Reviewed May 14, 2010 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Without the large 18” AW Series, the Sony Vaio F Series is the largest laptop in Sony’s current Vaio notebook line up. The 16.4” Vaio F is thin and looks elegant, and it has plenty of power too. The Vaio F has the Intel Core i7 quad core processor with NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics. Throw in a free Blu-ray player, an HDMI port and powerful speakers, and you’ve got a multimedia powerhouse in a 6.9 pound package. The F Series is available in quick ship and build-to-order versions and starts at $999.99.
For the AV crowd, the Sony Vaio F is more than able to handle Blu-ray movie playback and Internet movie streaming. The notebook has the Intel Core i7-720QM 1.60 GHz quad core CPU at the starting line and the Intel Core i7-820QM 1.73 GHz waiting on deck for those with cash ($300 upcharge) and a need for speed. The base system comes with 2GB DDR3 1333MHz memory with max memory of 8 gigs on two SDRAM slots. To compliment the high-end CPU, the Vaio F has dedicated graphics powered by NVIDIA. The starting point is the NVIDIA GeForce GT 310M with 512 megs of VRAM, and the top the line offers the NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M with 1 gig VRAM. We can tell you now, if you want to play the latest FPS games you want the NVIDIA GeForce 330M, and we provide you with a gaming demo video to show why. There are many hard drive options from 320GB to 640GB HDD with 5400rpm and 700rpm in various price brackets topped with a whopping 256GB Solid State Drive option that will cost you $620 extra.
The Blu-ray disc player is now a free option. If you want the Blu-ray player/burner it’s $90 more. The Sony Vaio F comes with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and you can upgrade it to Pro or Ultimate editions.
Design and Ergonomics
With the gray or black cover, the Vaio F can’t match the sleekness of the Vaio Z series, but it still stands out in the large notebook crowd. You don’t get the carbon fiber option here (that would increase the F’s price too much), but you do get options to choose the screen resolution. The 16.4” display has standard 1600 x 900 native resolution, but if you get the NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M GPU you can get the Premium Display that’s 1920 x 1080 to show off your Blu-ray movies in native resolution. The screen looks bright but not as color saturated as the one you will find on the Vaio Z Series that starts at $1899.99. The viewing angle on the Vaio F’s display is quite good despite the gloss.
The Sony Vaio F has an excellent chiclet style keyboard and a dedicated 10-digit keypad. Since the Vaio F targets movie watching users, the keyboard has bright white backlight that makes the keyboard easily seen in the dark or dimly lit areas. The keyboard offers a great typing experience and the palm rest feels smooth and comfy. Like many new Vaio models, the palm rest is raised higher than the keyboard plane, making typing easier. The trackpad is off the center to the left and the two mouse keys below the trackpad are a bit flat.
The Vaio F has a row of media controls above the keyboard along with one-button launchers for Vaio Care, Vaio Control Center and Media Gallery for pictures, video and music. The speaker grill sits above the launchers and the audio through the speakers is loud and full thanks to the built-in Dolby Home Theatre v3 technology and high quality speakers. Sony started the trend of placing laptop’s power button on the barrel hinge, and the Vaio F stays true to this design. It has the power button on the right end of the barrel hinge and the AC port on the left. The Sony Motion Eye webcam sits on top of the display and it works very well with Skype video calling.
Horsepower and Performance
With the Intel Core i7-820QM CPU running at 1.73GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.06GHz and the NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M with 1GB VRAM, the Vaio F is a decent gaming machine and a multimedia powerhouse. But with all the trimmings, it will run up your bill as well. So we look at the cheaper configuration that provides plenty of power but keeps the price down. Our review system runs the Intel Core i7-720QM at 1.60GHz with Turbo Boost up to 2.80GHz and 8MB L3 cache, 4GB DDR3 memory and a 500GB hard drive 5400rpm by Hitachi. Our review unit has NVIDIA GeForce 310M graphics card with 512MB VRAM and Blu-ray Disc player. This is identical to the version commonly sold in stores, but the store version has a faster 7200rpm hard drive. We put the Vaio F through PCMark Vantage X64 benchmark tests as well as 3DMark 06 tests. We have provided the test scores below along with the scores from the 15.6” HP Envy 15 with dedicated ATI graphics and the Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q860. Gaming tests and video follow the benchmark scores.
