Sony VAIO FW139E/H User Review

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by N. Mehta

The Sony VAIO FW139E/H is a 16.4" semi-desktop replacement notebook configured with an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400, which runs at 2.26GHz with a Front Side Bus speed of 1066MHz, 3GB of DDR2-800 RAM, an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3470 dedicated graphics card, and a 250GB HDD. This model is one of the first VAIO FW models to come out and is meant to be sold at retail stores. 

Reasons for Buying

This notebook was primarily purchased as a PC to take to college. Now when you think college, you probably are thinking of portability. Being an Engineer major, portability comes second to power. This notebook was meant to provide up to four years of casual and heavy computing. The GPU was the important decision maker; I needed something dedicated, and the market was flooded with possibly defective nVidia GPUs. I narrowed my choices down to the VAIO FW and HP dv5t. I ended up going with the VAIO FW because of the larger screen and faster processor at my price range.


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Where and How Purchased

The VAIO FW139E/H was purchased at NewEgg.com for about $995. This was the best deal I could find, because the retail model shipped with 3GB of RAM and the Radeon GPU already included in the price and it was available sooner. I believe it was a fair deal because a similar Centrino 2 model would have been almost $200 more at the time.


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Build and Design

I’m impressed with the overall build of the VAIO FW. It’s cased in Magnesium alloy, which makes it look semi-metal and semi-plastic at the same time. It is a very sturdy looking laptop; the screen hinge is perfect and stands strong, rubber feet under the laptop keep it from moving, and I have not yet been able to make a scratch on it. Design wise, it is fashionably sound. It carries the traditional VAIO look; the model I reviewed is the Titanium Grey model with black colored keys. It has a very professional look.


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The power button is located on the right side of the hinge, and it glows green when turned on and orange when in hibernation. The media buttons are located on the right side, right above the keyboard. The speakers are on top of the keyboard, as well. The keys make the laptop stand out, as well. The black spaced-out keys make the laptop look very sharp to the eye. The "Motion Eye" camera is located right above the screen.


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Screen

The screen on this model of the VAIO FW is an XBRITE-ECO LCD with a native resolution of 1600 x 900. Not only is this a unique sized screen at 16.4 inches, but it has a unique aspect ratio of 16:9. This aspect ratio is the true widescreen aspect ratio that HDTVs feature. This true widescreen size is perfect for managing windows while multitasking. You can have about four or five average sized applications on screen comfortably in the native resolution. The screen is a bit on the glossy side, but there are no reflections when there the laptop is turned on. When off, it doubles as a tinted mirror.


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Speakers

The built in speakers above the keyboard are of average quality. You can definitely tell the difference between the VAIO FW’s speakers and the average external speakers.


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Headphones are a must if you want to enjoy a movie or play music. I wouldn’t recommend portable speakers as a replacement; the sound quality would be equal to that of the VAIO FW. I wasn’t expecting much from speakers, though. Speakers aren’t the highlights of laptops, anyway.

Processor and Performance

Now for the fun part! The P8400 Core 2 Duo is remarkable fast in Vista; I have yet to experience a slowdown caused by the CPU. The bottlenecking component of this laptop is the hard drive, running at the average laptop HDD speed of 5400 RPM. The transfer of a large file via a 100Mbps network was fairly slow; this wasn’t all the laptop HDD’s fault, though. The laptop is capable of 1000Mbps transfers, and the file contained a large amount of subdirectories and files and slow transfer down in Windows. Bootup is fast, even when multiple startup applications are present.

Gaming wise, this laptop will be fine for last generation games. It plays Halo: Combat Evolved at native resolution and everything turned on perfectly. It also plays
Half-Life 2 with almost all settings on High (AA disabled) on the native resolution.

Benchmarks

Super Pi @ 2M: 1m 11s (20 iterations, no AC adapter plugged in)
Super Pi @ 2M: 0m 53s (20 iterations, AC adapter charging battery)

3DMark06: 2,569 3DMarks (869 SM 2.0 / 1023 SM 3.0 / 2021 CPU Score), AC adapter charging battery. No 3DMark06 benchmarks performed on battery power.

