Small screens and poor colour fidelity on a laptop are no longer mandated – just look at Sony’s VAIO VGN-AW11XU with its huge 18in widescreen and wide colour gamut.

For professional photographers working on location, the usual weapon of choice to accompany a digital SLR camera is a lightweight laptop, able to give quick visual feedback on work in progress. Unfortunately, most laptops suffer from relatively small screens and poor colour fidelity.

This is now no longer the case, thanks to Sony's VAIO VGN-AW11XU with its huge 18in widescreen boasting a wide colour gamut closer to a CRT monitor.

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There are actually three Sony VAIO VGN-AW11 models to choose from, with prices starting at a modest £899 for the AW11M/H. Modest, that is, when set against the £2539 ticket of the VAIO VGN-AW11, the version tested here.

The jump in price between base and top models can be attributed to four principal high-performance components that demand the premium fee: the high-end dual-core processor, the graphics card, a SSD storage setup, and the choice of wide-gamut-screen.

Take the entry-level VGN-AW11M/H for example, and you'll get a 1680x945 shiny LCD using ubiquitous twisted nematic (TN) technology.

The top model trumps this in style with its full-HD 1920x1080 screen featuring RGB 3-chip LED backlighting. And that's a matt-finish screen, worthy of professional use as it doesn't suffer from distracting reflections in daylight use.

NEXT PAGE: Processor, SSD storage and graphics card >>>

The processor in the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11 is the Intel T9600 running at 2.8GHz, one of the fastest CPUs currently available for portables. And for storage, it uses two drives - the first boot drive is an SSD constructed from two Samsung 64GB modules, giving a 128GB RAID 0 striped array. And for main storage there is a 500GB 2.5in hard disk, providing plenty of room for storing content.

The final performance component of the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU that raises the stakes is the expensive graphics card, an nVidia 9600M GT with 512MB GDDR3 RAM, promising a good 3D graphics performance.

As you might expect from Sony, the VAIO VGN-AW11XU comes equipped with a Blu-ray drive, and in this case one that will write to blank BD media as well as play high-def films. Other features include not one multi-card reader, but three separate slots for SD Cards, Sony MS sticks and Compact Flash media.

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Build quality of the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU is superb. It feels solid and very well constructed, with neat touches such as a thick leather-like palm rest area which adds class and improves comfort.

The keyboard is the Scrabble tile type, with a confident positive key action, and impressively precise trackpad with easy-to-click buttons.

Screen quality is outstanding. Out of the box, reds were a little over-saturated but this can be tuned with a screen calibrator such as a Spyder Elite.

Once setup the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU is capable of providing excellent colour reproduction, and even, bright backlighting across the whole large panel, not forgetting a refreshing lack of glossy panel reflections.

NEXT PAGE: Benchmarked: we evaluate the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU's system and graphics performance >>

It was in our performance testing, however, that the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU really shone.

Thanks to a combination of very fast processor and SSD RAID storage, we measured a phenomenal 113 points in our WorldBench 6 benchmark test. Remember, in this extended real-world assessment, few laptops exceed 100 points.

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Graphics performance was almost as impressive, giving 35 frames per second in FEAR at Maximum Quality. We even tried Crysis on the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU, normally reserved for dedicated gaming desktops, where the Sony recorded 90fps in our ‘low' test (1024x768, Low quality, DirectX 9).

Switching settings to High quality resulted in a still impressive 19fps. Only the battery life test showed the AW11XU's Achilles' Heel, with a lifespan of just 91 minutes in our Productivity test.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU [PC]: Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 32-bit
  • 18.4in (1920x1080) 16:9 RGB 3-chip LED backlit display
  • nVidia GeForce 9600M GT GDDR3 512MB
  • Samsung 128GB SSD (2 x 61GB, RAID 0)
  • Fujitsu 4200rpm 500GB SATA II HDD
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 RAM
  • VGA D-Sub
  • HDMI
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • mini FireWire 400
  • ExpressCard/34
  • mic input
  • headphone/Toslink output
  • stereo speakers
  • built-in mic
  • SD Card reader
  • Memory Stick reader
  • Compact Flash reader
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth
  • 56k modem
  • webcam
  • digital TV tuner
  • fingerprint reader
  • remote control
  • 437x289x37-40mm
  • 3.95kg
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 32-bit
  • 18.4in (1920x1080) 16:9 RGB 3-chip LED backlit display
  • nVidia GeForce 9600M GT GDDR3 512MB
  • Samsung 128GB SSD (2 x 61GB, RAID 0)
  • Fujitsu 4200rpm 500GB SATA II HDD
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 RAM
  • VGA D-Sub
  • HDMI
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • mini FireWire 400
  • ExpressCard/34
  • mic input
  • headphone/Toslink output
  • stereo speakers
  • built-in mic
  • SD Card reader
  • Memory Stick reader
  • Compact Flash reader
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth
  • 56k modem
  • webcam
  • digital TV tuner
  • fingerprint reader
  • remote control
  • 437x289x37-40mm
  • 3.95kg

OUR VERDICT

The Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU is a triumph in build and display quality – and in sheer performance. This comes at a high purchase price, yet there is little to touch it if you need a luggable computer with dependable image reproduction and desktop-class computing power.

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