The VGN-217M from Sony came out a little while ago but nonetheless it remains a flagship of Sony Laptops.
It has a humongous 17" X-Black that makes envious anyone, including PowerBook users This screen is it major selling point. Running this at a resolution of 1440x900 offers a crisp display thanks to the ATi Mobility Radeon 9700.
Needles to say that the graphics are more than adequate to run anything you would want a laptop to do. It might not play all the power hungry newest games that will only run on monster desktops but lefts face whoever wants to shell out of the Sony VAIO wants it more for its style, status and built quality. In that note this was the first PC laptop that gave a dent to the Apple's self-inflated image of we have more style that anyone else. A point there for sony.
Included with the gorgeous screen there is auto-luminance sensor that will adjust the backlight to the environment.
The VGN-217M is not just a bimbo laptop though, it packs some serious power in it with a 1.6Ghz Centrino (later upgraded to 1.8) and a 80GB HDD (on later models upgraded to 100GB), a dual layer DVDRW drive from none but Sony and 9700 ATi mobility Radeon (later upgraded to the X700 from ATi). The power is harnessed to make the battery last and boy it lasts. 3+ hours might not sound too much but for a laptop of this size is and considering that is almost a year old and been using it constantly it hasn't deteriorated at all.
On top Sony has included 3 USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, a modem for that quick holiday tap on the internet, mic and phono jacks, a video out (a 3.5mm to composite though) and a VGA port. A firewire is included to make this hold up to its VAIO mark and also as with every Centrino laptop there is a Wireless Card build in from Intel coupled with a Bluetooth card which is handy. The inclusion of a Memory Stick reader is welcome but I would have rather had a SD/MMC reader as most PDAs and cameras use these but cant ask Sony to ditch it proprietary format (in time like this you wish the industry had agreed on a common format). The solution: £10 for 8-1 card reader from Maplin's.
What lets this laptop down is the quality of the software.
On the software side it comes bundled with Norton Internet Security with a year's subscription, Sonic Burn and Sonic Stage Music Editor, DV Gate Plus for a DV Camera Link, MS Works, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Premiere Standard and a 30 day trial for Acrobat 6.0 Pro and click to DVD.
To my opinion the apart from the Adobe Suite the rest are pretty useless. The "Photoshop Elements" is a great piece of software and unless you are a dedicated graphics designer you will not notice the difference between Elements and CS. The Premiere is a great piece of kit for editing films but that's where the greatness of the software stops and trouble beings.
MS Works is fine for light usage but lets face it Office is the tool to use. You can't blame Sony for not supplying it though. The problem lies with Norton.
Norton is good but once the years subscription is finished and you decide that is too memory hungry and maybe costs a bit you decided to remove it. It uninstalls fine but if by any chance you have shelled out for Office none of your old docs wont open with a message displaying that your anti-virus is not allowing them., Anti-Virus, what anti-virus?! This is because of the OEM nature of the Internet Security form Norton that locks into the registry. After half fiddling with the registry and removing all traces is all working again but if a nuisance is for a Software Engineer is going to be a nightmare for a novice user.
Also the DVDRW (dual layer) sounds like a great thing to have but say if you want Nero in there or any other burning software the ACPI drivers will conflicts letting you run only the supplied software in the form of "SonicRecord Now" that can record DVDs. When you use Click-to-DVD doesn't operate the drive most of the time and you have to reinstall half of the time (or fiddle again, download patches and do some hacking to get Nero to work). Very, very annoying business !
The drive itself could be faster than burning the DVDs at 2X and CDs at 24X. I know is a laptop but it is a bit lame. The DVDW drive itself seems to be not very good as had it replaced 3 times from Sony albeit every time I called they fixed it quicker and the last time they even changed the top scratched casing with a brand new one (go on Sony).
The Bluetooth is also very temperamental to the point that I have given up using it. It seems to be working but refuses to receive anything apart from when it feels like.
The touchpad is actually very good and works fine and especially I like the scroll functions which are a neat feature even though common on most Sony laptops.
The restore feature is good and will bring the laptop on condition on delivery and can be accessed from both HDD and included CDs but it is just a pain if you want to reinstall the software again. This is especially true if you want to remove Norton and the Click-to-DVD software.
Another good accessory that was given with it is the Bluetooth mouse that is smart, not a mini thing that you can't use but a good and ergonomic size with a niche design. A plus point goes to Sony for that.
Sony's technical support is OK and queue times are like any other manufacturer (frustrating at times) but at least they recognise a hardware fault when they see one and have no hesitation on RTB the unit for repair. Also they are not patronizing.
I would have preferred also a 17 VAIO bag with it for the price you pay £1400+ but that is just being cheeky I guess. The inclusion of a single 512MB RAM module is a fair point rather than having 2 256MB modules that take over both slots, meaning that if you upgrade you lose 256MB of RAM and also only one module is easy accessible. For the other you have to do some unscrewing which is again a pain. tut tut Sony!
Overall is a great machine with a variety of features and buy only if you are experienced and want it for the hardware and software is no issue for you. Also even though the battery life is great the weight is not so much. I would rather consider a smaller one for portability but if you want a home desktop replacement or complement to a main PC this laptop rocks. If you are a novice but want to does some more stuff with it better look elsewhere.
Sony VAIO A217M is an impressive notebook with full mobile performance from the Centrino platform and ATI 9700 graphics, plus an Auto Luminance Sensor.