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Sony VAIO VGN-A190 review: Sony VAIO VGN-A190

Sony VAIO VGN-A190

Brian Nadel
7 min read
Review summary
Best known for creating some of the smallest and lightest notebooks around, Sony does a 180 and goes big--very big--with the VAIO VGN-A190. A desktop replacement that would need only legs to serve as a desk itself, the VGN-A190 is one large and heavy notebook that will overwhelm any airliner's tray table. But it's big for good reason, functioning as a mobile entertainment center that features a 17-inch wide-screen display, external speakers, and a remarkably well-integrated port replicator. Not only is the VGN-A190 a competent Windows XP workstation, it does extra duty as an LCD TV, a digital video recorder, and a decent stereo, making it a digital jack-of-all-trades. While its Pentium M processor provides more than enough performance, with a lifespan of just more than two hours per charge, its battery life is way too short. At $2,800 (as of July 2004), the Sony VGN-A190 is pricey, but it's well worth it for those who want a full-featured entertainment center in a package (somewhat) smaller than a desktop PC. Forget everything you know about Sony VAIO laptops being razor thin and as light as a digital feather, because the VGN-A190 breaks all the rules. Measuring 15.9 by 11 inches and between 1.7 and 1.9 inches thick, the wedge-shaped VAIO VGN-A190 is one big and heavy system. At 8.7 pounds, it weighs nearly twice that of the Sony Z1 and requires a humongous AC adapter that brings its travel weight to more than 10 pounds; throw in all the accoutrements, and it's closer to a monstrous 20 pounds. The VGN-A190 is a few ounces lighter than the Dell Inspiron 9100, and tenths of an inch larger than the Hypersonic Aviator ZX7. As such, the VAIO VGN-A190 is better suited for traveling from the living room to the kitchen than from city to city.
The VAIO VGN-A190's look is Sony through and through, with a demure gray-plastic case that has gently rounded edges and black side cutouts. All told, there are ports and inputs for every conceivable purpose: audio, FireWire, and three USB ports; slots for a PC Card, a modem, and a LAN connection; an external monitor and A/V out; and for music mavens, there's also a Memory Stick slot in the front. The VGN-A190 has a sensitive integrated 802.11b/g wireless adapter that stayed in contact with our access point for 145 feet.
With such a big case, the VAIO VGN-A190 has room for one of the notebook world's most responsive and comfortable keyboards, featuring 19.5mm-wide keys that have a generous 2.6mm of depth. Unlike any other laptop we've seen, the VAIO VGN-A190's wide-aspect touch pad is shaped to match its wide-aspect screen, but it lacks a scroll button for whizzing through long Web pages. The VAIO VGN-A190's multimedia ambitions shine through in a selection of controls for volume (plus a handy mute button), brightness, and zoom tucked underneath the screen, alongside an application-launch button.
The VAIO VGN-A190 snaps into an included port replicator, which consolidates its numerous connections, though its usefulness is somewhat limited. The replicator features excellent external speakers and a range of connectors (for external monitor, DVI-D, optical S/PDIF, Gigabit Ethernet, parallel, S-Video out, four USB 2.0 outlets, and a coaxial connector for the cable line or antenna), but unfortunately, the notebook has no internal TV tuner. You'll need to pick that up separately if you want to watch TV on the road. There are gold-plated composite audio and video plugs, but there's not enough room to connect a twist-on cable-TV connector, so you'll need to use a lower-quality slip-on plug. Although there are Sony VAIO A-series laptops with smaller screens, the VGN-A190 comes in one configuration, with a 1.7GHz second-generation Pentium M processor, 512MB of 333MHz memory, and a reasonably fast multiformat DVD+/-RW burner. The laptop's Hitachi hard drive is competent and reliable, but it's inferior to the 5,400rpm and 7,200rpm drives that come in the HP Pavilion zd7000, the Toshiba Satellite P25, and the Dell Inspiron 9100.
The VAIO VGN-A190's mammoth 17-inch screen has a 1,920x1,200 native resolution and is one of the sharpest, most brilliant displays we've seen on a laptop, but it picks up stray reflections as easily as it does dust and fingerprints. Featuring ATI's latest (as of July 2004) Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics engine, the VAIO VGN-A190's 64MB of video memory pales in comparison to the zd7000's 128MB.
For dorm-bound college students, small-apartment dwellers, or anyone else short on space, the VAIO VGN-A190 is a TV, a stereo, and a computer all rolled into one portable package. The system comes preloaded with a nice software package that includes Windows XP Professional, as well as Microsoft Works 2004 and a 90-day trial version of Norton Internet Security. Sony also throws in software that includes DVGate Plus for video editing, MoodLogic for listening to music based on mood, Click to DVD for creating DVDs, and GigaPocket for viewing and recording TV--although you'll need additional hardware to watch TV on the VAIO VGN-A190 without the port replicator. Still, GigaPocket's logical and attractive controls are superior to those of Microsoft's Media Center software. Particularly good is Zap2it, a Web site linked to GigaPocket that controls the recording process and the online TV listings. Not only can you easily scan and pick shows to record, the software features TiVo-like functionality so that you can record and watch programs simultaneously and fast-forward through commercials. There is, however, some annoying advertising, and on at least one occasion, the software failed to record the program we had selected. SysMark 2004 performance
The Sony VAIO VGN-A190's Pentium M 735 1.7GHz is the first mobile processor we've tested with SysMark 2004. Though neither office productivity nor content creation are its primary ambitions, the VGN-A190 pulled off a good performance just the same in CNET Labs' tests. It came in just 10 percent behind the HP Pavilion zd7000, which itself houses a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 desktop processor. The VGN-A190 certainly benefits from its processor's 2MB of L2 cache; the L2 cache found in the HP's processor is a fourth that size. In fact, the VGN-A190's large cache helps close the performance gap with the zd7000--a system whose processor is 50 percent faster. Though it's no performance monster, the VGN-A190 doesn't fall too short of systems equipped with higher-end desktop processors.
SysMark 2004 performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2004 office productivity  
Dell Inspiron 9100
HP Pavilion zd7000
Sony VAIO VGN-A190

