Notebook Reviewed: Sony VAIO PCG-F350
(Video transferring has been started. Works very well at this point. See below)
Updated: December 7th, 1999
Date Purchased: November 5th, 1999
Purchase Site: Insight.com
Overall feeling: Expensive, but worth it. The display is amazing!
Rating: Excellent – with power savers off*.
From the top
I knew I needed a new notebook, the old one was a P150 Samsung which was constantly annoying me with its problems. But somehow my search for a sub $1000 notebook ended up costing me over twice that much. For the most part, spending money often depresses me, but this time, I don’t feel too bad.
I came across the VAIO name after searching the web for a short time. It was also featured in several retail stores so I had had a chance to fiddle with it a bit. One of the main deciding factors was that the VAIO had the firewire connector and I am planning on getting a digital camcorder. That adds quite a bit of value on to the notebook for me.
As a general rule, I always like to do plenty of research before any purchase, but while the web may be great in some areas, it does fall behind in other areas. Sometimes, it’s quite tricky to get any updated and valid research when you need it. I hard a bear of a time trying to get VAIO information. And never saw one article anywhere on the 340 or the 350. But I did like the firewire so I pursued the VAIO direction a ways. The 340 caught my eye with a good price. I didn’t want to spend a lot and I knew notebooks depreciate extremely fast. But the 340 seemed to have everything I needed…or so I thought.
Well, Lucky me…
I ordered the 340 and told them to ship it as soon as possible. Once I make a decision on something, I hate to wait for it. However, in this case, they called me several days later when it was supposed to arrive and said it would be delayed a little over a week. This upset me greatly but did give me a chance to get some more research done. And this turned out to be quite a blessing.
Active Matrix vs. Passive Matrix
One vitally important thing to decide when buying a notebook is how good of a screen you need. And that’s tough to do over the web. I had to get out to the stores and check some models. This really saved me from making a bad choice. The 340 VAIO has passive matrix and the 350 VAIO has active matrix. The 350 is also an inch bigger than the 340 weighing in with a 14″ screen. The price is quite a bit higher though – around $700 more. This fact was hard to swallow. The only other main difference between the two models was that the 350 had a DVD rom instead of a plain CD-ROM. Yet, I had been under the impression that the 340 screen looked just about as good as the 350. When the box came, I had just decided earlier to hold off on opening it and really take a second look at those models in the stores once again. Good thing I did. After studying both, I realized the 350 has much much higher screen quality than the 340. I knew I needed active matrix. I sent the 340 back and ordered the 350. The 350 came the next day.
Let’s Look Inside
I had to wait a little while before opening the new computer. There was work to be done. But the opportunity finally came and I dove in to take a look around. The packaging was nicely done and nothing appeared to be damaged or omitted. There was even a handy little ‘getting started’ brochure for well, getting started. I followed it and ‘got started’. The setup was quick and easy and I had the machine running in minutes.
The first thing that I really noticed was how nice the screen looked. I had of course seen the screen at the local computer stores, but somehow it looked even better now. I guess it was just because I now possessed this machine. The main problem with a nice TFT screen is that after using it for even a short amount of time makes CRT’s look blurry and dull in comparison. The VAIO TFT is clear and sharp. Again, I stress, avoid a passive matrix if at all possible. The difference is amazing.
DVD? Yeah, you know me
I didn’t need a DVD Rom. In fact, I really didn’t want one. I just couldn’t justify the price and I own NO DVD’s. There wasn’t much point in spending the extra money. But alas, the model I was getting had one and there’s wasn’t an equal substitute for less money. The 340 had the passive matrix and you know the rest of the story. So, I got the ‘mini movie player’. Before I got the VAIO, I went out and rented a DVD. They’re getting quite popular at Hollywood Video so there were plenty of movies to choose from. As soon as I got the VAIO 350 up and running, I popped in a movie and stood by. The colors on the screen go way down when the DVD player is activated. This I hear is to allow the movie to use more resources (the movie has full color – no problem there). Well, that was fine with me. If the DVD player is running, it’s cause I want to watch a movie. The movie (Copland) played smoothly and fairly brightly. The 350 comes with a 4x DVD Rom so there is occasionally some skipping in the movie, but it doesn’t occur very much. There also tends to be a bit of jagginess when viewed in the full screen mode. But overall, it’s great. I must admit, it’s quite entertaining to watch a movie on the train during a 40 minutes commute. The time just flies by. The VAIO even came in handy when my car battery was dead at the train station. No, the notebook battery wasn’t quite enough to start my SUV, but did allow me to finish watching a movie whilst I awaited help to come. Things like that really make the pricey acquisition of the notebook more bearable. Watching the movie for about a half hour only drained the single battery down to a little past the half way point. But I’d recommend the second battery for longer trips.
