If you're looking for a high-end desktop-replacement laptop and the Sony Vaio VGN-AW31M/H is too bulky for your liking, the Vaio VGN-FW41E/H may be more up your street. It's essentially a scaled-down version of that 18.4-inch monster, with a lower specification and price, but it's still an impressive lump of laptop. It's available for around £880.
Sony knows a thing or two about what constitutes a sexy piece of consumer electronics. Its Vaio range has long been considered home to some of the better-looking laptops on the market. The VGN-FW41E/H certainly continues the trend and, as with the bigger VGN-AW31M/H, the usual Vaio design flourishes are all present and correct. The two-tone silver livery with contrasting black base is rather fetching too, and this laptop will look just as at home in a living room as it will on an office desktop.
Widescreen laptops usually afford the fringe benefit of a big keyboard, and the VGN-FW41E/H is no exception. Its full-size keyboard measures 12 inches across, but there's no separate numeric keypad. Since there's a good inch and half of empty space at either side, there's technically room for one, but perhaps Sony didn't want to compromise on the widely spaced layout. The 'chiclet' keys are very comfortable to use, but there's a noticeable amount of flex across the keyboard tray. It's not enough to be a problem, but it's worth mentioning, given the resolutely inflexible keyboard on the VGN-AW31M/H.
At 3.3kg, the VGN-FW41E/H is clearly designed to spend most of its life in one spot, although its 37mm thickness and 16.4-inch screen mean it should easily slip into laptop bags designed for 17-inch machines. Despite being 2 inches smaller diagonally than the VGN-AW31M/H's screen, the VGN-FW41E/H's display still has a comparable resolution of 1,600x900 pixels. This is ideal for working with multiple application windows open, but it also suits high-definition video, as evidenced by the inclusion of a Blu-ray drive.
The screen does a great job with movies too, although the stereo speakers are too puny to do soundtracks and music justice. Sadly, unlike with its big brother, the VGN-FW41E/H doesn't have an S/PDIF port for connecting to PC surround-sound speaker set-ups. There is, however, an HDMI port if you want to use the VGN-FW41E/H as the source for an HD home-entertainment system.
The VGN-AW31M/H delivered a pretty impressive set of benchmark results. While the VGN-FW41E/H doesn't reach quite the same lofty heights, it's still no slouch. At 2GHz, its Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor is about 500MHz slower than the VGN-AW31M/H's CPU. With 4GB of RAM (3GB of which is available for use) at its disposal and a speedy 500GB hard drive, its PCMark05 score of 5,513 still stomps all over laptops equipped with AMD Athlon and Turion X2 chips with similar clock speeds.
Similarly, the VGN-FW41E/H's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 graphics chip isn't quite in the same league as the Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT in its bigger sibling, and its 3DMark06 score of 5,570 is about 900 points lower. That's still ample for 3D gaming, but detail settings will need to be kept low to play the latest titles smoothly at the screen's native resolution.
Since it's not quite as awkward to move around as the gigantic VGN-AW31M/H, the reasonable battery life of the VGN-FW41E/H means it's up to a stint of working away from the mains socket. It lasted 1 hour and 57 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test and 3 hours and 42 minutes in the less demanding Reader's test. That should translate to battery life of around 2 hours and 30 minutes under normal usage conditions -- not at all bad for a laptop this large.
For this kind of money, you can buy much more laptop than the Sony Vaio VGN-FW41E/H offers, but you won't be getting the smart sophistication that comes with the Vaio brand. The VGN-FW41E/H is a capable performer for a premium price, but it's arguably not as good value as the less portable Vaio VGN-AW31M/H, which has a bigger screen and a better specification for around £220 more.
Edited by Charles Kloet