To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Find out more about how we test notebooks.
Unreal Tournament 2004 performance
The Sony VAIO VGN-A190, running an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 64MB graphics chip, turned in a good performance in CNET Labs' Unreal Tournament 2004 test. In fact, the VGN-A190 came in 36 percent faster than the HP Pavilion zd7000, which uses a much less powerful Nvidia GeForce FX Go5600 128MB graphics adapter. While this test usually favors the system with the faster processor, the lackluster architecture of the Nvidia GeForce FX Go5600 128MB created the bottleneck, and the zd7000's CPU hardly entered the equation. Due to a slower processor and a graphics adapter with half as much memory, the VGN-A190 came in 16 percent behind the Dell Inspiron 9100.
Unreal Tournament 2004 performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Atari Games/Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2004  
Sony VAIO VGN-A190

In order to test gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Atari Games/Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2004. Rather than isolate the graphics adapter, this test evaluates overall system performance, with an emphasis on CPU speed. Find out more about how we test notebooks.
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.
System configurations:
Dell Inspiron 9100
Windows XP Home; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm
HP Pavilion zd7000
Windows XP Media Center; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; NVIDIA GeForce FX Go5600 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 80GN 60GB 4,200rpm
Sony VAIO VGN-A190
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M 735; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 64MB; Hitachi Travelstar 80GN 80GB 4,200rpm Like other VAIO notebooks, the VGN-A190 comes with a one-year warranty on parts and labor, but you need to ship the machine to one of its repair depots (Sony pays for shipping). Upping the coverage to three years costs a reasonable $200.
Sony's online support has it all: software updates and drivers, downloadable manuals, a thorough and searchable knowledge base, tips for setting up the computer, and more. The Web site chat section is a great way for technicians and users to resolve detailed problems, and the discussions are accessible to benefit other users, too. Sony provides toll-free phone support for one year, but it costs $20 each time you use it thereafter. You can e-mail a question or a problem to a technician at any point during the life of the product.
When we put in a test call to Sony's phone-support line, we spent 2 minutes, 45 seconds negotiating with the annoying automatic response system, after which we were greeted by a real person who dealt with our problem quickly and efficiently.

Sony VAIO VGN-A190

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Support 7