Sony's mobile desktop replacement laptop, the VAIO VGN-AW230J/H, lets you take care of business and gives you easy access your entire media library. But despite its positioning as a multimedia powerhouse, the VGN-AW230J/H clocked a surprisingly anemic score of 88 on PC WorldBench 6. Though the laptop packs a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo P8600 CPU and 4GB of RAM, it finished second-to-last, next to the Alienware M17, in general performance among comparably equipped machines.
The VAIO is fast enough to handle video editing and general computing, but as a gaming rig, it's mediocre. Powered by an nVidia GeForce 9600M GT with 512MB of video RAM, the VAIO topped out at 27.63 frames per second in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars at a resolution of 1680 by 1050. In Unreal Tournament 3, it turned in a slightly better frame rate of 32.38 fps.
The 8.2-pound VGN-AW230J/H may not be a powerful performer, but it eats like one, draining its battery in just 1 hour, 49 minutes in our tests. If you want to run untethered for a longer time between recharges, you can upgrade to a higher-capacity 7200mAH battery.
One strength of this laptop is that it has lots of ports and connections, including HDMI-out, gigabit ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, microphone, headphone, VGA, and a number of legacy types. In addition, the headphone jack doubles as an optical audio-out. Expansion and media slots are numerous as well, with Memory Stick Pro, SD card, ExpressCard, and iLink/FireWire all represented.
The massive 18.4-inch screen has a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 Full HD, so it's perfect for movie watching, and it's big enough for you to juggle multiple application windows without feeling cramped. Visually, the display achieved very deep blacks while maintaining balanced colors across the spectrum. Blu-ray movies look gorgeous, and excellent screen controls let you adjust color, contrast, and brightness. We did detect some backlight leaking along the edges of the screen, which prevented brightness from being uniform across the screen. Also, the glossy screen coating can pose problems outdoors, where glare and reflections are likelier to interfere with viewing.
The VGN-AW230J/H's internal speakers and subwoofer delivered above-average audio with fair bass response, though the low end is muddy, and the mids and highs lack full definition. The included Dolby Control Center software noticeably improves sound with bass and 3D effects. The machine has good overall sound for a laptop, but its built-in speakers still can't beat good headphones. For a true audiophile experience, you can hook the VGN-AW230J/H up to your home theater's A/V receiver with either HDMI or fiber optic cables.
A multimedia control bar at the top of the keyboard supplies playback controls for movies and music, and you also get an A/V mode button. A fingerprint scanner for security, and a switch for enabling/disabling Wi-Fi round out the manual controls.
The laptop's touchpad has an excellent feel, though the left and right mouse buttons have a cheap-feeling click. The VGN-AW230J/H is so big that its keyboard is nearly full-size. And by widely spacing the keys, Sony makes the touch-typing experience even better.
Sony didn't skimp on the software either. Our review unit came with Microsoft Works and QuickBooks Simple Start pre-installed. Media applications include InterVideo WinDVD for disc watching, Roxio Easy Media Creator for disc burning, and VAIO Media Plus for organising and playing music, slideshows, and videos (it also lets you stream media stored on other DLNA-compliant devices on your network).
The VAIO VGN-AW230J/H is a good laptop for general computing, thanks to its great screen, comfortable keyboard, and multitude of ports and slots. It can even serve as a home theater PC, since it is armed with media streaming and a Blu-ray drive. The included software bundle is great, and Sony does a nice job of putting a friendly, cohesive face on computer-based entertainment. If you're not picky about speed and gaming performance, this machine makes a tempting desktop replacement.