PCMark Vantage Benchmark Results:
Sony Vaio F111FX:
PCMark Suite: 5590
Memory Suite: 3311
TV and Movie Suite: 4208
Gaming Suite: 4727
Music Suite: 5291
Communication Suite: 4858
Productivity Suite: 4858
HDD Test Suite: 3308
Sony Vaio F111FX: 3683 (Benchmarked at resolution: 1280 x 800 pixels) Gateway NV7901u: 7427 (Benchmarked at resolution: 1280 x 800 pixels)
Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q860: 10,300 (Benchmarked at resolution: 1280 x 800 pixels)
The Sony Vaio F produces competitive scores in benchmarks for productivity tests and multimedia tests, but the NVIDIA GeForce GT310M GPU drags the 3DMark score down. The notebook runs productivity software very smoothly including MS Office apps, IE, Adobe Reader and iTunes. Blu-ray discs played smoothly and streaming video via Wi-Fi had very good performance in our tests. Netflix movies played at 25 fps and higher consistently while Hulu streamed at 30 fps.
The Sony Vaio F handles most games well but we put it through several demanding FPS games such as Crysis, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2 to see how the GeForce GT 310M performed. When playing Crysis in native 1600 x 900 resolution with all graphics settings to High, the game played at 10 fps on average. We then switched the settings to medium, the game played at 17-25 fps, which was surprisingly playable. It seems DirectX caused some problems and the game crashed a few times. The Vaio F played Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 at about 17 fps with graphics effects turned on, and at this speed the gameplay was very jerky. We then turned off most graphics effects like Shadows, Depth of Field and Specular Map, the game played at 37 fps to 50 fps at 1600 x 900 resolution. Battlefield Bad Company 2 played miserably with medium overall quality settings running at about 10-15 fps. We changed the overall quality setting to Low, the game was very playable often getting 25 fps to over 30 fps with occasional drop to 17 fps. While low quality setting doesn’t affect the gameplay too much the game had annoying color flashing that no driver or update we had downloaded helped.
Here is a video demo showing how the machine is handling these games with frame rates turned on. We also provided game settings in which the Vaio F played these games when we recorded the video demo:
Resolution: 1600 x 900
Anti-aliasing quality: Off
Objects Quality: Medium
Shadows Quality: Medium
Physics Quality: Medium
Shaders Quality: Medium
Volumetric Effects Quality: Medium
Game Effects Quality: Medium
Postprocessing Quality: Medium
Particles Quality: Medium
Water Quality: Medium
Sound Quality: Medium
CoD Modern Warfare 2 settings:
Resolution: 1600 x 900
Aspect Ratio: Auto
Screen Refresh Rate: 60 Hz
Sync Every Frame: No
Specular Map: No
Depth of Field: No
Soften Smoke Edges: No
Bullet Impacts: No
Texture Quality: Automatic
Battlefield Bad Company 2:
Resolution: 1600 x 900
Overall Quality: Low
The Sony Vaio runs cool thanks to Intel’s Core i7, plenty of copper used for heat dissipation and effective power management. The system’s CPUs and GPU idle at 35-41degrees Celsius. After a few hours of gaming tests, both the CPU and GPU temperatures went up to 55 degrees Celsius with both the GPU fan and the main fan deployed. The system runs at about the same temperatures for movie playback.
Ports and Slots
The Sony Vaio F has plenty of ports including 3 USB ports (one is a combined USB/eSATA port), VGA output, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet (by Marvell) port, mic in and headphone out ports. The laptop also has an ExpressCard /34 slot on the side, and both an SD card slot and a Memory Stick Pro slot facing the front. The Vaio F has a hardware switch for the (Atheros) Wi-Fi radio. The Blu-ray optical drive opens on the right, and the eject button is small so it takes some maneuvering to press the button just right and open the drive. There is no fingerprint scanner on the Vaio F. In addition to Ethernet and Wi-Fi, the Vaio F also has integrated Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR and supports A2DP for wireless audio streaming.
