By Neil Bennett | on January 05, 2009
Pros: Best screen on the market; powerful; three-drive system.
Cons: Not very portable; poor battery life; slow media drive; pricey.
Unless you’re a contestant on The World’s Strongest Man, it would be hard to accurately describe the Vaio AW11 as a laptop. The model has an 18.1-inch screen – so it’s almost half a metre wide – and weighs just under 4kg. This isn’t a model for skipping around town with.
Instead, the AW11 is pitched at photographers, freelance illustrators and designers, and other home studio-based creatives working with still images – users who want a top-quality screen without losing mobility.
The highlight here is the AW11’s outstanding screen, which is the best we’ve ever seen on a laptop. Driven by a three-chip LED backlighting system, its colour reproduction, depth of shadow and highlight detail matched that of the previous best, HP’s 17-inch EliteBook 8730w – but the screen was more comfortable to use than the EliteBook’s. We tested its colour depth using a Datacolor Spider3Elite monitor calibrator, and found a colour gamut that matches that of a desktop LCD display.
This is the first laptop we’ve seen to drop the traditional 16:10 screen aspect ratio in favour of a 16:9 resolution of 1,920-x-1,080. It’s designed so that HD video can be watched without a black letterbox.
With a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 processor and 4GB RAM, it’s unsurprising that the AW11 is one of the fastest laptops we’ve ever seen, completing our After Effects video processing test in bang-on six minutes, and a delivering a Cinebench rendering score of 5,727.
One of the AW11’s key advantages is its three hard-drive system. It’s got two solid-state drives striped into a RAID 0 array for a system drive and a separate media drive. We would have preferred a smaller 5,400rpm or 7,200rpm media drive, as at 4,200rpm it reduces the overall performance.
Other flaws include a cramped trackpad, and battery life of under an hour when you’re working in creative tools – though you probably won’t be taking the AW11 too far from a power socket anyway. The mid-range nVidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics chip delivered disappointing real-time 3D performance.
The AW11 is pricey for a laptop – though the screen quality more than justifies the price. The AW11 is so big and unwieldy that it’s worth remembering that you could get a more powerful desktop PC for the same price with an LED monitor that would put the AW11’s screen to shame. But if you want a degree of portability, Sony’s laptop is one of the best around.