Desktop replacements don't need to be ugly or unstylish, as Sony elegantly demonstrates with the Vaio VGN-AR51SU.
It may be big, but it's not ungainly and it makes the most of its increased footprint by packing in a full HD display, an immense amount of storage and a fast processor. All this will cost you though -- around £2,000.
Despite its colossal size, Sony has managed to prevent the AR51SU looking like some uncouth heaving brute by adding a sleek silver band around its middle, that pleasantly tapers away at the back and means your eyes aren't drawn to its sheer size.
It also makes incredibly good use of the increased surface area to pack in a gorgeous 17-inch glossy X-black screen which offers intense colours and great contrast, although at the expense of reflectivity, so you'll need to position it where there are no bright lights behind you. The screen has a native resolution of 1,920x1,200 pixels, giving it enough pixels to display full 1080p video, so you'll get the full benefit of watching movies from the Blu-ray drive. Or at least you will in theory as the bundled WinDVD BD software proved a little unstable under Vista, but this should be fixable with an update.
Its dimensions aren't the only thing big about the AR51SU, either. Inside, there are two 250GB drives, giving you half a terabyte of storage space accessible as a single volume thanks to built-in RAID support.
Performance is another area where it asserts its stature -- its 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 processor and 2GB of RAM managed to tot up a final score of 5,398 in PCMark05, which is nothing short of amazing for a laptop.
Games performance was equally impressive with a 3DMark06 score of 4,689 that could rival a desktop system. On top of this you also get a built-in TV tuner, so you can make the most of Windows Media Center and both PC Card and ExpressCard slots for expansion. If you fancy hooking it up to a large screen telly to enjoy HD content, then there's an HDMI port making it a lounge-friendly companion.
With all the technology under the hood, the AR51SU comes in at a hernia-inducing 3.9kg. It's certainly not a laptop you'd want to transport very far. This is just as well as you won't get much life out of it when it's separated from a mains power supply.
It only managed to stick it out for one hour 22 minutes with Batter Eater's intensive test. Switching to the less strenuous reader test offered little respite -- it only managed to put in an extra 21 minutes.
Finally, there's the price -- there's no other way of looking at it: £2,000 is a lot of money to spend on a laptop.
If you've got some extra cash and the space to accommodate the AR51SU, then you won't be disappointed by it. If you're prepared to cut a corner or two, though, there are cheaper models available in the same range. It's not designed for life on the road, but it's more compact than a desktop machine, but with performance that rivals a big box computer.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire