- ✓Massive 16.1in. UXGA screen
- ✓very good performance with content-creation-type applications and 3D games.
- ✕No wireless networking as standard
- ✕moderate battery life.
Intel's new Mobile Pentium 4 Processor-M (MP4-M) recently made its debut, to distinctly muted applause. Echoing the experience with the desktop Pentium 4, we found the MP4-M's performance with mainstream productivity applications to be no better -- even slightly worse -- than that of its MPIII-M predecessor, despite the former's 1.7GHz clock speed. Performance with demanding content-creation applications was better, but the advantage did not seem compelling. However, we've only seen one mobile Pentium 4 notebook so far (Dell's Inspiron 8200), and so we were keen to get our hands on Sony's brand-new top-of-the-range notebook, the VAIO PCG-GRX316SP, in order to verify our initial impressions.
Like the Inspiron 8200, Sony's GRX316SP uses a 1.7GHz MP4-M processor, supported by the equally new 845MP chipset. However, it has double the memory -- a generous 512MB of PC1600 DDR SDRAM (the maximum possible) -- which should help speed things along when running demanding applications like video editing software. The hard disk is a 40GB Toshiba unit, while the optical drive in the single modular bay is a Sony DVD/CD-RW combo drive with 8X DVD read, 24X CD-ROM read, 16X CD-R write and 10X CD-RW rewrite speed. Unlike on most 'desktop replacement' systems, there's no second drive bay, and therefore no option to have a built-in floppy drive, but you do get a MagicGate Memory Stick slot.
However, the GRX316SP's standout feature, apart from the mobile Pentium 4 CPU, is undoubtedly its 16.1in. TFT display -- a first on any notebook. This massive screen, which has a native resolution of 1,600 by 1,200 pixels (UXGA), dominates the whole design, from the large 35.5cm by 29.2cm footprint to the way the 87-key keyboard almost seems lost when you open up the lid. The overall look and feel is typical Sony VAIO, albeit with a darker livery than hitherto, but there are some nice touches: we particularly liked the magnetized flip-down covers for the I/O ports. The display is driven by ATI's Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics chipset, with 32MB of DDR SDRAM -- not quite a match for the leading-edge GeForce4 440 Go in Dell's Inspiron 8200 but, as we shall see, still a very capable 2D/3D accelerator.
The GRX316SP is largely legacy-free as far as ports are concerned, lacking serial, PS/2 and infrared ports. What you do get are parallel and VGA ports, three USB ports (one on each side and one at the back), an i.LINK (IEEE 1394) port and a video-out port. Ethernet and (software) modem connectivity is integrated, but 802.11b wireless networking is not provided as standard -- for that, you'll have to pay extra and use up one of the system's two PC Card slots.
Performance-wise, the GRX316SP largely confirms our initial impressions of the MP4-M from the Dell Inspiron 8200. When running mainstream productivity applications, the GRX316SP is disappointing, lagging behind both the Inspiron 8200 and our reference 1.13GHz MPIII-M-based Inspiron 8100, with a Business Winstone 2001 score of 34.6 -- and that's with 512MB of RAM rather than 256MB. The GRX316SP does better when running more demanding applications, returning a Content Creation Winstone 2002 score of 25.3. However, that's still behind the desktop Pentium 4-based Hi-Grade Ultinote M6400's front-running score of 26.8. Graphics performance is excellent, courtesy of the ATI Mobility Radeon 7500, although it cannot match the peerless GeForce4 440 Go in Dell's Inspiron 8200. Battery life of two hours and 13 minutes isn't great, but this 3.76kg system is no-one's idea of an ultraportable, and is most likely to be used when plugged into the mains. The modular bay will accept a second battery if necessary.
If you need copious screen space for editing video, the VAIO PCG-GRX316SP's eye-catching 16.1in. display provides it in spades, and the ATI Mobility Radeon chipset has the pixel-pushing power to drive it. However, with its hefty price of £2,299 (ex. VAT), the GRX316SP is clearly an expensive general office workhorse, especially as you can get better performance with mainstream applications from cheaper mobile Pentium III-M-based systems.