by Peter Toth
Overview and Introduction
The Sony VAIO FE is a 15.4" multimedia full featured notebook. This review covers a Core 2 Duo and Nvidia Go 7600 powered VAIO FE-91S purchased in Japan.
Reasons for buying
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Over the last few months I have been spending a lot of time searching for which laptop to buy. I have never owned a laptop before, but I wanted a computer with everything integrated. I wanted a sturdy case, outstanding performance (enough to last a long time), portable size, good battery life and of course as cheap as possible. When I started searching I didn’t know which category size I wanted exactly, but I excluded 17 inch and 12 inch displayed sizes. The 17 inch because it would be too hard to carry around and the screen resolution of the 12-inch size laptop would not be enough.
After a time my requirements became clear. I wanted a fast Core 2 Duo processor, a quality brand, and dedicated graphics card capable of running DirectX 9c as I use this for programming purposes. I didn’t care about the speed of the graphics processor, just the hardware compatibility with DirectX 9c.
Searching was a big problem due to the fact I’m Hungarian and the variety of laptops we have in Hungary is much narrower than in the US. Furthermore, the price of laptops that reach Hungary are much more expensive than those in the US – often double the price. As fate would have I found out I’d soon be moving to Japan and so decided to make a laptop purchase there instead. After researching laptop options in Japan I finally settled on Sony’s 15.4” VAIO FE-91S. The VAIO FE can be considered as a desktop replacement style notebook while still being portable. One cool thing is that this model in Japan even includes Sony’s FeliCa system, which can be used for money transfers using certain bank cards.
Specifications: Sony VAIO FE-91S
Where and How I Purchased
I purchase the VAIO FE on the Sony Japan website as I wanted to configure it to my needs. The final cost was 214,000 Japanese Yen, which is around $2,000 US dollars. This included the computer and a Sony Protection plan of 3 years. If something were to happen with the laptop Sony would pickup the machine and return it upon fixing the problem. It seemed like a good deal for the latest technology, and a better price than I would have got in Hungary. After I ordered the laptop online it took 2 weeks for delivery.
Build and design
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As you can see in the pictures, the look of the machine is quite elegant. You can take it anywhere you go and be proud of the look – be it a meeting or coffee shop. The body is constructed of a high quality rigid plastic. It feels very sturdy, it is not like some Fujitsu laptops I’ve seen where you can push the plastic in at the front of the keyboard.
The color of the keyboard and the surrounding area is silver and black. There is a white keyboard option, but if you select the GeForce Go 7600, then you have to go with black.
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The closing mechanism is quite unusual in my opinion, but it works well. If you close down the lid then you have to set the switch to lock mode which causes a clamp to come up and lock the lid firmly. It is comfortable even with one hand to close it. It is neither hard nor easy to close it is just optimal.
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Screen and Webcam
Before buying I was afraid of getting a glossy screen because I have seen the reflective nature of some of my friends laptop screens, some are like sitting in front of a mirror. But after getting it the glossy screen is fine, I don’t even notice any reflections most of the time and the colors come out bold and beautiful. The screen resolution is 1280x800, which is fairly standard for widescreen displays.
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The viewing angles are pretty good horizontally, but not so good vertically. This is a common down side, but usually we don’t watch from wide vertical angles anyway. The brightness level of the screen is very good.
I was a little afraid of dead-pixels, as you can’t see the computer before buying it. But luckily I didn’t have any.
I was really happy that the VAIO FE came with a webcam so you don’t have to carry a web cam around seperately. The picture quality is very good and you also get the Vaio Camera Screensaver, which is fun.
The speakers are located above the keyboard. I think they are better than many other laptops, this is meant to be a multimedia laptop after all. They’re not loud enough to disturb your neighbors of course, you will need good external speakers to be able to do that! The integrated sound card, hasn’t fulfilled my requirements, so I bought a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 NX USB external card. If I’m at home, I absolutely do not use the built-in sound system.
Keyboard and touchpad
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As I bought the VAIO FE in Japan the keyboard is Japanese, with a lot of extra buttons for Japanese language typing. If you are buying your computer in Japan, you can also get an English keyboard and English operating system for some extra money.
At first look the keyboard seems good, but after using it, it turned out not to be so sturdy. The M key does not work sometimes. The interesting thing is that the guys at Sony know about this problem, as I read an article on Sony’s website about it.
Otherwise the location of the keys on the keyboard is good, and the typing is comfortable. I only have issues with the location of the direction keys. They should have separated them more from the other keys. On the other hand, I like the large size of the Enter key.
The machine has 6 hardware buttons. There is a Power ON, Mute, Volume-up, -down key and then two more customizable program launcher keys. I setup one of these keys as a brightness switch where I can switch from maximum brightness to 2 notch brightness.
Heat and noise
I expected that this machine would be hot everywhere due to the processor and graphics card. But I was surprised, after hours of working on the computer, only around the fan outtake at the back of the machine became hot. The keyboard was only mildly warm to cool. The under side of the machine becomes warm after excessive use, but not uncomfortable.
