With its large (16.4-inch), high-definition display, powerful graphics and Blu-ray drive, the Sony Vaio VPC-F12M0E/B is designed to appeal to gamers and media junkies. Our review model was supplied by Laptops Direct, where you can buy it for £950.
Sony's laptop designs rarely fall flat, and this model certainly doesn't let the side down. Although not overly showy, the design does feature some neat touches, such as circular screen hinges, which are home to the power socket and backlit power button. We also like the grid pattern used on the wrist rest and trackpad, as well as the subtle speaker grille nestled beneath the screen. With its 16.4-inch display, this model isn't big on portability, especially with a hefty weight of 3.1kg. Since it's more likely to be used around the house rather than on the move, however, its weight and dimensions aren't such a big issue.
Flip it open and the first thing that strikes you is the quality of the display. Measuring a full 16.4 inches diagonally and with a resolution of 1080p, it looks drop-dead gorgeous. Not only is it pin-sharp, but it's also extremely bright and produces impressively natural colours. Games and movies played from the Blu-ray drive look absolutely fantastic. Being the nit-pickers that we are, however, we should point out the slight inconsistency in the backlighting -- the bottom of the screen is noticeably brighter than the rest of the display during darker scenes in movies.
Following the lead of Apple's MacBook and most of today's high-end laptops, the Vaio uses a keyboard with an isolated design, where the individual keys are flat and seem to be stamped out of the chassis. Given the rather wide nature of the chassis, Sony has had no problem squeezing in a numerical keypad on the right-hand side. In fact, the keyboard feels very roomy thanks to its full-sized main keys, including 'shift' and 'return'. The keyboard also feels really solid -- there's almost no flex and the keys are springy so it's easy to get up to a fast typing speed. We like the large, matte-finish trackpad -- it feels fast and smooth under your finger. The two wide trackpad buttons are also very responsive and give a firm click when pressed.
As this is primarily a media machine, you'll need plenty of room for storage, so it's lucky Sony has kitted it out with a large, 500GB hard drive. Along with the Blu-ray drive, there are also separate memory stick and SD card readers on the front lip. Wireless connectivity is taken care of by both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the laptop has plenty of ports, too. These include three USB ports (one of which doubles as an eSata port, which is handy for connecting external high-speed storage), a mini FireWire socket, an Ethernet jack and an ExpressCard slot. There are also both VGA and HDMI ports for hooking the laptop up to an external monitor or TV.
Any media-focused machine needs a powerful processor, and Sony hasn't skimped in this area. It's used a high-end, quad-core Intel Core i7-740QM chip that ticks over at 1.73GHz. This is helped along by a healthy 4GB of RAM, which is fully addressable by the 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium operating system. As you would expect, this hefty specification meant the machine posted a speedy score of 6,642 in the PCMark05 benchmark test. This score puts it among the best in its class and shows it has enough power to deal with more demanding tasks, such as HD video-editing.
Rather than relying on integrated graphics, Sony has opted for a discrete Nvidia solution. The chip used here is an Nvidia GeForce GT 330M, and this, along with the powerful CPU, helped the laptop to clock up an impressive score of 8,044 in the 3DMark06 benchmark test. As a result, you should have no problems playing the latest games on it.
The Vaio's size and weight means it's not a machine that's likely to be used on the move all that often, so battery life isn't hugely crucial. In saying that, it actually put in a pretty good performance in this department. The laptop managed to keep running for an hour and 22 minutes in our Battery Eater test. Since this test is very intensive, you're likely to get much longer battery life from the laptop under real-world conditions.
With its excellent screen, fast processor and powerful graphics chip, the Sony Vaio VPC-F12M0E/B really is an entertainment powerhouse. Its great keyboard and touchpad also make it a very comfortable machine to use. Needless to say, we've no hesitation in recommending it.
Edited by Emma Bayly