Taking a look around the chassis reveals a fully featured desktop replacement. On the right hand side you’ll find the integrated DVD writer. It’s always great to see a DVD writer in a notebook, since it allows the user to backup data and transfer large files to other machines. This is a dual DVD writer that can burn DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW media as well as the obligatory CD-R/RW discs. The only other point of interest on the right of the casing is the power socket.
On the left you’ll find a floppy drive, which is becoming increasingly rare these days. There are no doubt still some floppy disk users out there, but with the massive price drops in USB memory keys, there’s little need for them anymore, unless you’re planning on transferring data to legacy PCs. That said, it’s still an extra feature that most other laptops don’t have. There are two stacked Type II PC Card slots that will also accept a Type III device. There’s a four-pin FireWire port, two USB 2.0 ports, headphone socket, mic socket and AV socket. Above the floppy drive is a Memory Stick slot that will accept Memory Stick Pro media if you happen to have any.
At the rear is another USB 2.0 port, a parallel port, a D-SUB port for connecting the notebook to an external monitor, a modem socket and an Ethernet port. All in all a pretty good set of features, although the complete lack of wireless connectivity seems a little disappointing, especially considering you can find wireless features on much cheaper notebooks.
As always with Sony machines, there’s a pretty good software bundle included that targets the creative user. There’s Adobe Premiere 6.0 LE, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, Picture Gear and Sonic Stage. To get you working straight off the bat, there’s a copy of Microsoft Works and to keep you safe, you get Norton Internet Security pre-loaded.
Performance wise, you get a bit of a mixed bag with the PCG-FR415S. The SYSmark 2002 score of 223 is pretty solid and reflects the specification. But it’s the graphics chipset that lets this Sony down in both 3Dmark and the graphics section of PCMark 2004. Of course if you don’t want to play games this won’t be a problem, but it is a shame that the option isn’t there. Battery life isn’t fantastic at just under two hours, but this is a desktop replacement machine that’s likely to be carried between one power socket and another, rather than being used on the move. After all, you are talking about dimensions of 392 x 275 x 57mm (WxDxH) and a weight of 3.6kg.
The best thing about the VAIO PCG-FR415S has to be the price. I’ve managed to find it on sale for under £1,200 inc VAT, which is pretty impressive for a Sony branded notebook. There is a lot that I like about this notebook, not least the overall quality of the bundle and the attractive price. But five months after reviewing the VAIO PCG-FR315S, I would have liked to have seen more than just a processor speed bump. A higher resolution screen would have been great, but I know that this would raise the price considerably. I do however think that a more advanced graphics solution or built-in wireless capability would go a long way to making the FR415S more attractive in today’s climate.
There’s no doubt that the VAIO PCG-FR415S is a good value notebook, and many potential buyers will be surprised to know that they can buy a new Sony for this kind of money. However, issues that I was willing to forgive five months ago, are a little harder to swallow today, which ultimately robs the FR415S of an award.