Sony VAIO VGN-FS115Z review

Price when reviewed

Whenever we see a Sony VAIO notebook, it’s usually stylish, very desirable and disappointingly expensive. The smart VAIO VGN-FS115Z is here to put a stop to the latter. A 1.73GHz Pentium M processor, nVidia graphics and 100GB hard disk for under a grand makes a strong financial argument.

Sony VAIO VGN-FS115Z review

Sony’s trademark classy design is certainly present. The two-tone black-and-grey colour scheme on the inside works well, helped by the fact that the screen hinges pivot at the chassis rather than the screen. This makes the opened lid sit slightly behind the main body, which is aesthetically pleasing not just for its rarity, but also because it breaks up the machine’s bulk.

There’s an odd effect of this system’s design, though. The front third of the chassis is cut away underneath, leaving the belly closest to the desk. If you have the bad habit of leaning on your palms while you type, you’ll find the chassis tips forward, compressing the feet and causing it to squirm around.

The black area above the keyboard is used to hide the speakers. Their placement also pushes the keys further south where they’re easy to reach. Sound output is of the customary tinny laptop variety, but there’s no distortion, even when pushed to the respectable full volume. The FS115Z has Sonoma’s High Definition Audio capability too (offering support for up to 32-bit, 192kHz streams), although the only direct output is the headphone jack.

Touch-typists will appreciate the beautifully laid-out keyboard, which is a delight to use. The Ctrl key is situated at the bottom left, with the Windows key a short hop away over the Function key. The Delete key is found at the top right, and there’s even space for large page-navigation keys outside the Enter key. The touchpad is extra wide to match the screen, but we found it a little vague when zipping around the Desktop. Mouse buttons are slightly raised for accurate clicking, though.

With the screen sitting behind the chassis, there’s no room at the back for ports, but this happily forces things to the sides where they’re easier to use. D-SUB, three USB 2 and mini-FireWire (i.LINK) ports are on the right, together with a slot for Type I/II PC Cards (of the traditional CardBus variety) and another for Memory Stick/Memory Stick PRO media. The left side has 10/100 Ethernet and V.92 modem ports near the back so cables won’t snag the dual-layer, dual-format DVD burner that’s further forward. However, the Kensington lock slot is in front, so it will obstruct the optical drive’s door if you actually use it. Underneath the chassis, there’s a docking port if you need to expand, and you also get 802.11b/g wireless.

We’ve no complaints about performance, with the 1.73GHz Pentium M 740 powering the 2D benchmarks to 1.77 overall. Memory allocation is 512MB of PC2700 (333MHz) DDR SDRAM, not DDR2. The big surprise is the hard disk, weighing in at a whopping 100GB. That’s an awful lot of storage for a laptop, even for music and photo junkies.

Sony also bundles its typically generous software collection, so you can start adding content straight away. Besides various Sony titles, there’s Adobe Photoshop Elements 2, Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Works.

Graphics grunt is courtesy of nVidia’s GeForce Go 6200, which, in addition to its onboard 16MB, borrows up to 112MB from the 512MB system memory when it needs it for 3D applications. Running Unreal Tournament 2004 at 1,280 x 1,024 posed no problems, steaming through at 36 frames per second. However, Halo slowed down to 17fps, so don’t expect to be playing Half-Life 2 in a hurry.

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