- Review Price: £1161.00
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.
The touchpad is thankfully far enough away from the Spacebar to avoid any accidental cursor repositioning. Even if you have really big thumbs, Sony has sunk the touchpad into the chassis slightly making it near impossible to strike while typing even if you’re trying. The two selector buttons below the touchpad are large and easy to access when moving the pointer. The click when pressing them is reassuringly solid leaving you in no doubt that you’ve done so.
The left side of the chassis is pretty feature rich and I doubt that Sony could have squeezed more in there if it had tried. To start with there’s an integrated floppy drive which is becoming an unusual addition these days even in some desktops. Above the floppy drive is a Memory Stick reader which will please anyone with a Sony digital camera or music player. There are two PC Card slots that can accommodate one Type III or two Type II PC cards. Finally you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, headphone and mic sockets, and a video out port that needs a mini-jack converter.
At the rear is another USB 2.0 port, a parallel port, a D-SUB connector, modem port and an Ethernet port. The right side of the chassis is taken up by the DVD writer and the battery.
Performance wise the PCG-FR315S does pretty well turning in a SYSmark score of 212. This should make it perfectly usable as a desktop replacement. You won’t be playing many games with the integrated graphics chipset, but this really is more of a small business solution or a general home PC for consumers that don’t want a desktop spoiling their décor.
Battery life is just a touch under two hours, which isn’t bad for a desktop replacement notebook. Obviously it’s nowhere near the latest Centrino based models, but long battery life isn’t what this machine is all about.
There’s a decent bundle of software included aimed mainly at the consumer who’s looking for a digital video editing solution. The highlights in this area are a copy of Adobe Premiere 6.0 LE and Adobe Photoshop Elements. Anyone who’s into either digital photography or digital video will benefit from these inclusions. Also the FireWire port will make it easy for you to transfer digital video from a DV camcorder onto the notebook.
It’s usually at this point in a Sony notebook review that I mention the scary price and have to say that the high-quality build and specification goes some way to justifying this. However, with this particular Sony notebook the price isn’t anything that needs to be justified. With a street price of only £1,160.93, you’re getting a lot of notebook for your money, all wrapped up in a high-quality package.
If you’re looking for a desktop replacement notebook the Sony Vaio PCG-FR315S should be pretty high on your list. It’s well built and is a joy to work with for extended periods. The Onyx Black screen is superb, and although it doesn’t have as high a resolution as some notebook displays it’s amazingly clear and bright. Considering the reasonable price, Sony has made this notebook a very attractive proposition.
Score in detail