The VGN-AW41MF/H runs on Windows 7, and we were pleasantly surprised to see the 64-bit edition installed. It's too early to know if this will lead to any serious software-compatibility problems, but it does mean that you have access to the full 4GB of installed RAM, rather than losing a gigabyte or so with the 32-bit version.
A Blu-ray drive and two 500GB hard drives are welcome inclusions too, particularly at this price. The hard drives are configured as two separate volumes, but you can't configure them as a single mirrored volume to wring out some extra performance -- Windows 7 Home Premium won't let you.
The Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 CPU inside the VGN-AW41MF/H is slightly slower than the chip in the VGN-AW31M/H -- it runs at 2.13GHz, rather than 2.53GHz -- but it's still a very capable performer. It notched up a score of 5,407 in PCMark05, making the VGN-AW41MF/H one of the fastest Core 2 Duo laptops we've seen. By way of comparison, the VGN-AW31M/H scored 6,145.
The VGN-AW41MF/H's Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics chipset is the same one that's in the VGN-AW31M/H, so it's no surprise that the laptops' 3DMark06 scores are nearly identical. A result of 6,447 means that the VGN-AW41MF/H is suited to 3D gaming, but you'll need to keep the resolution around the 1,024x768-pixel mark if you want reasonable frame rates with medium detail settings for most recent titles.
The slightly slower processor has a beneficial effect on battery life, but not much. Even so, 1 hour and 40 minutes in Battery Eater's rigorous Classic test isn't at all bad for a laptop like this, although it only lasted 2 hours in the less intensive Reader's test. That's not really enough to get much done away from the mains, but this isn't a laptop that you'll want to drag very far anyway.
The Sony Vaio VGN-AW41MF/H costs about £200 less than the very similar Vaio VGN-AW31M/H and, while it isn't quite as quick, the increased storage capacity is a worthwhile trade-off for a laptop so well-suited to media playback. The only letdown is the screen, but it's not so bad as to be a deal-breaker.
Edited by Charles Kloet