Sony Vaio VGN-FW17GU

Less pretty than the usual Sony

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Sony Vaio VGN-FW17GU
  • Sony Vaio VGN-FW17GU
  • Sony Vaio VGN-FW17GU
  • Sony Vaio VGN-FW17GU

Pros

  • Excellent screen, good processor, Blu-ray writer, HDMI port

Cons

  • Price is a little high, style is clunky, unimpressive GPU, weight

Bottom Line

If you can fork out the cash and don’t mind the design, then the Sony Vaio VGN-FW17GU is a well-performing unit that features a Blu-ray burner.

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Slow performance and the absence of the latest features and have been recurrent qualms in our previous reviews of Sony laptops. This was typified by the lack of a Blu-ray drive in the VGN-FZ37G and by the slow performance of the VAIO VGN-CR25GR. But in both these cases the design was smoking hot (not literally!), with a body that few competitors could beat.

With the FW series, it seems the tables have turned slightly. While the Sony VAIO VGN-FW17GU offers a good package of high-end processing, Blu-ray burning/reading capabilities and an excellent screen, it’s not quite as good looking as we’d normally expect from a Sony laptop.

When the lid is closed, the unit’s sleek lines and Sony’s characteristic silver “VAIO” label make everything look stylish. However, when the lid is opened, the less stylish interior is unexpected. The surface of the chassis slopes downwards near the screen's hinges, leaving the speakers and circular hinge looking isolated and out of place. People kept asking why the unit had 'ramps' along the sides.

If you can overlook the aesthetics, however, this device is quite the performer. A 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 processor provides plenty of grunt, while the 320GB hard drive that spins at 5400rpm gives users lots of storage; 4GB of DDR2 RAM helps run the system very efficiently.

In our WorldBench 6 tests, the laptop returned an excellent score of 98, which means that hardware-intensive tasks — even 3-D rendering — can be performed without a problem.

In our iTunes benchmark, where we convert 53min worth of WAV files into 192Kbps MP3s to strain the CPU, the notebook returned a very good time of 1min 8sec, which was in line with our expectations.

The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3470 graphics processor didn’t do nearly as well, unfortunately, returning a paltry score of 2617 in 3DMark06. This means that older games such as F.E.A.R. will run at middle to low settings, but DirectX 10 games won’t stand much of a chance.

In terms of usability, the VGN-FW17GU does fairly well for itself. The keyboard is similar to those found in previous VAIO devices, as well as the Apple MacBook Air. Although it takes a little getting used to, users who take the time to familiarise themselves will eventually type as quickly as they would with traditional keys.

The VAIO is fairly well-equipped when it comes to expansion options; there are three USB 2.0 ports on the right side of the laptop next to the Blu-ray drive, and two card readers on the front of the device (MS, MSPro, SD). On the left is a 56Kbps modem port, a D-Sub port, a HDMI port, a FireWire port and an ExpressCard/34 slot. Sony’s continuing use of the ExpressCard/34 slots instead of ExpressCard/54 slots is a strange, considering the ample size of this laptop.

The notebook offers the latest in built-in network connectivity, providing users with Gigabit Ethernet and an 802.11n wireless adapter. The Bluetooth 2.0 adapter will also be welcomed by users wanting to wirelessly connect their phone or use wireless peripherals.

Sony laptops normally come equipped with an excellent display, and this unit is certainly no exception. Its 16.4in screen has a native resolution of 1600x900 and provides excellent colours and contrast, resulting in vivid pictures. The vertical viewing angle is a little unimpressive, but everything looks superb from the sides.

Sony claims that despite the screen size this unit will fit into most laptop bags made for 15in notebooks. We tried this with some older 15in laptop bags we had lying around, and it did fit, albeit tightly. It's still wise to take measurements before buying a 15in bag for this laptop!

Despite the extra portability, however, the weight makes this unit slightly difficult to use on the move. It weighs in at 2.9kg without the power supply and 3.4kg when put together. On the other hand, most users will be happy with the VAIO’s battery life of 1hr 34 min, which will provide users on the go with plenty of time away from an outlet.

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