- ✓Fast for its class
- ✓integrated networking
- ✓keen pricing.
- ✕Poor battery life
- ✕no expansion bus
- ✕somewhat basic warranty.
Sony has extended its range of budget notebooks with the addition of the VAIO PCG-FX301, which looks set to take over from the existing FX101 and FX201 models. The system is similar to the FX201, but incorporates a number of enhancements designed to keep it abreast with the competition from the likes of Compaq, Dell, NEC and Toshiba.
The FX301 is also one of the first notebooks to feature AMD's new 800MHz Mobile Duron processor, distinguished from the desktop version of the CPU by the inclusion of PowerNow! technology, which is designed to maximise battery life.
System memory has been increased from the paltry 64MB supplied with the FX201 to a more realistic 128MB of PC100 SDRAM. However, Sony has taken the view that a 10GB hard drive remains sufficient for a general-purpose notebook.
Physically, the FX301 is a sizeable system, and although it does slim slightly towards the front it's also fairly thick (45mm at the back when closed), so it doesn't have the elegant lines of some of Sony's more expensive notebooks. The weight is about average for a three-spindle design at 3.1kg -- which is another way of saying that this isn't an ideal choice for the regular traveller.
Build quality is acceptable but hardly top-notch, with the slightly hollow feel to the major mouldings that you often find with less expensive portables. That said, the FX301 is reasonably robust, although it has a plastic rather than a metal lid so the system will need to be treated with care if taken on the road.
The 8-speed Toshiba SD-C2502 DVD-ROM drive is fixed, but the floppy drive is modular and can be removed. The only option currently available to fit in its place, apart from a supplied blank which will shave 200g or so off the weight, is a secondary battery, which costs £169 (ex. VAT).
The reasoning behind this becomes clear when you take a closer look at the primary battery, which is rated at a rather modest 1,700mAh rather than the more usual 3,600mAh. This is very apparent in the system's rundown time in PowerNow!'s High Performance Mode, which BatteryMark 4.01 reported as a very modest 1 hour and 11 minutes. PowerNow! Supports two other modes - Automatic and Battery Saver - that should deliver longer battery life.
Despite its reasonably modest price, the FX301 comes as standard with both an internal Conexant-Ambit Soft56K V.90 modem and a Realtek RTL8139 10/100 LAN adapter. The system is also well supplied with ports, including both serial and two USB connectors, IEEE 1394 (i.LINK), and TV-out. Only a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port is missing from the lineup.
Sony also deserves credit for not skimping on the screen, since the FX301 is equipped with a proper 14.1in XGA resolution TFT display rather than a smaller alternative. The screen is both bright and vivid, and delivers a high-quality image.
Performance is relatively good for an 800MHz processor, which bodes well for AMD's Mobile Duron: the FX301's Business Winstone 2001 score of 25.2 is more than creditable for a system in this price bracket.
If you're looking for a solid workhorse of a notebook, and you require brand-name support, you could do worse than choose Sony's VAIO PCG-FX301.