Unlike notebooks that seem to clam up when closed, the Vaio CW has a screen that falls just slightly short of the base when folded shut, leaving a rounded-off shelf of indicator lights and the palm rest exposed. Stylistically, it’s a miss. But we like how this design allows the palmrest to slope down to form a smooth, comfortable edge – something Apple sacrificed to style on its razor-edged MacBooks. Together with the full-size Chiclet keyboard and a matte trackpad with large and clicky right and left buttons, the CW offers one of the most comfortable typing and navigating experiences we’ve encountered on a notebook.
Ports and Connections
Despite its 14.1-inch size, the Vaio CW comes with no shortage of ports and connections, including many we’re most accustomed to finding on desktop replacements. The left side offers two USB ports, an i.LINK IEEE 1394 connector, and two flavors of video: both VGA and HDMI. The right side includes yet another USB port, dedicated headphone and analog-in jacks, along with a ExpressCard slot for expansion and of course, a built-in optical drive (CD/DVD standard, with Blu-ray as a $70 option). Around the front, you’ll find card readers for both standard SD cards and Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duo cards. The power connector and Ethernet jack have both been wisely relocated to the back, where they flank the battery to the left and right. In short, there aren’t many things you can’t connect this powerful notebook to.
Sony advertises four hours of battery life from the Vaio CW Series, but as usual, you’re looking at less after you crank brightness to acceptable levels and click on the Wi-Fi. As equipped, our demo machine eeked out about three hours with both of those options. That’s pretty unimpressive for a machine in this class, and we can’t help but wish Sony had included switchable graphics the same way Lenovo does with its T Series ThinkPads, or Apple does with its MacBooks.
Our Vaio CW posted somewhat inconsistent and disappointing boot times with Norton Internet Security constantly trying to pop its head up and install itself on boot, but after removing what might be the world’s worst anti-virus software, things got much better. We hit the desktop in 55 seconds and had a browser window open in another 10. Another five, and we had Wi-Fi. Not too shabby, Windows 7.
Once you hit the desktop, things get even better. The Core 2 Duo and ample RAM in our test unit allowed us to flick windows open and closed with minimal delay. Snapping open Google Chrome browser windows felt nearly instantaneous. The GeForce inside flexed its muscle when it came to video, effortlessly decoding even 1080p Apple MOV trailers with perfect fluidity. And there’s ample power for Photoshop and more intensive desktop applications.
Sony makes no claim to gaming performance, but with a GeForce G210M inside, we had to take the Vaio CW for a spin to see how it would perform. You won’t trade in your Alienware M17x for one, but it performed admirably for a machine in its class. Crysis pushed this machine straight to its breaking point. With all settings at medium, it managed a feeble 12 to 15 FPS – not what we could call playable. But after backing off to all settings to low, our FPS soared in the high 20s and low 30s, making forays into the jungle quite possible from a humble sub-$1,000 laptop. For a game that can bring $5,000 gaming rigs to a halt with the right settings, we would say that’s reasonable performance for a laptop in this class.
In 3DMark06, the Sony Vaio CW achieved 3,523 3DMarks – a feat not terribly impressive beside true-blue gaming PCs, but again, respectable for a 14.1-inch notebook with this price tag.
Sony’s 14.1-inch LED-backlit screen looks absolutely dazzling. Resolution of 1366 x 768 provides plenty of room to spread out windows, and the LED backlight pumps out plenty of light for viewing in brightly lit conditions. Like all glossy screens, it does catch quite a bit glare in situations with overhead lights or open windows.
Like most notebook speakers, the Vaio CW doesn’t deliver much oomf from the tiny speakers embedded just above the keyboard. We don’t ever expect notebook speakers to crank out a good rendition of Du Hast, but the little guys in the Vaio CW struck us as particularly anemic – easy to talk over, even at full volume, and hampered by distortion at that level as well.
The Vaio CW Series won’t challenge Sony’s dramatically thin X Series for portability or style, but what it lacks in slender dimensions, it makes up in power and value. Frankly, the Vaio CW put a smile on our faces every time we found another excuse to use it. Sony’s emphasis on comfort and usability over having the right numbers has forged a likeable, well-rounded notebook that’s up for just about anything, and sleek enough to show off, too. Poor battery life and above-average weight don’t particularly recommend the CW for travel, but neither one hampers it severely enough to leave at home, either. Say hello to one of Sony’s most practical notebooks yet.
- Reasonably priced
- Supremely comfortable palm rest, trackpad and keyboard
- Attractive automotive-like finishes
- Solid build quality
- Crisp 14.1-inch LED-backlit screen
- Discrete graphics standard
- Perky desktop and video performance
- Respectable gaming performance
- Not particularly light or slim
- Poor battery life
- Anemic speakers