Sony VAIO VGN-AW21XY/Q review

The RGB LED screen, Blu-ray writer and awesome specification result in the best all-round desktop replacement on the market.

Mike Jennings
7 May 2009
Price when reviewed 

Page 1 of 2 Sony VAIO VGN-AW21XY/Q review

Only an elite few machines soar above the £2,000 mark, and laptops like this hugely-expensive Sony VAIO need something special to justify the outlay.

The Sony VAIO VGN-AW21XY/Q sets its stall out as an entertainment powerhouse thanks to several attributes, not least its stunning screen. As well as boasting a diagonal width of 18.4in and a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, it uses the same RGB LED technology that so impressed us in the Dell Studio XPS 16.

The extra two inches mean that the panel's sheer vivacity and sharpness look even more impressive than the Dell's screen, though. And we were also pleased to note that the colours weren't quite as saturated as they were in the Studio XPS, which required tweaking before looking its best. The VAIO required no such adjustments and is one of the best laptop screens we've ever seen - ideal for both work and play in equal measure.

Sony's audio heritage means that the VAIO doesn't boast brand label speakers, but the pair you get - in concert with the single subwoofer - combine to produce plenty of volume and impressive clarity.

The commitment to quality extends to the chassis, which is one of the sturdiest and most stylish we've seen. There aren't many flashy touches - the VAIO logo across the glossy lid and the green ring around the hinge is about as extravagant as this machine gets - but the leather across the wrist-rest and glowing media buttons just ooze class.

The familiar scrabble-tile keyboard is one of the best examples we've tried too, offering more travel and a more positive action than keyboards of the Apple MacBook Air or the more recently-reviewed 17in MacBook Pro. The trackpad is another highlight: it's wide and responsive pad with a pair of comfortable buttons. And, scattered around the chassis is a decent selection of ports and sockets, including USB, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire and an HDMI output.

Performance continues the already-impressive trend, with a high-powered Intel 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo T9800 processor helping the Sony to a 2D benchmark result of 1.51 - it's among the fastest laptops we've ever tested. And with an Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics chip on board, there's gaming potential too.

The VAIO returned figures of 79fps and 24fps in our low and medium-quality Crysis benchmarks. The scores aren't the best we've ever seen - the Asus W90 with its pair of Radeon HD 4870 chips is quicker - but there's still more potential here than with most laptops.

Elsewhere, a Blu-ray writer is a cut above the read-only drives that are in the majority of HD-equipped machines, and the dual DVB-T TV tuner is another another rarity that allows the AWrarely seen in either desktops or laptops, and able to record and view different channels at the same time.

Also worth mentioning is the innovative storage. The main disk is a 500GB Fujitsu model running at 4,200rpm, but the operating system - in this case it's Windows Vista Ultimate - is deposited on a pair of 64GB Samsung SSD drives running in RAID 0. It's far more imaginative than most laptops, and the result is consistently faster access for vital system files.

All of this luxury isn't without its downsides, however, and battery life is chief among these. The 4,800mAh power pack lasted just a mere two hours in our light use test. The VGN-AW21XY/Q is expensive, too: £2,157 exc VAT is an awful lot to spend on any laptop, even one this powerful.

Page 1 of 2 Sony VAIO VGN-AW21XY/Q review


Warranty1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions437 x 386 x 40mm (WDH)
Travelling weight4.3kg

Processor and memory

ProcessorIntel Core 2 Duo T9800
Motherboard chipsetIntel PM45 Express
RAM capacity4.00GB
Memory typeDDR2
SODIMM sockets free0
SODIMM sockets total2

Screen and video

Screen size18.4in
Resolution screen horizontal1,920
Resolution screen vertical1,080
Resolution1920 x 1080
Graphics chipsetNvidia GeForce 9600M GT
Graphics card RAM512MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs1
HDMI outputs1
S-Video outputs0
DVI-I outputs0
DVI-D outputs0
DisplayPort outputs0


Hard disk usable capacity569GB
Spindle speed4,200RPM
Internal disk interfaceSATA/150
Hard diskFujitsu MHW2500BT-G1/2 x Samsung MMCRE64GFMPP-MVA
Optical disc technologyBlu-ray writer
Optical driveMatshita BD-MLTU3230AS
Battery capacity4,800mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT£0


Wired adapter speed1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a supportyes
802.11b supportyes
802.11g supportyes
802.11 draft-n supportyes
Integrated 3G adapterno

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switchyes
Wireless key-combination switchno
ExpressCard34 slots1
ExpressCard54 slots1
PC Card slots0
USB ports (downstream)3
FireWire ports1
PS/2 mouse portno
9-pin serial ports0
Parallel ports0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports0
3.5mm audio jacks2
SD card readeryes
Memory Stick readeryes
MMC (multimedia card) readerno
Smart Media readerno
Compact Flash readeryes
xD-card readerno
Pointing device typeTouchpad
Audio chipsetRealtek HD Audio
Speaker locationAbove keyboard, bottom
Hardware volume control?no
Integrated microphone?yes
Integrated webcam?yes
Fingerprint readerno
Smartcard readerno

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use150
Battery life, heavy use50
Overall application benchmark score1.51
Office application benchmark score1.68
2D graphics application benchmark score1.65
Encoding application benchmark score1.28
Multitasking application benchmark score1.42
3D performance (crysis) low settings24fps
3D performance settingMedium

Operating system and software

Operating systemWindows Vista Ultimate
OS familyWindows Vista
Recovery methodRecovery partition
Software suppliedAdobe Photoshop Elements 6

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