Looking for a family laptop that can be used to watch high-definition movies and play games? The Sony Vaio VPCF13M0E/B might fit the bill. It's got a large, 16.4-inch screen, a Blu-ray drive and a speedy Nvidia GeForce graphics chip. It's available from Laptops Direct and other vendors for around £900.
Slick and subtle design
Aesthetically, there's little to differentiate the VPCF13M0E/B from the VPCF12M0E/B model that it supersedes, but, then again, if it ain't broke don't fix it. The VPCF13M0E/B has a subtle, classy design, offering a few slick touches, such as the glowing green power button mounted on the edge of the lid hinge and the tiny grid pattern used on the wrist wrest.
As you'd expect of a 16.4-inch laptop, it's quite large. It's reasonably heavy too, at 3.1kg, so it doesn't exactly lend itself to being carried around all day. You'll have no problem lugging it from room to room, though.
As with many of Sony's latest Vaio models, this one uses a keyboard with isolated keys -- the keys look like they've individually punched their way through the chassis. There's plenty of space between the keys, which helps reduce your chances of making typos when you're bashing away furiously, and the keys have just the right amount of travel to make them feel responsive. There's very little flex in the middle of the keyboard too.
Sony has also managed to pack in a full-sized numerical keypad on the right-hand side of the keyboard. That will come in handy for those who frequently find themselves working on Excel spreadsheets.
Thankfully, the trackpad is just as good as the keyboard. It's very tall and wide, giving you loads of space to play with. The trackpad supports multi-touch gestures, so you can pinch your fingers together to zoom into pictures, or twist two fingers to rotate images, for example. The wide trackpad buttons are satisfyingly responsive.
The 16.4-inch screen, however, is a mixed bag. It's very bright, but this brightness comes at the expense of colour fidelity -- the display tends to wash out colours slightly, unless you've got it positioned exactly in the sweet spot. Also, it doesn't stretch all the way to a 1080p resolution, but instead stops short at 1,600x900 pixels. That means it can't show all the detail in movies played via the Blu-ray drive. On the plus side, the screen's glossy coating isn't as reflective as some others we've come across.
The laptop has a reasonably large 500GB hard drive for storing your digital media and work files. The range of ports on offer is pretty impressive too. For example, there are two USB 3.0 ports, along with an eSATA port that also doubles as a third USB socket. Sony has packed in a mini-FireWire socket too, as well as an ExpressCard slot.
There's also an HDMI output, alongside the standard VGA port, and the headphone out doubles up as an optical digital audio output if you want to hook up the laptop to an external surround-sound amp. The laptop also offers 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity.
Given that this machine is primarily designed to be used as a multimedia powerhouse, you'd expect Sony to have kitted it out with a decent processor and plenty of RAM. Thankfully, Sony's done exactly that.
The VPCF13M0E/B uses a relatively high-end Intel Core i7-740QM processor that's clocked at a speedy 1.73GHz. This quad-core chip is helped along by an ample 4GB of memory, which is fully addressable by the laptop's 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.
Its meaty specification enabled the laptop to score 6,541 in the PCMark05 benchmark test, which indicates that it'll have no problems handling more demanding tasks, like HD video editing or serious multitasking.
The laptop also has a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 425M GPU. This, combined with the speedy processor, helped the machine to a score of 7,398 in 3DMark06. That means you'll be able to use it for a spot of fragging in the latest first-person shooters, without having to suffer the indignity of jerky frame rates.
Given its large screen and hefty weight, it's not really a machine that's likely to stray too far from a mains socket, which is just as well, as it's no long-distance runner when it comes to battery life. It only managed to keep going for 1 hour and 21 minutes in the intensive Battery Eater Classic test, although you'll get better battery life under normal usage conditions.
The Sony Vaio VPCF13M0E/B's screen could be better, but it's still an impressive multimedia machine, thanks to its slick design, impressive processor and GPU, and on-board Blu-ray drive. If you're looking for a multimedia laptop, it should definitely be on your list of models to check out.
Edited by Charles Kloet