The keyboard is nice. It has a healthy response to each press and my fingers don’t feel crowded at all. The backspace key is also a good size. This little perk is often overlooked on many full size regular keyboards nowadays. I’m a fairly competent typist, but I do like my backspace keys large. The function keys are dinky but I don’t usually need them. Also, the VAIO doesn’t contain a lot of the ‘frills’ keys that many computers are starting to incorporate — which is certainly fine by me. I rarely use them. Although, sometimes, it would be nice to have a few volume keys right on the keyboard.
Any problems at all?!
Well, I hate to admit it cause I really do like the 350, but there has been a problem or two that came up. First of all, it has crashed twice. Big crashes too. The power needed to be turned off. This wasn’t a CTRL + ALT + DLT fixable crash. I’m not sure of the cause, but I suspect the Ethernet PCMCIA card I was using had something to do with it. Both times the crash occurred were times when I was using the card. I haven’t had one crash since I switched to a different brand and card. Another problem I had was installing a Microsoft PS/2 Wheel Mouse. The mouse worked but not the scrolling wheel. I sort of wanted the wheel to work since that’s why I bought the mouse for. I did a bit of searching online and finally found the problem addressed on Sony’s site. It stated that the VAIO had some troubles with some of the Microsoft mice and that to use the serial connector for those mice. I wasn’t thrilled to hear this, but I did have the adapter for the mouse. I plugged it in and it worked fine. The little wheel scrolls the windows and everything. It was a giddy event for me indeed.
Other things to mention
The speed I guess would be a good thing to report on. I’ve been pleased with its performance. The chip is a Pentium II 366Mhz with 256k L2 Cache. It’s not lighting quick but decent for most tasks. While I wasn’t expecting it to play any super 3D games, I did try out Quake II. It worked but not greatly. At 800×600, you can get a decent frame rate and go around shooting everything in site. I wasn’t able to get Quake III to work though. The 350 did very nicely for Starcraft and the TFT screen made it even more fun to play on than my 21″ CRT monitor sitting nearby. The scrolling in Starcraft was also quick and to the point. It’ll never be a big game machine, but some games work very nicely on it.
I feel good about the purchase. One of the main reasons I chose the VAIO was for the firewire capabilities. I haven’t even used the firewire yet, and I think the machine is well worth the cost. I’ve already ordered the SONY Port Replicator and will be reviewing that soon as well. I’ll also post a report on how well the VAIO works as a desktop video capturing and editing station. I’m hoping those reviews are just as glamorous. Caveat: Keep in mind, I’ve only had it about a few days at this point. The future remains uncertain. I’ll post updates as time permits.
Update (November 16th 1999)
The crashes continue. At this point, the 350 has had 4 severe crashes needing complete power resets. I have contacted their customer support. It took about 20 minutes to get a hold of them, but when I did reach someone, they were friendly and helpful. They attributed the problem to too much memory being used up by startup applications. So, we turned off a number of things. But this did not fix the problem. The VAIO 350 is still having problems. It looks like this model is going to be sent back. I have temporarily removed my rating until this problem is resolved.
* Update (November 26th 1999)
The crashing has stopped. I have turned off all the power saving features except the screensaver. This seems to have cured the problem. I’m assuming that it’s just my model that has this problem because no one else has written to me about it. But alas, I don’t think it’s worth sending the unit back for repairs. Who knows how long it would be before I’d be able to get another one. I did save about $400 by ordering it online, but when things like this happen, I’m not sure the savings are worth it. Still, it doesn’t crash anymore. Let’s hope that doesn’t change.
Update (December 7th 1999)
There was another crash recently. It required a full reset. However, at the time, the server that was hosting the LAN had just been reset. Now, from past experience with Windows 98, I would not be surprised if the downing of the network caused this crash. But still, I thought I’d post it either way. Other than that, it’s been working sweetly for the most part. There are other small things that go wrong on occasion, but I’m positive, it’s just the flakiness of Windows 98. Can’t exactly blame Sony for that.
Video Transferring Started…
I have just received the Sony TRV103 digital camcorder and have begun to test the video transferring via the firewire cable. I’m still in early stages of testing, but at this point, it works VERY well. The Sony software for transferring makes it extremely easy to make edit decision lists and then it controls the camera and downloads the video. I was very impressed by how nice it works. One faux pas is that the Sony software saves the video with a Sony CODEC. This means it’ll work fine on the VAIO, but after transferring the video to another computer, I was unable to work with it. The solution was to use Adobe Premiere on the VAIO to recompress the video into a different CODEC and then move the file over to the main computer. If you plan to do your editing on the VAIO, then this is all a mute point.
COMMENTS FROM OTHERS…
“I had just recently purchased the same model Sony F350. I am also having occasional freezes while using applications such MS Word 97.” – User in Toronto, Ontario