Sony VAIO PCG-GR215SP

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Elegant design
  • very good performance
  • 15in. display
  • MagicGate Memory Stick slot.

Cons

  • Poor battery life
  • no built-in 802.11b or Bluetooth connectivity
  • expensive.

Sony's relentless assault on the notebook market continues with the top-of-the-range PCG-GR215SP, which is built around Intel's latest 1.2GHz Mobile Pentium III Processor-M. This well-featured notebook includes 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard disk, a 15in. display and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive. It performs very well, the only disappointment being its battery life -- Sony's traditional Achilles heel.

Instantly recognisable as a VAIO, the PCG-GR215SP plants a considerable footprint wherever you plonk it down. It measures a stately 32.5 by 26.9 by 3.7cm and weighs 3.3kg, none of which will encourage you to carry it far -- too much roadwork might mar this system's elegant looks anyway. Opening up the lid reveals the main reason for the system's size -- its 15in. colour TFT screen, with a native resolution of 1,400 by 1,050 pixels (SXGA+). This display is driven by ATi's 16MB Mobility Radeon graphics chipset, which delivers exemplary 2D performance and reasonable 3D acceleration.

A couple of unusual features are visible from a normal typing position: on the front edge there's a Jog Dial navigation device, which complements the standard two-button touchpad; and a MagicGate Memory Stick slot sits between the screen and keyboard on the left-hand side. The stereo speakers are also located in the 4cm gap between screen and keyboard -- a better location than in some notebooks, which place them in the wrist-rest area where they can be obstructed. The 87-key keyboard has a sensible layout and a comfortable feel. Tilt feet on the underside of the system also help you to achieve a good typing position.

Our review system came with a DVD/CD-RW combo drive in the multipurpose bay on the left-hand side, but the bay can also be used to house a second battery if necessary -- and it may be necessary given the moderate life we got from the primary battery. If you require a floppy drive, you'll need to attach an external USB unit, which is an option costing £58.72 (ex. VAT).

The left-hand side of the system houses a pair of Type II PC Card slots and an i.LINK (IEEE 1394) port in addition to the combo drive and the Memory Stick slot. The right-hand side accommodates the primary battery (a 3,400mAh LI-ion unit), the 40GB Toshiba Ultra-ATA/100 hard disk and a ventilation slot. Most of the I/O ports are in their customary location on the back panel -- three USB, parallel, VGA, TV-out, Ethernet (RJ-45), modem (RJ-11), microphone and headphone. What you won't find on the main system unit are serial, infrared or PS/2 ports. Built-in Bluetooth and 802.11b wireless connections are also noticeably absent.

The remaining I/O port is on the underside of the system, and links to the optional port replicator, which costs £101.28 (ex. VAT). This unit provides the following connectors: two USB, PS/2, serial, parallel, Ethernet (RJ-45), composite and S-Video out, and line-in.

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As far as speed is concerned, the PCG-GR215SP is predictably fast, thanks to its impressive complement of system components. Even so, it didn't manage to beat Dell's 1.13MHz Inspiron 8100 on overall performance with mainstream applications or on battery life. In fact, battery life is the main disappointment with this system -- a paltry 99 minutes from the 2,400mAh primary battery won't satisfy mobile users, who may have to purchase a second unit costing £143.83 (ex. VAT).

Supplied with Windows XP Professional, the PCG-GR215SP comes with Sony's customary multimedia-orientated software bundle, throwing in Adobe's Premiere LE and ArcSoft's Panorama Maker 2000 for good measure. This system's performance and storage facilities make it eminently suitable for multimedia content creation work such as video or audio editing.

This is a state-of-the-art notebook, and it's from Sony, so you'd expect a premium price. And that's what you get -- £2,552.34 (ex. VAT; £2,999 inc. VAT). It's a handsome-looking system, and if you need to perform demanding tasks on a machine you can transport between locations, you may be prepared to pay the asking price. However, there are other notebooks available that offer similar or even better performance for considerably less outlay.

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