Heat and Noise

This laptop is built well to handle heat. After gaming for about 30 minutes, the laptop was still cool. It doesn’t get very hot at all, and is probably one of the very good things about Sony’s engineering. When not reading a disc, this laptop is silent as if not even on. When it reads a disc, however, it gets very loud for a brief 3 to 5 seconds. The fans are fairly silent when gaming, too. Heat and noise wise, it is a very well engineered machine.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The spaced keys on the Sony VAIO FW are fairly comfortable to type with. The keys are built well and they do not stick or have any flaws to them. For the serious gamer, I would not recommend using the keyboard, however. After playing first-person shooters on a real desktop keyboard, playing on the VAIO FW’s keyboards (or possibly any laptop keyboards in general) are hard to get used to. But any serious gamer wouldn’t be playing on a laptop, anyway.


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The touchpad is average; it feels a lot smoother than other touchpads, but that’s about it. I can’t say much about it as almost all laptops now feature similar touchpad technology. The user is able to change basic properties of the touchpad, from button selection to double click speed.

Input and Output Ports

I/O wise, this laptop has one ExpressCard slot, three USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire (dubbed i-Link by Sony), one VGA output, one HDMI output, one headphone jack, and one microphone jack. It also features a Pro MagicGate memory card reader. The I/O ports are pretty standard among all the new laptops; one thing to note is that an HDMI output is also technically a DVI output, as well. A mere HDMI to DVI cable can allow output to a DVI monitor if you don’t like using VGA.


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Wireless

The VAIO FW comes with an Atheros wireless card that can access b, g, and n type wireless networks. It also comes with Bluetooth wireless for connectivity to peripherals. Wireless can be turned on and off by the simple use of a switch located on the bottom left of the laptop.

Battery

The battery life is fair; I keep the laptop on full brightness while not charging, and it usually lasts about 2 hours. The laptop downclocks the processor when there is no external power source to conserve power. The P8400 processor should be saving about 10 Watts thanks to Intel’s Core 2 Duo P**** models, which run using 25W instead of 35W.


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Operating System and Software

The VAIO FW came with Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit (Sony OEM). It did come with quite an amount of bloatware, but I managed to uninstall what I did not need. Among some of the bloatware, there were applications I found useful: Sony’s backup recovery software, Windows Live OneCare, a 60-day trial of Office, and VAIO Content Exporter. The backup software allowed me to make recovery disks easily, and the VAIO Content Exporter converts video file formats.

When I had initially gotten the VAIO, I planned to do a fresh install of Vista. However, I was unable to do so with what was supplied, and so I had to find a different route than recovery disks. Using an Anytime Upgrade Vista disk that is sold separately, I tried a fresh install. Everything worked until it came time for the drivers; one of the drivers gave told me it can only install on Windows Vista. I was confused as I was running Vista, and decided to call Sony …

Customer Support

Unable to install the drivers properly, I contacted Sony support. They informed me that the user is not able to properly use the VAIO without OEM Vista, because the driver only recognizes the OEM Vista version. Slightly disappointed, I had to reinstall again using the recovery disks and once again manually uninstall the bloatware.

Aside from the OS disappointment, Sony’s Customer Support was the most knowledgeable I have talked to; they knew exactly what I was talking about, it wasn’t outsourced, and were quick to pinpoint the driver prerequisites.

 

Conclusion

The Sony VAIO FW139E/H was a good purchase for me. The features, build, and price were right, and I am content with the purchase. It is more than enough for any engineering CAD applications I will be using for undergraduate studies, and is great for multitasking and mild gaming.

The VAIO FW’s CPU and FSB speed, 3GB of RAM, and Radeon GPU are a wonderful combo for mobile power. The aspect ratio of the screen is perfect for entertainment. The build quality is fantastic; Sony does not deliver anything but their best in hardware.

The downside is insignificant. For someone looking for the best battery life, being able to play the latest game on High settings, or good sound reproduction, this is not the laptop they should look into.

This laptop is fine for the mild power user who still wants portability. Of course, my vision of portability probably differs from someone who finds 6.4lbs heavy. It is nothing like the large VAIO AR, however. The VAIO FW is an FZ in size, and half-way between an FZ and AR in power.


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