Sony's VAIO F Series VPCF13AFX: Pricey Performance
At a Glance
Sony VAIO VPCF13AFX
The VPCF13AFX is both a looker and a great performer, but it isn't the longest-lived desktop replacement you can find.
Outside of Apple, Sony probably has the keenest sense of style in the computer industry. Sony laptops, including the F-series VAIO VPCF13AFX desktop replacement laptop, always seem to look a little better than the rest. The VPCF13AFX is not only stylish but also an excellent performer with decent ergonomics and the latest technologies. Unfortunately, its battery life is limited.
Sony has an Apple-like reputation for charging premium prices, too, and at $1375 (as of October 28, 2010) the VPCF13AFX we tested seems to confirm that. You can find Sony laptops at competitive prices, but the VPCF13AFX has several luxury features--such as an ExpressCard slot, Bluetooth, IEEE1394, USB 3.0, and a Blu-ray drive--that add to the cost.
Our test configuration's main components included an Intel Core i7-740QM processor running at 2.93GHz, an nVidia GeForce GT 425M GPU, 6GB of DDR3 memory (1066MHz), and a 7200-rpm 500GB hard drive.
The 1600-by-900-pixel display on our test unit (a 1920-by-1080 version is available for $100 more) possessed an unusual amount of usable brightness, but that also made it easy to spot the slightly darkened areas in the lower corners. Other than that, the laptop is nicely put together. Audio through the speakers is decent for a laptop, and louder than the norm. The Webcam is limited to 640-by-480 resolution.
A combo eSATA/USB 2.0 port is on hand, as well as HDMI and VGA video-out. Audio-out/in are included, as well, and the machine wouldn't be a Sony without a mini-IEEE1394 port and a Memory Stick slot. The laptop also has an SD Card slot for those people who don't live entirely within Sony's universe. The wireless is 802.11n; the ethernet is gigabit, despite the Sony Website's referring to it as Fast Ethernet (100 mbps).
In WorldBench 6, the VPCF13AFX turned in a very good score of 107; its gaming frame rates in our Unreal Tournament 3 test topped 100 frames per second at medium detail and 80 fps in high detail. That should be enough performance for just about anyone outside of a hard-core gamer. The laptop also played every 720p and 1080p video I threw at it, with nary a flicker.
The VPCF13AFX uses the same backlit, Chiclet-style keyboard as the Apple MacBook Air and the Toshiba Satellite M645-S4055, and I have the same complaint about it: If you're positioned at the wrong angle (which unfortunately is the angle I'm usually sitting at), the backlight bleed from around the keys is distracting. Fortunately, you can turn it off (or purchase the laptop without the feature). Not so fortunately, the very dark text labeling the Fn functions is difficult to read if you do. Otherwise, the keyboard has a crisp feel, and the touchpad is well tuned. Sony also provides dedicated buttons to turn the display on and off and to play media, as well as launch buttons for the VAIO Care help system and the Sony Media Gallery media-playback application.
Sony throws a lot of software your way. In addition to the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium (anything over 4GB of memory is useless at 32-bit), the laptop has a host of the company's value-added titles. Some are useful, some not. The aforementioned Sony Media Gallery is a bit slicker than Windows Media Player, and VAIO Care allows you to restore the system to the factory defaults. Corel WinDVD BD is useful for playing movies, and Arcsoft WebCam Companion 3 does a nice job with the Webcam.
For a desktop replacement, the VPCF13AFX is light, weighing just about 6.5 pounds with the AC adapter. Unfortunately, our unit ran for only a very pedestrian 2 hours, 27 minutes on its standard battery. A heftier extended battery is available; it should add about an hour to the run time.
The Sony VAIO VPCF13AFX is a highly capable desktop replacement laptop with the latest technologies, and you certainly can't complain about the performance. But the battery life is disappointing. If you need or want ExpressCard, Bluetooth, and USB 3.0, go for it. If you don't, you can do nearly as well for a lot less with Sony's own Z and EC series, not to mention notebooks from other vendors.