Sony VAIO VGN-AR38G
- Powerful, 17in screen, Blu-ray playback, good gaming capabilities, sleek design
- Battery life a little lacking
A powerful system for powerful tasks, the AR38G can handle most things you throw at it and has a High Definition Blu-Ray drive, ensuring it will be useful for years to come.
Price$ 5,499.00 (AUD)
Sony's focus on creating powerful yet extremely stylish notebooks is becoming more and more evident with their new VAIO models, and the VGN-AR38G is leading the charge. Sporting an incredibly smooth, gloss black aesthetic and a 17in screen, this High Definition ready notebook also contains a Blu-ray drive and a host of the latest mobile computer hardware, making it the perfect desktop replacement PC for gamers and media enthusiasts alike.
The AR38G primarily succeeds in this area thanks to what's under the hood. Running a 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 processor, 2GB of DD2 RAM and an NVIDIA 7600GT graphics card, this is one of the more powerful systems we've had through the office. It runs Windows Vista, which limits our ability to benchmark, but in our encoding test, which converts 53 minutes of WAV files into 192Kbps MP3s, it took a total of two minutes and 11 seconds. This is a strong result and satisfies our expectations of this powerful processor.
Similarly, the 7600GT graphics card performed well in 3DMark 06, scoring 2744. The 7600 is a mid range card, although it is towards the top of this tier and its score is a good indication of this. It will be able to play most modern games at average settings, although it will struggle on some more demanding titles. As the screen runs at a resolution of 1920 x 1200, you'll really need to tone down the settings if you want to play something like F.E.A.R at the native resolution.
The display looks fantastic. It has an excellent viewing angle, meaning more than one person can easily watch it at once and the colours are bright and well balanced. Coupled with the already vibrant Windows Vista interface, everything on this system looks great. The high resolution also allows you to stack multiple programs on the screen at once, or watch High Definition content in its native resolution.
The High Resolution support is another big selling point ofthe AR38G. There are several notebooks on the market now with Blu-ray drives, and with the release of the PlayStation 3, HD media collections are beginning to grow. We watched Mission Impossible using the included Win-DVD for Blu-ray software, and were impressed by the clarity of the picture. The response time on the screen was perhaps a little low, because at times the image felt a little slow, but we'd still highly recommend this system as either a primary or secondary HD media player.
The unit comes with speakers built in below the monitor, almost invisible unless you're looking for them. Despite their covert design however, they provide excellent quality audio and high volume levels; more than adequate enough to watch from several meters away. They don't quite rival the Harman Kardon speakers found on some high end Toshiba notebooks for quality, but they are close.
The design as a whole is quite stunning. This unit really looks and feels like a high end, entertainment device. The sleek, gloss black exterior opens to reveal a uniform black interior. The keys are very shallowly mounted, and are a joy to type on. Meanwhile, there is a large quantity of spare real estate surrounding them, with only a touch pad and two sets of media keys marring the otherwise clean facade. There is also a web cam built into the top of the unit, which is great for video chat or general media tasks.
The edges of the VGN-AR38G are paneled in silver, and like some previous VAIO iterations, all the ports and controls are completely hidden behind flip down sections. At first glance this would look like a bare bones system, but opening the panels reveals three USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, D-Sub and both headphone and microphone jacks. As expected, HDMI is also present, offering users the ability to connect straight to a TV and take advantage of the unit's Blu-Ray drive on their high end television.
Most of the standard connectivity options are available, including Bluetooth 2.0 and 802.11 a/b/g, however strangely, Ethernet only goes up to a speed of 100Mbps. For storage, there are two 120GB hard drives in a road formation and the Blu-ray drive also has recording capabilities should you exhaust your onboard space.
We weren't surprised to discover this machine offers rather poor battery life. As a 17in desktop replacement style model, it isn't designed for long stints away from power and as such, the low battery life isn't a huge concern. We ran our most demanding battery test, a DVD run down, with the settings at maximum performance and the VGN-AR38G lasted exactly one hour before powering down.
For those that want a powerful entertainment and media machine that is also HD ready and future proof, this notebook is a great choice. We'd have liked to see it packing a 7900 series graphics card, to really make it the king in all areas, but it is still more than adequate as is and will handle most of what you can throw at it. Be wary of the low battery life however, if you anticipate being regularly away from AC power.
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