Sony VAIO VGN-FE11S review

£1106
Price when reviewed

Sony’s first Core Duo notebook is the most stylish of the three here. The cool white keyboard, curved edges and black surround to the TFT makes even the Acer look a little less chic. What’s also slightly surprising is the price – we’d traditionally expect Acer to beat Sony for value, but at £1,106 the FE11S is cheaper than the TravelMate 8204WLMi by more than £300.

Sony VAIO VGN-FE11S review

Unfortunately, the Sony didn’t perform as well as we’d expected in our benchmarks. The same 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400 CPU as the Evesham (below) is combined with 1GB of slower PC4200 RAM. Although the extra RAM boosted the Photoshop test, it scored only 0.89 in our benchmarks overall – we’d hope for that to improve in production models. There’s also a slower 5,400rpm hard disk, but it boasts a huge 160GB capacity – the biggest we’ve yet seen.

As if this wasn’t enough, the graphics chip, nVidia’s GeForce Go 7400, also makes its debut here. It didn’t shine in our standard gaming tests, though – average rates of 17fps and 15fps in Half-Life 2 and Far Cry are hardly cutting-edge scores. You’ll have to drop down to 1,024 x 768 for playable frame rates.

There are plenty of exciting features elsewhere. Naturally, 802.11a/b/g wireless makes an appearance, but there’s Bluetooth and a wired Gigabit Ethernet port too. We also appreciate the optical drive, which will write to all kinds of DVD including dual-layer and DVD-RAM. Interestingly, and in a first for Sony, Windows Media Center Edition 2005 is installed, so if you can provide a USB TV tuner you can make use of Media Center’s TV features.

The ergonomics are good too. The keyboard, although noisy, has a decent amount of travel and makes extended typing sessions easy. The TFT, like all of those here, is a 15.4in widescreen model. Sony has the lowest resolution on show at 1,280 x 800, but it’s still a superb panel. Sony’s glossy X-black finish strikes a good balance between sheen and annoying reflections, making it a great choice for watching DVDs or working while on the move.

A light-use battery test result of two hours, 59 minutes doesn’t break any records, but it’s enough for most commuters, and the 2.9kg weight means you won’t be overly tempted to take it everywhere anyway.

For the ultimate in power, the Acer rules – it’s simply the fastest laptop we’ve seen. But the premium you pay over the Sony isn’t worth it for the few seconds you’ll generally save during intensive tasks. The FE11S is far more pleasurable to use, and the massive hard disk is another distinct plus. Best of all, at £1,106 it’s no more expensive than many single-core notebooks.

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