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For a long time Toshiba has had its own way when it comes to fully featured Media Center notebooks, with its Qosmio range pretty much dominating the market, but it looks like that's all about to change. Sony has finally decided to embrace Media Center, placing it at the heart of its latest range of multimedia notebooks and the results are pretty impressive.
Sitting in front of me right now is Sony's top of the range multimedia notebook, the VAIO VGN-AR11S. This machine is notable for a number of reasons, like the inclusion of Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition, the implementation of a Full HD compatible 17in screen, but most important of all, the fact that nestling in the left side of the chassis is a Blu-ray re-writable drive.
Unless you're really not into technology (in which case, why are you reading this?), you would have heard about Blu-ray. This is one of two competing formats (the other being HD DVD) which have been designed to deliver high definition video. However, like DVD before it, Blu-ray is also very handy for backing up and storing massive amounts of data. So, with a single layer Blu-ray disc, you'll be able to store 25GB of data, which is quite useful in these days of 10-megapixel digital cameras, not to mention the recent introduction of affordable high definition camcorders like the Sony HDR-HC3E.
I was somewhat surprised to see that the Blu-ray drive inside the AR11S isn't manufactured by Sony, especially since Sony is one of the major driving forces behind Blu-ray as a format. The drive is actually manufactured by Panasonic and it's worth noting that it also supports DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/-R Dual Layer and CD-R/RW burning.
Although this Blu-ray drive can burn dual layer discs, offering close to 50GB of storage space, the media wasn't available yet for me to test this. I did however burn 21GB to a single layer re-writable Blu-ray disc, which the drive managed in one hour 24 minutes and 35 seconds. That may seem like a long time, but you have to remember that I'm talking about a huge amount of data. Not to mention that an average DVD writer will take around 14 minutes to write 4.5GB of data to a DVD+RW disc, so that's not a bad performance from first generation Blu-ray hardware.
For comparison purposes I also burned 7.9GB of data to a dual layer DVD+R disc - the drive could only manage the base 2.4x writing speed which resulted in a burn time of 44 minutes 30 seconds. That's nothing special by current DVD writer standards, but you should remember that when DVD burners appeared their CD burning speeds were woefully poor compared to dedicated drives.