Sony VAIO VGN-A197XP

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Fast CPU, lots of RAM
  • superb 17in. wide-screen display, fast GPU
  • Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth built in
  • large hard disk, multi-format DVD burner
  • pleasing design, comfortable keyboard

Cons

  • Bulky and heavy
  • slow 4,200rpm hard disk
  • no internal CompactFlash or SD card support

Sony's A-series of Centrino notebooks caters for both business users and consumers, seven models delivering different combinations of features and computing power, all packaged in a typically stylish manner. There are 15in.- and 17in.-screen systems, and machines powered by Dothan- and Banias-core Pentium M processors. We looked at the top-end £1,871.49 (ex. VAT) VGN-A197XP model (Sony continues to defy logic and elegance with its naming conventions), which is a very desirable 17in.-screen, 1.8GHz Dothan-powered desktop replacement system aimed at the well-heeled business user.

Design
First impressions of the A197XP are of its size -- thanks to that wide-screen 17in. display -- and also its elegant looks. It's curvy, finished in shades of grey and has the VAIO logo picked out in brushed aluminium on the lid -- if this was a car, it would be a sleek executive limousine (with a chauffeur, of course). The dimensions are suitably impressive: this beast measures 40.5cm wide by 28cm deep by 4.2-4.5cm high and weighs 3.9kg -- and that's without the bulky power brick. You might carry the A197XP from your desk to a meeting room at a pinch, but you'll probably need that chauffeur-driven limo if you want to take it on your travels. The A197XP will look good on your desk though. The high-contrast 'x-black' 17in. screen, with its 1,920 by 1,200 WUXGA resolution, is its crowning glory: not only does the picture look great, but you can also get a lot of spreadsheet or two browser windows comfortably on-screen. And of course, for those off-duty moments, it does full justice to DVD movies and games. Obviously there's plenty of room to fit in all the features you might require: this is a two-spindle system with a multi-format DVD burner on the right-hand side and an 80GB internal hard disk. There are no legacy ports and no infrared, but everything else is pretty much present and correct (see Features, below). The 87-key keyboard benefits most from the A197XP's roominess: the keys are large (19mm) and have a positive action, while the layout takes full advantage of the space available -- you get separate Home, End, PgUp, PgDn and cursor keys, for example. Navigation is via a two-button touchpad, and there's a built-in wireless mouse receiver -- although we can find no wireless mouse on Sony's Web site to link up with this (in the meantime, you can always plug in a USB mouse, of course).

Features
The A197XP is powered by Intel's 1.8GHz Pentium M 745 processor with 2MB of Level 2 cache. This is supported by the 855PM chipset and an impressive 1GB of PC2700 DDR RAM, expandable to 2GB via the system's two SODIMM slots. As mentioned above, you get 80GB of hard disk storage, in the form of a 4,200rpm Hitachi Travelstar drive. That slow 4,200rpm might be disappointment to some users -- especially those contemplating disk-intensive applications. For optical storage there's a Sony DVD+RW/-RW burner located in a fixed bay on the right-hand side. The 17in. display is powered by ATI's flagship Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics processing unit (GPU) with 64MB of video RAM. This GPU delivers full DirectX 9.0 support, complex lighting and shading effects and dual-screen desktop capability if you attach an external monitor via the system's VGA port. As you might expect of an all-singing, all-dancing desktop replacement, you're not short of connectivity and I/O options. Wireless networking is catered for by Intel's PRO/Wireless 2200BG Network Connection running at up to 54Mbps, and you also get Bluetooth built-in for local cable-replacement duties. There's a handy hardware switch on the fascia for turning wireless connectivity on and off. Gigabit wired Ethernet is supported via Intel's Pro/1000 MT module, and there's the obligatory internal 56Kbps modem. There are three USB 2.0 ports (two at the back and one on the left-hand side), plus analogue monitor out, video out and i.LINK(IEEE 1394). There's a single Type II PC Card slot on the left-hand side and a Memory Stick (Pro) slot at the front. If you have a lot of data on CompactFlash or SD cards, you'll have to attach an external reader or use a PC Card adapter. The software bundle includes Windows XP professional, Microsoft Works 7.0, Sony's customary bundle of multimedia applications and an Adobe Companion Pack comprising Premiere Standard, Photoshop Elements 2.0 and Photoshop Album Starter Edition.

