Saturday, 4 February 2012


The Sony VAIO VPC-EA36FMW ($799.99 list, at Best Buy) is a well-designed, well-rounded laptop that nearly stands up to the Asus U45Jc-A1 ($867 street, 4.5 stars), the Editors' Choice in the mainstream laptop category. Both models feature the same Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory, 500GB hard drive, and 14-inch display, but, otherwise, they serve up different designs and feature sets. The Asus U45Jc-A1 earns points for its sleek and solid metal frame, switchable graphics, and long-lasting battery. The VPC-EA36FMW's uses a plastic chassis, but it supplies a number of useful features you won't find on the Asus, including Intel Wireless Display (WiDi), WiMax, and Blu-ray drive. Depending on what you need or desire from your next laptop, we enthusiastically recommend either the Sony VAIO VPC-EA36FMW or Asus U45Jc-A1 among mainstream laptops, with a slight edge given to the Asus for its superior design and battery life.
While some sub-$1,000 laptops offer a metal chassis design, such as the Asus U45Jc-A1 and Acer Aspire TimelineX AS5820T-5951 ($723 street, 4 stars), Sony outfits the VPC-EA36FMW with a plastic chassis. However, it's one of the better plastic enclosures in terms of fit and finish. Our review model is white, though Sony sells it in a variety of colors. A subtle pattern of small boxes and squares runs across the lid and palm rest, and a silver screen bezel frames the display. Though the lid and wrist rest each features a glossy finish, the laptop is impressively resistant to fingerprints.
The chassis feels solid, though the display is thin and a bit flimsy. The two small hinges that hold the display in place also feel flimsy; the display wobbles when the laptop is nudged. But the keyboard feels firm, with little flex felt when typing. The keyboard is of the chiclet or island style, with each key isolated from the rest. The keys are generously spaced and offer good travel. Sony wisely opted not to squeeze in a dedicated number pad, so each key is full-sized and easy for touch typists to find.
The touchpad features a slightly textured finish and feels responsive. It's slightly recessed from the palm rest, making it easy to keep your finger from drifting off its surface. The two mouse buttons are large and quiet when clicked.
The VAIO VPC-EA36FMW's 14-inch display features a standard 1366 by 768 resolution. While the resolution falls short of 1080p playback for Blu-ray movies, 720p content looks razor sharp. Fitting for an entertainment-minded laptop, the VPC-EA35FMW features a glossy screen coating, which makes colors look more vivid, but can result in glare and reflections in, say, a brightly lit office environment.
The integrated stereo speakers do nothing to enhance your movie experience, and they preclude music enjoyment without a pair of headphones or a set of external speakers. I'm used to being underwhelmed by laptop speakers, but the Sony's here are some of the wimpiest I've heard to date. It's all the more disappointing, given the laptop's obvious entertainment appeal.
Aside from the speakers, entertainment features abound on the Sony VAIO VPC-EA36FMW. Unlike like most 14-inch laptops at or around its price, including the Asus U45Jc-A1, the VAIO VPC-EA36FMW features a Blu-ray player. The laptop's optical drive can read and write CDs and DVDs, and it can read Blu-ray discs. In order for full HD playback, however, you'll have to use the laptop's HDMI port and throw the image to a 1080p HDTV.
The laptop also features Intel's Wireless Display technology, which lets you wireless stream your laptop's audio and video to an HDTV. It's a cool and highly convenient technology, but a couple of caveats apply: HD video tops out a 720p, and you'll need to purchase the $100 Netgear Push2TV adapter for your TV. Also, scan the Internet for WiDi testimonials and you'll find some users experience connectivity problems, with the video and/or audio signal dropping out.
The laptop also features WiMax connectivity. Should you live in a large metropolitan area with WiMax coverage, you'll need to purchase a subscription for city-wide mobile broadband. Otherwise, the laptop serves up 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. Other ports and connections include 4 USB 2.0 ports (one of which doubles as an eSATA port), a VGA port, an ExpressCard/34 slot, and MemoryStick and SD card slots. A small switch on the front edge of the laptop lets you conveniently disable the Wi-Fi connection. Lastly, the wireless goodies continue with Bluetooth, letting you wireless connect a number of Bluetooth-enable peripherals.
Some VAIO EA models sold direct from Sony offer an Adobe software suit, but that is not the case with this retail model. The VAIO VPC-EA36FMW features the ad-support Microsoft Office Starter suite and 30 days of Norton Internet Security.

The Sony VAIO VPC-EA36FMW's core components are the same as you'll find inside the Asus U45Jc-A1: A 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-370M processor, 4GB of DDR3 memory, and a 500GB hard drive (5,400rpm). The only real difference is the graphics; the Sony relies on integrated Intel GMA HD graphics while the Asus features Nvidia's Optimus graphics that switch between integrated and the discrete GeForce 310M chip. The Sony's and Asus's benchmark results are fairly close; the Asus enjoyed a slight edge on most tests thanks to its added graphics oomph, and it clearly won the 3DMark06 battle, which comes of no great surprise given that that test stresses a laptop's graphics subsystem. You'd be hard pressed to find a difference in general application performance between the two, until you attempt some casual gaming, which the Asus should be able to handle to a small degree and is a non-starter for the Sony.
There is a huge difference, however, with battery life. The VPC-EA36FMW ran for less than half the time as the U45Jc-A1, lasting 4 hours 10 minutes on MobileMark 2007 to the Asus's impressive time of 9 hours 27 minutes. The discrepancy in battery life is easy to explain: The Sony uses a small 39WHr battery, and the Asus uses a huge 84WHr battery. Despite the big battery, the Asus weighs a couple of ounces less than the Sony, thanks to its thin, metal chassis. The Asus weighs 4.7 pounds, and the Sony weighs 4.9 pounds.
With their good looks, generous if different feature sets, and fair prices, both the Sony VAIO VPC-EA36FMW and Asus U45Jc-A1 are excellent choices for mainstream use. Really, the choice boils down to ordering your priorities. Choose the Asus U45Jc-A1 if battery life, a design that features a metal chassis, and slightly better graphics are important to you. Choose the Sony VAIO VPC-EA36FM if you value Blu-ray, WiDi, and WiMax. For most users, however, we'd wager that a metal design, slightly better performance, and a long-lasting battery hold greater appeal than the Sony's attractions.
Spec Data
Type General Purpose
Processor Name Intel Core i3-370M
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
Processor Speed 2.4 GHz
Weight 4.9 lb
Screen Size 14 inches
Screen Size Type Widescreen
Native Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics Card Intel GMA HD
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 500 GB
Rotation Speed 5400 rpm
Networking Options 802.11n
Primary Optical Drive Blu-Ray Disc
Wireless Display Capability (WiDi) Yes
WiMax Yes
Battery Type 39 Whr (Watt hours)
Tech Support 1 year
MobileMark 2007 – Standard Battery Productivity Load (hrs:min) 4:10
PCMark Vantage 5015
3-D BENCHMARK TESTS - 3DMark06 - 1,024 x 768 - Default 1874
3-D BENCHMARK TESTS - 3DMark06 - Native – 0X/4X 1690
MULTIMEDIA TESTS - Handbrake 3:05 min:sec
MULTIMEDIA TESTS - PhotoShop CS5 5:37 min:sec
MULTIMEDIA TESTS - CineBench 11.5 1.97

1 comment:

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