The Sony Vaio PCG-FX101 is strange. This is because it looks very ordinary. It looks suspiciously like any other OEM notebook, knocked-up from cases bought in bulk from some Taiwanese factory and full of bog standard components.
This is odd because, upon entering the notebook market just a few years ago, Sony built up a reputation for almost iBook-like design innovation – gone were the dark grey and black case plastics and in their place came hideously bright blues and silvers. Not only that but Sony concentrated on the smaller-sized notebook market, making extremely desirable and almost pocketable machines (like the one reviewed here, for example).
In contrast, the PCG-FX101 is very dark blue. It’s also approximately the same depth and width of any other notebook, although to give Sony credit, at 48mm it is thinner than many machines.
Inside the case, however, there’s more distinctive Sony handiwork. Like virtually all Sony models, this is a multimedia notebook at heart and the principle selling point is the iLink (IEEE1394) port built into the side. This is designed to take digital video (DV) cameras and compatible MiniDisc players, although it’s entirely possible to plug hard drives and other peripherals in there too.
You also get a host of pre-installed Sony multimedia software, including video players, video editors, image editors, and MiniDisc editors, all of which might cost hundreds of pounds if bought separately.
Once you’ve got over the multimedia thrill, though, you’re left with a surprisingly standard notebook. It’s powered by a Mobile Celeron 600MHz processor along with a stingy 64MB of SDRAM (there’s space for 512MB more, care of a SODIMM socket). The hard disk is reasonable at 10GB and you get a 24-speed CDROM drive. The TFT screen is quite a nice 13.3-inch one and extra expansion is provided by the usual USB, PCMCIA type II (1 type III), serial, parallel and VGA sockets. There’s also a built-in V.90 modem and the Lithium-Ion battery is quoted as lasting 1.5 hours in normal usage.
Notably missing, however, is a floppy drive. The multimedia credentials are also chipped away by that fact there’s no DVD-ROM drive. But it’s the lack of a floppy drive that, at the very least, makes getting files off or onto the notebook an utter pain.
Otherwise, this is a fairly competent, although not exceptional, notebook. The screen doesn’t smudge much when playing video, for example, and colours are fairly strong. The built-in stereo speakers are weak but do the job (you can’t expect much more from a notebook), while performance measured in our tests is average for a 600MHz Celeron machine with just 64MB of memory.
We noticed a little jumpiness when streaming an AVI video from a CD, but once the file was copied to the hard disk then everything worked fine. The case is flexible and made out of a softer-grade plastic but this should still protect the machine well.
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