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I am writing this review on this product, and in all honesty, this is one of the greatest laptops I have used. Before this one I owned another make of laptop, but I had to upgrade for extra storage space.
The product is quick, has good enough space, and is easy to use. My model came with Vista and it's much easier to use than some of the reviews I read before had suggested.
The body of the product is very strong and durable. The lighting on the screen can be adjusted, and it's very easy and clear. The 17" screen is very large and ideal for anything from word processing to watching full screen movies. The mouse is easy to use, and sits in a perfect place. The product features two buttons that can be assigned to any event on the computer; for example, launching a piece of software or opening a document.
The laptop features (details from the stickers on the machine) an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7250, supports enhanced Intel Speedstep Technology, it's 2GHz, features a 2GB/Go DDR2 SDRAM memory, a 200GB Hard Drive, NVIDIA GeForce Graphics card and Windows Vista Home Premium. There is an integrated camera and microphone, useful for use on Skype and similar VOIP services, and comes bundled with Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Premiere Elements.
There are 3 USB inputs, but I personally find that this is too little once I've connected up my iPod, Archos, printer, Microphone, Headset, mouse and camcorder. I opted to buy a separate USB hub, something that plugs into one of the USB sockets and means that I can have multiple items connected at once. You may wish to buy one yourself, I recommend them anyway.
There is a built in SD card reader that I find very useful for uploading photos from my camera. I have also used a SDHC card, something which isn't expected to work with regular SD card drives, but it worked perfectly. I don't know if I am correct in assuming that it shouldn't have worked, so please don't take my word for it being standard, but it's worth trying before opting to purchase a separate SDHC card reader.
Two stereo speakers are situated at the front of the unit, but I find the sound to be very weak. I prefer to use headphones for DVD and music. If you intend to use the speakers just as background music without paying too much attention to it, then you may find them good enough.
The battery life is around 2 hours, which can actually be more like 1 and a half hours by the time you actually get down to doing any work on it. The fan is very quiet, I can't say that I even notice it in the background much unless the room is absolutely silent. The top of the laptop, where the keys are, can get quite warm where you rest your hands while typing. It's not uncomfortable but it can irritate your hands after a period of time.
The laptop offers full 1080p HD, but the drive is not HD, so you don't get the opportunity to use it. What is that all about? When connected to the TV through HDMI port, the screen looks amazing on my 50 inch plasma, but it takes some time to set up the right settings.
PROVIDED SOFTWARE (Taken from Technical Details on this site)
VAIO Music Box, Skype, VAIO Recovery Utility 2.6, Google Picasa, Microsoft Works 8.5, Google Software Pack, Microsoft Office 2007 (Trial), Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0, Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0, Roxio Easy Media Creator 9, Sony Click to DVD 2.6, WinDVD for VAIO 8.0, Microsoft Windows Media Player 11, Adobe Acrobat Standard 8.0, Norton 360 (60 days trial), Sony SonicStage Mastering Studio 2.4, Adobe Reader 8.1, VAIO Content Importer / Exporter
There is a volume button easily accessible, a mute button and an eject button from the CD/DVD drive all located on the unit itself next to the keyboard. If you've never owned a Vaio before then this product would be a great place to start.
The left hand hinge has broken in mine (VGN-AR51E) too. Seems to be a weak point in the design. Also the hard disk failed some months back. Looking back it has been a bad investement.
I bought this laptop to replace an HP which I had been very happy with until the hinges broke after just 18 months. I was amazed to find that I could buy a 17" Sony for just £635. This is my first experience of Sony and of Windows vista, and it has been something of a bumpy ride, but I think it is settling down now.
First of all, the laptop. Well it is quite big, being a 17" screen, and fairly heavy, which is OK if you use 2 hands to carry it, not easy with just one. The bigger screen is nice, but I wouldn't say it's that much better than a 15.4" for normal computer work. Maybe it's better for watching DVDs, but I tend to do that on the TV. Sony's x-black is very clear, but I thought the HP screen was excellent and I wouldn't say this is very different. It also boasts full HD 1080, but the disk drive will not read HD so you're not likely to make use of it (you have to go up a model and quite a bit of money to get this). Strangely the screen does not latch shut automatically, the latch has to be moved manually to open and close. I suppose this makes it less likely to go wrong, but is a bit more of a nuisance to lock shut. In practice I don't latch it, the hinges are stiff enough not to need it around the house.
