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Sony VAIO VGN-FE15GP review: Sony VAIO VGN-FE15GP

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The Good Eye catching design. Integrated camera. Light weight. Impressive battery life.

The Bad Average performance. Unresponsive touchpad. Flimsy screen catch.

The Bottom Line Sony's desktop-replacement VGN-FE15GP is impressively light and has great battery life, although its overall performance trails behind its dual-core competition.

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Review Sections

Design
The VGN-FE15GP is an attractive widescreen notebook in a desktop replacement form factor. It's surprisingly light for a notebook in this category -- 2.8kg with the supplied battery. Sitting it next to a Dell Inspiron 6000 in our testing, we were often surprised when picking up the VGN-FE15GP; you almost always expect it to be heavier than it in fact is. It's also quite nice and slim; it measures in at 366 x 35.3 x 274.5mm. The 86-key keyboard is responsive and has large enough keys to accommodate even the chubbiest digits; they're supplemented by volume and standby buttons on the top left hand side. The touchpad is large and supports scrolling, although there's no visual indication of the scroll zones on the pad itself.

Features
The VGN-FE15GP comes with an Intel Core Duo Processor T2300 (1.66GHz) running on a 667MHz system bus, with 512MB of DDR2 SDRAM. The 80GB SATA hard drive is partitioned into a primary 20GB and secondary 60GB partition, which is good for data but less ideal if you've got lots of storage-hungry applications that need to sit on the primary drive. It's Centrino-badged, and supports 802.11b/g/a connectivity, as well as Bluetooth. Onboard graphics are supplied via an NVIDIA GeForce Go 7400 chip sharing memory with the main system. Plug-in slots include three USB 2.0 ports, a single PC Card slot, one i.Link connector, 10/100 Ethernet and V.92 modem ports. The VGN-FE15GP also comes with an inbuilt CMOS camera that sits in the top middle part of the screen bezel, accompanied by a built-in microphone for videoconferencing or just simple webcam hilarity.

Sony's VAIO range has long come equipped with quite a lot of software aimed at the ease of use market. While there's the expected run of VAIO-branded applications for DVD burning and connecting to other Sony devices such as media players and digital video cameras, it's in the third party applications that the VGN-FE15GP shines. It ships with Adobe Acrobat Reader 7, Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, Adobe Premiere Standard, Intervideo WinDVD 5 for VAIO, Roxio DigitalMedia SE 7 and Norton Internet Security 2006. Within the scope of most notebook users, there's precious little that you couldn't do pretty much right out of the box with the VGN-FE15GP.

Performance
As previously mentioned, we were impressed with the VGN-FE15GP's relatively light weight, given that it's the size of a desktop replacement notebook. There were other physical factors that we found less impressive. The lack of defined zones on the touchpad made it a touch quirky in actual use and sometimes downright unresponsive. There's also a minor design issue with the catch used to click the display down, which has a tendency to pop up of its own free will while you're working. It sits to the right of the touchpad, exactly where most users will rest their wrists while typing. It doesn't actively hurt you, but it's discomforting, and we can't help but think that it'll pop up at the wrong time and simply break later in the notebook's life.

While the VGN-FE15GP sports a dual-core processor, it's the lower-speed 1.66GHz T2300 model, rather than the 2.0GHz T2500 processor found in models such as the Dell Inspiron 9400. By default, it's also carrying half the memory of many of our other recently tested dual-core systems, although there is a free slot if you wanted to upgrade. We were therefore not expecting great things from the VGN-FE15GP in the performance stakes. Testing with Bapco's Mobilemark 2005 confirmed our suspicions, as the VGN-FE15GP limped in with a performance score of 172. To put that in perspective, the aforementioned Dell managed a score of 234 in the same test. Where the VGN-FE15GP did impress us, however, was in its battery life while running the performance benchmark. The Dell conked out at 149 minutes, while the VGN-FE15GP held on for a grand total of 172 minutes. Mobilemark 2005's other battery draining tests revealed similar results, with the VGN-FE15GP lasting 226 minutes in the reader test and 119 minutes in the intensive DVD test.

The VGN-FE15GP clearly isn't a notebook for the absolute performance junkies, and to its credit it's not really shipped as such. Its light weight and solid battery life do make it a good transition notebook for those who want a semi-portable desktop replacement notebook, especially if its software offering entices you. We'd suggest that you should shop around, however, and factor in upgrading at least the memory if you want to get the most of the VGN-FE15GP.

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