Sony VAIO VGN-A397XP review

Price when reviewed

Sony’s VAIO range is almost universally regarded as the benchmark for Windows notebook style and design. On the face of it, the A397XP is another winner from the Japanese powerhouse.

Sony VAIO VGN-A397XP review

The lid, with its embossed VAIO logo, looks great and offers good screen protection. The curved sides add more style, and the machine is still stunning when you open it up. The keyboard feels comfortable and there are useful hotkeys to adjust volume, brightness and resolution.

On the front is a Wi-Fi switch and a button that makes it even easier to open the optical drive. We weren’t the greatest fans of the raised mouse buttons, although you do quickly get used to them.

The 17in screen is one of the best on show. It’s supremely evenly lit and has Sony’s X-black glossy coating, which make it an absolute dream to look at. It has a high 1,920 x 1,200 resolution and viewing angles are good too. The only real ergonomic downside to the A397XP is that the speakers sound a little tinny and aren’t very loud.

Connections include three USB 2 ports, a Memory Stick slot, mini-FireWire, microphone, headphone and VGA sockets. 802.11g and Bluetooth radios are integrated, while a 4x DVD burner resides in the side – at this price, we’d have preferred a dual-layer drive.

Under the bonnet is a speedy 2GHz Pentium M processor, supported by 1GB of PC2-3200 RAM. Coupled with a 5,400rpm 100GB Toshiba hard disk, the VAIO gave a 2D score of 1.70 – a little slow in this company, but nothing to worry about.

Some will worry about 3D performance, though. The ATi Mobility Radeon X600 managed only 13fps in Half-Life 2 and 9fps in Far Cry – Dell’s nVidia GeForce Go 6800 returned over 30fps at the same settings.

Despite a mobile CPU, we only saw one hour, 45 minutes of battery life in our light-use test. Likewise, 51 minutes under intensive use isn’t great. However, when the VAIO was under load it registered a best-on-show 27.6dBA in our noise tests. It was also the only machine on test to run our benchmark with less than 0.1 per cent variation, showing that it’s very stable.

However, this isn’t enough to make up for the measly one-year return-to-base warranty at this price. It’s great to see full versions of Photoshop Elements 3 and Premiere Standard, but the Dell offers similarly good ergonomics and style to the VAIO with plenty more power for less money. Ultimately, the A397XP is a rather average offering, with quiet running and good looks its only real highlights.

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