Back in July 2006 I reviewed Sony's VAIO VGN-AR11S multimedia notebook, which also happened to be the very first machine to arrive at TrustedReviews equipped with a Blu-ray drive. In fact, there weren't even any Blu-ray movies available in the UK at the time, while the drive was equally hampered by the fact that no playback software existed either. Obviously things have changed a lot since then - not only is Blu-ray software widely available now, but HD DVD is now pretty much out of the picture. The latter fact means that Sony's AR series' main competitor - the Toshiba Qosmio - has been left somewhat out in the cold, unless Toshiba decides to start supporting Blu-ray sometime soon.
The first thing that I noticed about the VAIO AR61ZU is that it looks exactly like the AR11S that I reviewed two and a half years ago. Of course I accept that manufacturers will use the same chassis for multiple generations of notebook, but I feel that launching a machine that looks identical to one that was launched 30 months ago is a little disappointing. That said, the AR61ZU still looks pretty good, especially for such a large machine - the glossy black finish with chrome accents is, in a strange kind of way, slimming.
Talking of size, this isn't a notebook that you'll want to carry around with you all day. Measuring 416 x 300 x 34mm (WxDxH) and weighing in at around 4kg, this is a true desktop replacement and you're only going to be transporting it when you absolutely have to. As with all notebooks, the overall size of the AR61ZU is dictated by the dimensions of the screen, and what you're getting here is a 17in widescreen display.
The good news about the screen is that Sony hasn't just gone for physical size, it has also ensured that the resolution is high enough to make the dimensions worthwhile. With a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 the AR61ZU has the same amount of desktop real estate as a 24in desktop monitor, making it an ideal desktop replacement for even heavy PC users. The screen is finished with Sony's X-Black high contrast coating, which ensures that images look bright and vivid, which is exactly what you want from a multimedia notebook.
The large screen means that there's loads of space for the keyboard and associated buttons. Thankfully though, Sony hasn't fallen foul of the mistake that many manufacturers make when creating a large format notebook - squeezing in a numeric pad. The problem with a numeric pad on a notebook keyboard is that it forces the user to sit slightly off centre to the screen when typing. Instead Sony has equipped the AR61ZU with a full size keyboard mounted dead centre, ensuring that your typing and viewing positions are both perfect.