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Above the keyboard you’ll find the power button and a couple of very useful shortcut buttons. The first button will toggle between full and 50 per cent screen brightness. This is particularly useful if you happen to be using the GRT916Z on battery power or if you’re working in a dark room and the Ultra-Bright screen becomes a bit too intense for you. The other button offers a zoom function which resets the screen resolution to 1,024 x 768 and switches it back to 1,400 x 1,050 with another press. This is really useful if you find the native resolution a little small in some instances but don’t want to mess around with display settings all the time.
A quick look around the chassis reveals a good selection of ports and connectors. On the left you’ll find a FireWire port, a MemoryStick Pro slot and two PC Card slots that will accept one Type III or two Type II cards. At the rear are three USB 2.0 ports, a headphone socket, mic socket and video out port. Hiding behind two rubber flaps at the back are the modem socket and Ethernet port, while the power socket rounds things off. The right hand side is devoid of anything other than the battery.
Sony also bundles a great deal of software with the GRT916Z. For image editing you get both PictureGear Studio and Adobe Photoshop Elements. Video editing is catered for by Adobe Premiere 6.0 LE and DVD playback by WinDVD.
This is also the first VAIO notebook to ship with Sony’s SonicStage Mastering Studio. This allows you to record analogue audio sources onto the GRT916Z, edit them, add your own effects and export them either to a WAV file or burn them direct to a CD. In principle this is a great idea since a lot of people have old records and tapes that they’d like to transfer to CD, but there is one major issue. Unfortunately the GRT916Z doesn’t have a line-in port, so there’s no way of getting stereo sound onto the machine unless you pay £140 for a docking bar. I brought this point up with Sony and I was assured that future notebooks sporting this software will have a line-in. Ultimately though, you’re getting this software for nothing, and it does work very well, so it would be churlish of me to criticise Sony too much for the lack of line-in port. Ultimately, if you really want to use it you can decide if it’s worth the extra money for the docking bar which also adds optical S/PDIF, a serial port, a parallel port, stereo audio in/out, S-Video out, composite video out, and a PS/2 connector.
Performance wise this Sony is first rate. With a SYSmark 2002 score of 249, it’s only four points behind the far bigger and less comfortable Acer Aspire 1705SCi. And in almost every other benchmark the Sony streaks ahead. In both PC Mark 2002 and 2004 the Sony is way ahead of the Acer in every test bar hard disk performance, and that’s hardly surprising since the Acer uses a full size 3.5in drive. In 3DMark 2001 SE the Sony obliterates the Acer with a score of 9644 compared with 1136, proving that the inclusion of the nVidia GeForce FX Go5600 graphics chipset was a worthwhile decision.
The only area where the GRT916Z falls down is battery life. Under Mobile Mark the Sony only managed to last for 93 minutes. Although I was very disappointed with this result, a quick look at Sony’s specification sheet showed that it wasn’t trying to hide this fact. Sony states a maximum battery life of 90 minutes, so in reality I managed to better that slightly. That said, one and a half hours on battery is not very long at all, so you’ll have to be sure that you won’t need to use this machine on the move.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a desktop replacement notebook and have no intention of using battery power for any length of time, the VAIO PCG-GRT916Z is a very tempting proposition.
As a true desktop replacement this VAIO excels. The poor battery life is an issue, but the intended user will be transporting this machine between home and office. If you’re looking for a notebook that you can use as your sole computer in both home and office environments, you’d be hard pushed to find a better model than this.