which is a desktop chip and is not optimized for mobile performance like the 2.4GHz Pentium 4-M processors inside the other systems we tested. As such, the scores for both the Dell Inspiron 8500 and the Acer TravelMate 650 are much higher than those of the VAIO PCG-GRV680's. Basically, the VAIO PCG-GRV680's processor power drops more than it should when the notebook is not plugged in (that's what mobile performance refers to), although it performs just fine when tethered to an outlet.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Acer TravelMate 650
160 
Dell Inspiron 8500
159 
Sony VAIO PCG-GRV680
101 
 
SysMark2002 performance
The VAIO PCG-GRV680 was made for desktop performance. The 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor beat both of its comparison systems in Internet content creation and office productivity. In other words, when the VAIO PCG-GRV680 doesn't have to conserve battery power, it's quite the performer--good enough for processor-intensive tasks, games, and especially, productivity software.

Maximum application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet content creation  
SysMark2002 office productivity  
Sony VAIO PCG-GRV680
223 
315 
158 
Acer TravelMate 650
208 
303 
143 
Dell Inspiron 8500
205 
301 
140 
 
To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics performance
The 3D performance score depends mostly on the graphics adapter in use. The VAIO PCG-GRV680 houses the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB and therefore scored very well in our 3D performance test. In fact, the VAIO's score of 7,422 is one of the best we've seen in a notebook. Although it's far from the 9,376 score of the Dell Inspiron 8500, the VAIO PCG-GRV680 should please most gamers who are looking for a fast performer.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 SE  
Dell Inspiron 8500
9,376 
Sony VAIO PCG-GRV680
7,422 
Acer TravelMate 650
4,039 
 
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 SE. We use 3DMark to measure desktop-replacement notebook performance with the DirectX 8.1 interface at the 32-bit color setting at a resolution of 1,024x768.

Find out more about how we test notebooks.


System configurations:

Acer TravelMate 650
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB 5,400rpm

Dell Inspiron 8500
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 4200 Go 64MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-GRV680
Windows XP Home; 2.6GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 64MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm


The curse of the desktop processor rears its ugly head when it comes to the VAIO PCG-GRV680's battery life. Even with its powerful 14.8V, 6,450mAh battery, it didn't have the juice for a decent battery life. The system's 2.6GHz desktop processor just draws too much power, which hurt battery life considerably. Keep the power cord handy if you plan to use this system for any length of time.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate longer battery life)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 battery life (in minutes)  
Dell Inspiron 8500
178 
Acer TravelMate 650
162 
Sony VAIO PCG-GRV680
106 
 
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

System configurations:

Acer TravelMate 650
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB 5,400rpm

Dell Inspiron 8500
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 4200 Go 64MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-GRV680
Windows XP Home; 2.6GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 64MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm


Sony offers a relatively skimpy, if increasingly industry standard, one-year parts-and-labor warranty with return-to-depot service and toll-free, around-the-clock telephone support. You can extend these terms to three years for an extra $200. For another $49, Sony will support you if you're overseas in a limited number of countries, including Canada, Japan, and several western European nations.

In addition to its average warranty, the company's online tech support also leaves something to be desired. When we tried to browse through the list of FAQs for the GRV600 series, we found just three questions to choose from. Sony has instituted an automated tutorials section, but the selection of guides deals with only a few fairly obscure issues, such as "how to configure the lid-close action in power panel." Sony would better serve its users by implementing helpful features such as user forums. Fortunately, the hard-copy help manual is easy to follow.

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