Those clever clogs at Sony have come up with a brand new range of laptops which promises to deliver a "non-PC" PC ... and they don't mean it makes fun of old people.
As far as looks go -- yes, this is quite a stylish looking PC. Sony have come some way to producing a lifestyle PC, but you won't be mistaking it for anything but a notebook just yet. While Sony is producing some attractive designs, we'd have to say that Asus and Apple have the better looking models at present.
Despite this, we like the VAIO's textured palmtop: it's reminiscent of a carbon-fibre weave. In combination with the fluorescent green power button and bronze accents it makes this notebook look like a piece of sporting equipment.
The screen is hinged differently to most other notebooks in that the hinge extends out from the display, making the screen look like it "floats" independently of the body. It still seems quite sturdy, and means the screen can tilt back at almost 180 degrees.
Similar to other Sonys we've seen, there is no catch to hold the lid in place. This is a good thing -- there is nothing like fumbling around trying to unlock a notebook when you're in a hurry.
The Sony features the most powerful of graphics processors produced for thin and light notebooks -- the GeForce Go 7400. It's not the most cutting edge, but it will certainly enable you to watch HD video, or play the latest games with a modicum of success.
Four USB ports ensure plenty of connectivity with external devices, as does the mini-FireWire port, S-Video connector and D-SUB port. Ethernet and modem are included as per usual. The expansion slot is the smaller ExpressCard/34 size meaning that the larger ExpressCard Universal cards, and PCMCIA of course, won't fit.
The notebook comes with two memory card readers -- one is a Memory Stick Pro reader which will take the smaller Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, and the other is an ExpressCard adaptor which accepts xD, SD and MMC.
The display isn't up to the very high standards Sony have set with their notebooks of the past. In fact, even amongst its peers, the VGN-C15GP/B's display is actually quite ordinary. The viewing angle is very limited, and it's quite difficult to get a good degree of contrast out of it without tilting it too far back to be useful. This is strange because it uses a similar reflective coating to that found on most other Sony models -- we'd suggest the backlighting is the problem here. The clarity of images and text, however, is otherwise very good.
The keyboard is quite enjoyable to use, and has an Apple-Macintosh-of-yore feel to it with its square keys. The touchpad is similarly pleasant, and this is where they have the edge on their Taiwanese competitors -- no horrible metallic scraping on the fingertips.
We ran the VAIO through a number of different benchmarks and found that it was on a par for performance with one of our other favourite laptops -- the Asus U5F. In the MobileMark 2005 productivity test it returned a score of 169, which is quite good, though not as fast as the you would have to play at a fairly basic setting. To test the VAIO's ability with next-gen games we ran it through 3DMark 06, and came up with the, not unsurprising, score of 752 marks. This demonstrates that it's not a great gaming rig, but can plump up its plumage if needed.
We also used the machine to play briefly, and informally, through the new RPG Neverwinter Nights 2. While not as visually stunning as Oblivion it's still quite demanding, and we found the VAIO rendered it quite well -- if a little jerky.
Battery life was acceptable for a portable of this size, though certainly not exemplary. Using BAPCO's MobileMark 2005 it petered out just shy of three hours, with a score of 174 minutes. By comparison, the Asus U5F can manage up to 323 minutes. The trade-off here is the graphics processor -- the Asus has the barely acceptable (for 3D graphics, that is) Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 instead of the GeForce Go 7400. A gruntier adaptor means less battery life. An old, but sad story.