Although the bigger screen means more width for the keyboard, Sony have chosen not to add a separate keypad on the right-hand side. Occasionally I miss that, but as I never had it before it's not a big deal. However, it led to one of my early scares because I often work with a separate keyboard plugged in via USB and turn NUMLOCK on so I can use the keypad. However, if you unplug the computer, hibernate it and then use it on your lap, the numlock has a different effect on the laptop keypad, it turns the function keys permanently on so you get numbers instead of letters on those dual-purpose keys. I was logging in with my password and could not understand why it was not accepted, and there was no way to tell from the blobs what was wrong! It took me ages to find out that the numlock was ruining my password.
In use the Sony is very quiet, much quieter than my old HP with Athlon processor. This is an Intel Core 2 Duo processor rated at 2.0GHz which is faster than most of the other machines in the same price range that I could find. That is teamed up with 2GB of memory and I reckoned this spec should mean excellent performance. Because the Intel processor runs cooler it means the fan comes on less often, and I rarely notice it.
The other piece of the jigsaw is a 200 GB hard disk, again way more than most of the comparable machines I looked at. I figure this will last me a long time, but it's no problem to shift some photos on to an external HDD if I run out of space. The disk runs at 4200 rpm though and I reckon that slows things down a bit sometimes, but only if the RAM is fully utilised. This is something I never expected would happen, but it did.
Sony include a lot of their own programs pre-loaded on the laptop, mainly entertainment programs. I made the mistake of trying out Vaio Movie Story, and discovered that this kicked in another Sony program called 'intelligent analyzer' and another called 'media content importer'. These 2 together started indexing and analysing all my pictures and movies that I had transferred from my old HP, and they took so much memory and CPU power that at times the laptop would not respond to any commands, not even Task Manager would run. When I finally got Task manager open, I was able to use the resource monitor to find the cause of my grief and shut these programs down, but next time I opened up they started up again. In the end I uninstalled them and I have had a far superior experience since. How I hate programs that run without your permission and knowledge and take over everything! At first I thought it was Vista using up all the resources but I take that back now, it's working very smoothly since I got rid of the Sony culprits (MS Photostory 3 is much better anyway than Vaio movie story and it's a free download).
What's left to comment on: The wireless LAN works as it should with no problem around the house; the speakers are fair for a laptop but no better than my old HP Altec Lansing speakers; the battery is poor at under 2 hours and takes ages to charge up; there are only 3 USB ports but I've bought a combined card reader and USB hub so now when I use the laptop at my desk I just plug in one lead and I've got keyboard, mouse, printer, external HDD, and compact flash card reader all at once, and still 2 USB ports free! The integral card reader only does sony memory stick and SD card, neither of which are any good to me.
The laptop seems well-built, (I think the hinges should last a bit longer than the HP ones did), the keyboard has a responsive feel, but doesn't compare with a separate keyboard - why should it be so hard to make one similar? Oh, I nearly forgot the integrated camera and microphone - they work OK but you can't adjust the camera independently of the rake of the screen (as with Acer for instance) and the mic is down by your bellybutton when the laptop is on your lap!
Overall, I'm getting used to it and starting to like it more now that it's running as it should. It's hard to tell how many of the teething problemns were due to the machine, the Sony programs or to Vista. Vista certainly gave me headaches. I found that the latest version of Internet Explorer has dropped Outlook Express and replaced it with Windows Mail, which doesn't handle Hotmail. Yes, it's a Microsoft program and it can't download Microsoft's own email format, how annoying is that! So I tried to install OE, but it wouldn't install because "I have a newer version of IE" already. So I tried to uninstall the newer version so I could go back to good old Outlook Express and it's not there in the list to uninstall! Microsoft have tied up my options so I can't use the programme I like. So I've ditched Microsoft in favour of Thunderbird and it serves them right!
The other big frustration was that my backup and restore program used with my external HDD backed up from Windows XP on my old laptop and wouldn't work with Vista on the new one, so I couldn't restore the backup. I had to drag things manually using 'My computer', which was a pain and in some cases caused further problems.
However, it's all settled down now, it's running smoothly, and I'm getting used to different menus, etc. In the long run it's been worth it, but don't fool yourself that changing over will be easy! I'd rate Sony as well-built and good value for money, but not the rolls-royce everyone expects it to be.
Powerful and versatile, VGN-AR51E is designed for all your needs.