Noise is also not an issue with this machine. It has only one very silent fan. It only turns on when I’m using really resource hungry applications. So far I haven’t heard the fan turn on when using the laptop on battery.
Processor, Performance, benchmarks
The processor clock frequency is 1.83 GHz. This is the second lowest possible speed for the Core 2 Duo, but I didn’t want the fastest as it consumes more power. Of course the official TDP (Thermal Design Power) is 34W, but if you have a different clock frequency, then the actual power consumption is a little different.
I was not fully satisfied with the benchmark results. The machine is fast in applications (discussed later), but the slow hard drive and the junk programs on the machine ruin some of the performance. The bootup is relatively slow, which is a result of the above mentioned circumstances.
Comparison Results for 3Dmark05
|Notebook||3D Mark 05 Results|
|Sony VAIO FE-91S (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600)||2,978 3DMarks|
|Asus Z96Js (2.0 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600)||3,842 3D Marks|
|Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB)||7,078 3D Marks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,092 3D Marks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB)||2,530 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2,536 3D Marks|
|Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)||2,090 3D Marks|
I saw some tests before with the GeForce 7600 and the benchmark I got met my expectations. The results are also correct if you compare it with a GeForce 7400, as the 7600 is 50% faster, just like the amount of the pixel pipeline difference.
|Sony VAIO FE-91S (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600)||3,779 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600)||4,621 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Asus Z84Jp (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600)||4,739 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
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I was a little disappointed with the result. I expected the average read speed to be over 30 megabytes per sec.
|Sony VAIO FE-91S (1.83 Core 2 Duo)||1m 19s|
|MSI M677 (1.8 GHz Turion X2)||1m 53s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
|LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)||1m 11s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
The port selection is okay. The only problem is with the alignment of the USB ports, and their number. 3 USB port is not enough as I have an external sound card, a mouse and an external hard drive so I cannot connect my usb flash drive. The only solution is buying a USB hub. The location of the USB ports are all on the right side, which is not the best solution if you are using a mouse.
Left view of VAIO FE (view large image)
Right view of VAIO FE (view large image)
Front view of VAIO FE (view large image)
Back view of VAIO FE (view large image)
I wanted good battery life, but I’m not really using it from battery very much, only sometimes if I’m on a train. The manufacturer rates the battery life from 2 hours up to 4 hours. My expectation was lower than the high limit, as these rates apply for all the FE series and this machine has a pretty hungry graphics card. While surfing the internet with wireless on and medium brightness, I got just over 2 hours of battery life. My expectations were correct, but still, it is disappointing.
Operating software and programs
The machine comes with a pre-installed Japanese Windows XP and with no other CDs. That’s quite common nowadays, but I don’t like it. Unfortunately haven’t had luck with Windows, it is always crashing after a certain amount time. I’ll probably do a clean install of Windows or another OS eventually.
The Windows image has all drivers and unfortunately a bunch of bloatware pre-installed. At work on my desktop computer I have 350 running threads. On my VAIO I have 700. That’s a huge difference. May be you think that’s: okay, I have a good machine it can handle it. But the truth is that every extra thread wastes computer resources.
On the laptop I looked in the task manager, and I figured out that the problem is with wireless drivers. The WLAN, Bluetooth and the FeliCa had 200 threads. The biggest problem is that I don’t know what I can do with these drivers. Everything has to run in order for everything to work properly. This disappoints me, I bought a powerful laptop and I cannot feel the speed due to software installed. The hard drive is a problem with slowness too due to its slow spin.
The placement of the drive is excellent, it is on the left of the machine. I never liked having a drive on the right side, where I usually use my mouse.
The specifications of the drive are promising, but in fact using it is not very enjoyable. When the disc spins up it is usually comes with a lot of noise. When it is copying data at full speed the whole drive starts to shake, which suggests something about the build quality. I don’t think that this is a common problem with laptops. I wish it came with a slot loading device honestly.
Another software problem worth mentioning, I could only use the bundled Roxio software to write DVDs -- Nero didn’t work.
The VAIO FE-91S comes with an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 A/B/G. It is connected to one of the PCI-Express lines. This is the standard wireless network connector for all Centrino Duo platform machines. I’m satisfied with this card, it works well. Of course now you can get Intel’s next generation wireless card, the 4965agn, which is capable of using the draft specifications of 802.11n.
I’m using this card to connect to my wireless router. The router is placed one level below my room and the wireless application always reports maximum signal strength. The application is just the common Intel utility. The machine also has Bluetooth, but I haven’t tested this yet because I don’t have any devices that use Bluetooth.
Guarantee and Customer support
The guarantee comes as a 3 year Sony Protection plan. Anything that happens with the computer, even if you drop it, is covered. They will come and repair it or replace it.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to test support yet, but considering the fact that they’ll come and pickup my computer if problems occur, I feel pretty good about it. Since I’m in Japan, every sales or help person is extremely helpful and kind. They will try everything to help you!
Outright I’m satisfied with the machine. There are some compromises that I had to make, such as with battery life and the hard drive. But I think the processor speed, the quietness of the machine and the screen absolutely compensates the downsides.
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