- ✓Solid, unfussy all-in-one design
- ✓good ergonomics
- ✓reasonable performance and battery life
- ✓large 15in. screen.
- ✕XGA screen resolution doesn't do justice to its 15in. size
- ✕too bulky and heavy for regular mobile use.
Sony's FX600 range of AMD-based all-in-one notebooks has been upgraded with four models, the 15in.-screen FX605 and FX604, and the 14.1in.-screen FX602 and FX601. The 605 and 604 models are differentiated by their CPUs (Mobile Athlon 1500+ and 1.1GHz Mobile Duron) and hard disk capacity (30GB and 20GB), while the 602 and 601 differ in their optical drives (DVD/CD-RW and DVD-ROM). We looked at the 1.1GHz, 15in.-screen, 20GB-drive FX604 model, which costs £1,104 (ex. VAT).
Sony's VAIO range is perhaps best known for combining eye-catching design with the latest technology, but there are plenty of 'bread and butter' products in there too, and the FX604 certainly falls into the latter category. Not that it's in any way ugly: it features Sony's familiar dark purple styling and has a reasonably solid construction, measuring 32.4cm wide by 26.5 cm deep by 3.58cm high and weighing 3.32kg (rising to 3.78kg with the AC adapter). Our review configuration featured a DVD/CD-RW combo drive in the fixed optical bay and a floppy drive in the modular bay, but the latter can be replaced with a weight saver or a second battery (£143.83 ex. VAT) if necessary.
As mentioned above, the FX604 is built around AMD's Mobile Duron processor running at 1.1GHz. This CPU has only 64KB of on-die Level 2 cache compared to the Mobile Athlon's 256KB -- and both AMD processors fall short of the 512KB of L2 cache seen in Intel's latest mobile chips. Our review system, like all of the new FX 600 models, came with 256MB of SDRAM, expandable to 512MB, and had Windows XP Home Edition preloaded.
The FX 604's TFT display is large enough at 15in., but the combination of its native 1,024 by 768 resolution and Windows XP's rather profligate interface doesn't really exploit the screen space on offer. ATI's 8MB 3D Rage Mobility-M1 graphics chipset does a perfectly good job with 2D acceleration, but despite its name isn't really up to handling demanding 3D games. The keyboard is particularly responsive and easy to use, and the system unit has tilt feet at the back that allow you to achieve a comfortable typing position.
The FX604 is reasonably well kitted out with ports and connectors. Serial, parallel, VGA and wired Ethernet ports reside behind a drop-down flap at the back, where you'll also find a pair of USB 1.1 ports and a modem port. The left-hand side is home to a stacked pair of CardBus Type II PC Card slots, plus a four-pin IEEE 1394 port, audio (microphone, headphone) and video-out ports. Infrared has long been absent from Sony's notebooks, while 802.11b wireless networking will have to be supported via an optional PC Card (£109.79 ex. VAT) if required.
As far as performance is concerned, the FX604 is steady rather than screaming -- as you'd expect from its specification. The FX604's Business Winstone 2001 score of 30.1 isn't great, but it should have no problem running mainstream productivity applications. The Content Creation Winstone score of 17.1 suggests that it might prove a little sluggish with more demanding programs. Battery life of two hours and nine minutes under BatteryMark 4.01 is reasonable given that you're unlikely to use this 3.32kg system on the road much -- and if you do need more uptime away from the mains, there's always the option of the second battery.
The VAIO PCG-FX604 can't be described as exciting, but it's well designed, has a big screen and a good keyboard, and performs well so long as you don't expect too much from it. That adds up to pretty good value from a £1,104 (ex. VAT) all-in-one notebook.