The portable Sony VAIO F Series just barely edges into the desktop replacement laptop category. It's modern-looking (that's not necessarily a good thing), with sharp angles, smooth lines, and a monochromatic minimalist look. It also fails to beat the performance scores of other desktop replacements, but it's so light and small (for this category) that perhaps you'll look past its performance issues.

Our review model, priced at £859 inc VAT, sports a second-generation Intel Core i7-2630QM processor, 4GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 540M discrete graphics card, and a 500GB hard drive. It's also got built-in Bluetooth 2.1, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and a Pioneer Blu-ray Disc player. Our model runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.

In our in-house testing, the VAIO F Series performed below average for its category. With a 16.4in screen, the Sony VAIO F Series is considered a desktop replacement. However, in our WorldBench benchmark tests, the F Series only scores 117, which puts it in the lower half of our top 10 list. The five desktop replacement laptops we tested before the Sony VAIO F Series averaged a score of 151. Of course, they also weighed about two pounds more on average, and had about 30 minutes less battery life. See also: Group test: what's the best laptop?

Graphics performance is also below average. In our Far Cry 2 graphics test, the Sony VAIO F Series only manages a frame rate of 21.1 frames per second (high quality graphics, 1920 by 1080 pixel resolution). By comparison, the category average in the same test is more than twice that at 52.5 fps.

The Sony VAIO F Series has an interesting, if not very attractive, design. First, the basics: the laptop is matte black with a very simple cover that has a silver VAIO logo splashed across the center. Now for the "interesting" part of the design: when the laptop closes, the cover is offset about a half an inch from the base. This creates a small step from the top to the bottom, and while it looks somewhat edgy, it also looks mismatched. Needless to say, this design is not for everyone.

Inside, the laptop carries over its "edgy" yet minimalist design. The wristpad, for example, is slightly raised on its own little plateau. There is a chiclet-style, backlit keyboard (complete with a 10-key number pad). It is comfortable to type on, though the default setting of the keyboard lighting up brightly whenever you touch a key is annoying. Luckily, you can turn the backlight off. There are three physical buttons above the keyboard (Assist, Web, and VAIO), as well as touch buttons for multimedia control.

Below the keyboard, on the raised wristpad plateau, there's a small touchpad denoted only by a textured square. The touchpad is smooth and responsive, though I dislike textured pads. Below the touchpad is a wide black rocker that serves as both a left- and right-click. Like most rockers, this one feels a little cheap.

Ports on the VAIO F Series are easily accessible. On the right side of the laptop there's a headphone jack, a microphone jack, and one USB 2.0 port. On the left side of the laptop, there are two USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an HDMI output, and a VGA output. There is also an S400 port (4-pin Firewire), as well as a multi-in-one card slot located on the front of the laptop.

The VAIO F Series comes in two versions: regular ol' 2D and fancy new 3D. Our review model is the 2D version, and so it sports a 16.4-inch semi-glossy LED screen with a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The screen is bright and clear and looks good-but-not-great, with decent colour representation (the picture occasionally looks bluish) and mostly crisp edges. Off-axis viewing angles are dismal, especially if you look at the screen from above or below.

Video playback on the F Series is excellent, and high-def videos stream seamlessly. Blu-ray discs also look awesome, though DVD upconversion is a little sketchy. In my testing there were a lot of blocky artifacts in multiple DVD scenes.

Audio on the F Series is actually quite good, though the speakers suffer from the usual laptop speaker syndrome: tinny-ness and lack of bass. Still, the F Series' speakers aren't painful to listen to, especially if you use the Dolby Home Theater filtering option. Plus, they're extremely loud.

Sony VAIO F Series: Specs

  • Intel Core i7 2630QM/2GHz
  • 4GB DDR3 SDRAM, 1333 MHz
  • Serial ATA, 500 GB, Serial ATA-300, 5400rpm
  • DVD±RW (±R DL)/DVD-RAM/BD-ROM
  • 16.4" TFT, 1600x900 (WXGA++), 16:9
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M
  • 1.31 Megapixel webcam
  • Touchpad, backlit keyboard
  • IEEE 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0
  • USB, 2x SuperSpeed USB 3.0, FireWire
  • microphone, input, mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm
  • Ethernet 10Base-T/100Base-TX/1000Base-T, RJ-45
  • Lithium Ion battery
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition
  • 399x272x33mm
  • 3.1kg
  • Intel Core i7 2630QM/2GHz
  • 4GB DDR3 SDRAM, 1333 MHz
  • Serial ATA, 500 GB, Serial ATA-300, 5400rpm
  • DVD±RW (±R DL)/DVD-RAM/BD-ROM
  • 16.4" TFT, 1600x900 (WXGA++), 16:9
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M
  • 1.31 Megapixel webcam
  • Touchpad, backlit keyboard
  • IEEE 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0
  • USB, 2x SuperSpeed USB 3.0, FireWire
  • microphone, input, mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm
  • Ethernet 10Base-T/100Base-TX/1000Base-T, RJ-45
  • Lithium Ion battery
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition
  • 399x272x33mm
  • 3.1kg

OUR VERDICT

Performance issues aside, the VAIO F Series isn't such a bad buy. Sure, you'll have to contend with Sony's extra software (such as its VAIO Gate dock), and the Firewire port is weirdly located on the front of the computer, but otherwise the F Series is a decent laptop for multimedia playback and basic tasks. I don't love the design, but others might. Plus, it's pretty portable for a desktop replacement.

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