Sony VAIO VGN-AW11Z/B review

£1467
Price when reviewed

With all the attention lavished on netbooks and swanky ultraportables these days, it would be easy to discount desktop replacements as a thing of the past. But, for some people, a desktop replacement is all the home PC they need. Indeed, if you want nippy performance without having to permanently accommodate the bulk of a desktop PC, monitor and the accompanying bundle of cables, then a suitably beefy laptop is an attractive compromise.

Sony VAIO VGN-AW11Z/B review

The 17in AR-series was once the only desktop replacement in Sony’s range, but now its considerable bulk is dwarfed by that of the new AW-range. Like Acer’s equally sizable Acer Aspire 8920G, the VGN-AW11Z/B’s hefty 3.67kg frame conceals a huge, full-HD 18.4in display.

But, where Acer’s giant was all gloss black and glowing blue lights, the Sony goes for an altogether more sober look. The large expanse of textured matte black is enlivened by a silver trim along its edges. It’s not going to win any beauty pageants, but what it lacks in good looks it more than makes up for in build quality.

And while the 3.67kg weight soars to a shoulder-breaking 4.32kg if you include the power brick, the considerable heft is matched by outstanding sturdiness. Both the chassis and lid feel like they would last a lifetime, and the stiff lid feels well up to protecting the glorious display.

Super screen

It’s just as well, as the Sony’s 18.4in display is a superb example. The 18.4in diagonal has a full-HD 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and image quality is suitably impressive. There’s no shortage of brightness and contrast and colour reproduction are excellent. There is a slight red push, as we’ve noticed on so many Sony displays, but it only serves to make images, DVDs and Blu-ray movies pop off the screen with even greater vibrancy.

And, as you probably guessed by the mention of Blu-ray, there is a Pioneer Blu-ray writer included as standard as well as two 320GB hard drives for everyday storage. There’s even a set of surprisingly capable speakers which make a good fist of music, movie and game soundtracks. If you’re looking for a laptop which is as adept at entertainment as editing HD footage, the Sony makes a good case for itself.

Core components

There’s no lack of performance either, and thanks to the Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 processor and 4GB of DDR3 memory, the Sony achieved 1.37 in our benchmarks. There’s a powerful graphics chipset under the hood, namely the Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT, and this allowed the Sony to score an almost smooth 23 frames per second in our medium settings games benchmark.

It won’t cope with the latest titles at the screen’s native resolution, but lower your sights a little and even the newest titles will prove surprisingly playable.

Ergonomics and battery life

The bright, gorgeous display shines down on a great keyboard and trackpad combination. There’s the usual scrabble-tile keyboard layout, but Sony has used the extra room to squeeze in a numeric keypad alongside the spacious, comfy feeling keyboard.

It comes as little surprise that such a sizable, high-powered laptop doesn’t exactly excel in the battery life stakes. Less than two hours of light usage is distinctly under par, so if you’re strong enough to move it around the home, we’d recommend carrying the power adapter along with you.

But, the VGN-AW11Z/U has no shortage of ports and connectors. Two USB ports rub shoulders with audio sockets on the right hand edge, while VGA, HDMI, Mini-FireWire, ExpressCard/34, a CompactFlash slot and another USB port adorn the left. Tilt up the front of the laptop and you’ll also find a three-in-one card reader hiding next to the Wireless switch.

Warranty

Warranty 1 year(s) collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 437 x 289 x 40mm (WDH)
Weight 3.7kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T9400
Motherboard chipset Intel PM45 Express
RAM capacity 4GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 18.4in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,080
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Graphics chipset Nvidia Geforce 9600M GT
Graphics card RAM 512MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 640GB
Hard disk usable capacity 590GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA 300
Hard disk Fujitsu MHZ2320BH
Optical disc technology Blu-ray writer
Optical drive Pioneer BDR-TD01
Battery capacity 4,400mAh
Replacement battery price ex VAT £114
Replacement battery price inc VAT £131

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem yes
ExpressCard34 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 3
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader yes
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM yes
Fingerprint reader yes
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 119
Battery life, heavy use 72
Overall application benchmark score 1.37
3D performance (crysis) low settings 77fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium
OS family Windows Vista
Recovery method Recovery partition
Software supplied Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, Roxio Easy Media Creator 10, InterVideo WinDVD BD 8 for VAIO

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