At 15.2 x 10.4 x 1.62/1.22 (back/front) inches and 6.9 pounds, Sony doesn’t expect you to take the Sony Vaio F away from AC often. The laptop comes with a standard Li-Ion rechargeable battery that’s 5,000 mAh and 54 Wh. The 10.8 V battery (Sony model VGP-BPS21A) is very compact, and charges in 2-3 hours. Our battery tests showed that Vaio F lasted 3 hours performing productivity tasks, web surfing and checking email via Wi-Fi. The notebook lasted 2 hours streaming movies from Netflix over Wi-Fi, and almost reached 2 hours streaming movies from Hulu via Wi-Fi. We performed all tests at max brightness and otherwise standard factory-shipped power management settings. If you need a stronger battery, Sony sells a larger battery for $100 extra that extends the runtimes by up to 2 hours.
In addition to Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit the Sony Vaio F comes with plenty of bundled software, some of which are useful while others aren’t. The laptop comes with Microsoft Works SE 9.0 and 60-day trial version of MS Office Home and Student 2007 or Small Business 2007. Sony bundles its own suite of software including Vaio Care, Vaio Media Gallery, Picture Motion browser Vaio Edition, Vaio Movie Story and Vaio Media plus multimedia streaming software. Silverlight is pre-installed, and so is QuickTime. Free and trial third-party software include Norton Internet Security 2010 30-day trial, AOL 90-day trial, Google Chrome web browser and Roxio Easy Media Creator for disc burning.
For file and system restore and recovery, Vaio Care takes care of all that without exiting Windows. It can restore the system to backups and factory state with an easy to follow UI.
The Sony Vaio F is a solid mid-tier Sony notebook that is well built with good material at a reasonable price. The high-end Intel Core i7 processor and dedicated graphics make this notebook a good candidate for audio and video users and developers. The built-in Blu-ray player is a nice bonus for a laptop that starts at $1,000. The 16.4” is more portable than the larger 17”-18.4” beasts like the Qosmio and the Sony is certainly a lot thinner than many larger notebooks. The screen isn’t very color saturated and you need to pay extra for the 1080p native display. Color flashing in Battlefield Bad Company 2 isn’t a good sign, and we can’t say it won’t happen in other games since we can’t try them all. If you are a serious gamer, you should consider the GeForce GT 330M option.
Display: 16.4” widescreen TFT LCD display, 1600 x 900 native resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio. 1920 x 1080 display optional. Has VGA and HDMI ports. NVIDIA GeForce GT310M with 512MB VRAM and 2.2GB max shared graphics memory. NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M optional with 1GB of dedicated.
Battery: Standard Lithium Ion battery, 5,000 mAh/50Wh, 10.8V. Power supply: 100W, 19.5V, 100-240V. Claimed usage time: up to 3 hours.
Performance: Intel Core i7-720 at 1.60 GHz (2.80GHz with Turbo Boost Technology), 6MB L3 cache. 4GB DDR3 1333MHz SDRAM memory, 8 gigs max. Two main memory slots, both may be occupied. 500GB hard drive.
Size: 15.2 x 10.4 x 1.62/1.22 (back/front) inches. Weight: starts at 6.9 pounds.
Drives: Blu-ray Disc Player. BD-R DL Read: 4x max, BD-R Read: 4x max, BD-RE DL Read: 4x max, BD-RE Read: 4x max, BD-ROM Read: 4x max, Blu-ray Disc Support: Read Only (BD-ROM), CD Support: Read / Write (CD/-R/-RW), DVD Support: Read / Write (DVD±R/±RW/±R DL/-RAM).
Networking: Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR, webcam with built-in mic.
Ports and Slots: 3 USB, eSATA port (shared with an USB port), VGA, Ethernet RJ45, mic input port, headphone/optical out jack, HDMI port, SD card slot, Memory Stick Pro slot with MagicGate and ExpressCard 34mm slot.
Audio: Dolby Home Theater v3.
Software: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. Microsoft Works 9 included, also Windows Media Player, IE8, Silverlight and QuickTime preinstalled. Vaio software includes Vaio Care, Vaio Media Gallery, Picture Motion browser Vaio Edition, Vaio Movie Story and Vaio Media plus multimedia streaming software. 3rd party software includes Adobe Reader and Roxio Easy Media Creator. MS Office 2007 60-day trial software and Norton Internet Security 2010 30-day trial included.