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Sony was a pioneer in the ultra portable notebook market and its original Vaio 505 was the first laptop that could truly be considered a style accessory. But Sony notebooks are not all about being small, light and stylish. Sony knows that many users are looking for a fully featured desktop replacement that isn’t going to be carried around all the time. For these users it’s easier to have a fully featured notebook that can be transported from the office to home than to have two separate desktop systems that need to be constantly synchronised.
The Vaio PCG-FR315S definitely falls into the desktop replacement category, with a weight of 3.6kg and dimensions of 329 x 57.4 x 274.5mm (WxHxD), but that doesn’t stop it looking stylish. The casing is finished in the traditional Vaio blue/grey metallic colour with the Vaio logo embossed on the lid. It certainly looks like a high-quality product and when you start to use it, it feels that way too.
Inside the PCG-FR315S is a pretty meaty spec for a notebook, but then this is supposed to be used as primary PC rather than a mobile only unit, so it’s not really surprising. An Intel Pentium 4 CPU running at 2.66GHz gives you all the power you’re likely to need, while 512MB of RAM should enable you to run any applications that you’d run on a desktop system. That said, 64MB of the memory will be taken by the ATi Radeon integrated graphics chipset. Storage is taken care of by a capacious 60GB hard disk which will be more than enough for most users. If however you feel the need to free up some space on the hard disk it will be easy to back up data via the included DVD writer. You can write DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW and CD-R/RW media, so you’ll have no problem with compatibility either.
As with any computer, the screen is of paramount importance, but with a notebook it’s critical to have a good screen because you can’t change it later. The PCG-FR315S is equipped with one of Sony’s Onyx Black screens which is supposed to produce a brighter image with more vivid colours and sharper focus. I’m always dubious when manufacturers make claims like this about their technology, but I have to say that this screen is superb. It really is incredibly bright, and when put next to other notebooks in the office the Sony put the others to shame. The colours really are vivid and almost jump out at you, so using this notebook is a lot more enjoyable than many others I’ve tested. The one downside of the Onyx Black screens is that they tend to be slightly more reflective than other displays, but this really wasn’t a problem even after extended use.
The screen measures 15.1in corner to corner and I was therefore a little surprised that the resolution is only 1,024 x 768. This means that you can’t fit as much on the screen as you can with other notebooks sporting a similar size or even smaller screens. That said, since Sony is clearly aiming this product at someone who will be using it as their main computer, it’s probably not a bad decision. After all if you were using a 15in desktop TFT screen it would be running exactly the same resolution as this.
Having a larger chassis makes it possible to include a decent size keyboard, and thankfully Sony has done just that. The keys are pretty much full size, and the Return, Backspace and Shift keys are all larger, as they should be. The travel is long enough for a comfortable typing action and the break is solid enough to feel as if you’ve really struck each key home. It would have been good to have had the cursor keys slightly removed from the main keyboard, but at least they are full size and in the proper layout.