Performance & battery life
Benchmarking can be a frustrating business, and our MobileMark 2002 test occasionally takes exception to a system and refuses to complete. This happened with the A197XP, for no apparent reason -- it behaved perfectly well otherwise. Often, you need to remove other applications that are installed, and we did this, to no effect. We also reinstalled MobileMark 2002, which then refused to run, claiming that the benchmark files had been changed. All this preamble means that we have no productivity and battery life scores to report for the A197XP. That's no disaster, though, because with its 1.8GHz Pentium M CPU and, most importantly, 1GB of DDR RAM, this system is never going to struggle with mainstream productivity applications. Nor are you likely to carry this monster far from a source of mains power. If you do, its 4,440mAh Li-ion battery is unlikely to last for long -- Sony only claims 2 hours and 20 minutes maximum. The A197XP did complete the 3DMark 03 test, though, and its score of 2,753 is up there with the fastest notebooks we've tested. Acer's TravelMate 8006LMi with 2,839 currently heads the field, but that has a 2GHz Pentium M 755 processor and its Mobility Radeon 9700 has 128MB of video RAM. In short, you'll have no problem running demanding graphical applications and 3D games on the A197XP.

Service & support
Sony only provides a one-year warranty for the A197XP as standard, although you can extend this at a price. Phone support is available between 8am and 6pm at 7p a minute, while Sony's support Web site provides email support, FAQs, manuals, tutorials, driver downloads and a repair status check service.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Processor / Chipset
Data Bus Speed 400 MHz
Chipset Type Intel 855PM
Features Enhanced SpeedStep technology
Cache Memory
Type L2 cache
Installed Size 2 MB
Memory
Max Supported Size 1 GB
Slots Qty 2
Empty Slots 0
Storage
Type None
Read Speed 24x (CD) / 8x (DVD)
Write Speed 16x (CD) / 4x (DVD-R) / 2x (DVD+R)
Rewrite Speed 8x (CD) / 2x (DVD±RW)
Type Portable
RAM
Memory Speed 333 MHz
Memory Specification Compliance PC2700
Technology DDR SDRAM
Installed Size 1 GB
Display
Widescreen Display Yes
Monitor Features UltraBrite technology
Diagonal Size (metric) 43.2 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation WUXGA
Audio & Video
Audio Codec Realtek ALC203
Hard Drive
Type HDD
Installed Qty 1
Capacity 80 GB
Input
Type Keyboard, Touchpad
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11b/g, Bluetooth
Wired Protocol 10/100 Ethernet
Processor
CPU Type Pentium M
Processor Number 745
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 1.8 GHz
Optical Storage
Drive Type DVD-Writer
Type DVD±RW
Form Factor Fixed
Floppy Drive
Type None
Card Reader
Type Card reader
Supported Flash Memory Memory Stick PRO, Memory Stick
Battery
Technology Lithium ion
Run Time (Up To) 2.5 hour(s)
Header
Brand Sony
Product Line Sony VAIO
Model VGN-A197XP
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Networking
Max Transfer Rate 56 Kbps
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth, Fast Ethernet, Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g
Compliant Standards Bluetooth 1.1
Wireless LAN Supported Yes
System
Notebook Type Notebook
Hard Drive Capacity 80 GB
Monitor
Diagonal Size 17 in
Dimensions & Weight
Width 15.9 in
Depth 11 in
Height 1.8 in
Audio Output
Compliant Standards AC '97
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Mainboard
Data Bus Speed 400 MHz
Chipset Type Intel 855PM
Physical Characteristics
Form Factor Portable
Weight 8.6 lbs
Power
Type Power adapter
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Microsoft Windows XP Professional
Type Sony PictureGear Studio 2.0, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, InterVideo WinDVD 4, Norton Internet Security 2004, Adobe Acrobat Reader 6, Adobe Acrobat Elements 6.0, Apple QuickTime 6.1, Adobe Premiere, Sony SonicStage 2.0, PowerPanel, VAIO Media 2.5, Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 Starter Edition, Norton Password Manager 2004, Sony DVgate Plus 1.2, Microsoft Works 7.0, Sony Click to DVD 1.4, Sony System Recovery
Video Output
Graphics Processor ATI Mobility Radeon 9700
Video Memory
Technology DDR SDRAM
Installed Size 64 MB
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type Limited warranty
Full Contract Period 1 year

Top ZDNET Reviews