Beautiful 3D laptop with mediocre graphics performance
What you do alone in your man cave is your business. If you want to put on a pair of 3D glasses and practice the Na’vi language, more power to you. Sony’s F Series Vaio 3D can make that dream a reality in style, but it lacks the graphics power to deliver first-class stereoscopic 3D gaming.
If you’re not piloting the Mars Rover or doing endoscopic telesurgery, you probably want stereoscopic 3D technology for two main purposes: watching movies and playing games. Now that 3D TVs are becoming widespread, there are lots of 3D Blu-ray discs available, and the Vaio 3D delivers an excellent 3D movie experience. The 16-inch, 1920x1080 display supports full HD resolution and a 240Hz refresh rate. The included active shutter 3D glasses give a ghost- and flicker-free 3D viewing experience that’s probably better than you’ll find at the local cinema. The speakers are also fine-tuned to turn this laptop into a mini home-theater.
If you're willing to wear the glasses, this notebook plays high-quality 3D movies but lacks the power for serious stereo 3D gaming.
We cannot recommend this system, however, for playing stereoscopic 3D games. The visual quality is excellent, but the performance just isn’t there to deliver a smooth gaming experience. Playing games in 3D is easy enough; a little button above the keyboard lets you turn on and off stereo 3D, and many games are compatible out of the box. The problem is that to display a game in stereo 3D, the graphics card has to render each frame twice, cutting the frame rate in half. Nvidia’s midrange GeForce 540M with 1GB of dedicated memory produced choppy results, except at the lowest resolutions. For instance, running our Far Cry 2 benchmark without stereo 3D at 1680x1050, the system delivered 24.7fps; in stereo 3D mode, it only managed 11fps. Dropping down to 1280x720 helped a little, resulting in 17fps, but that’s still not playable.
The system performed much better in our other benchmarks, blowing through the CPU-intensive tasks thanks to the 2GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU (with Turbo Boost), 6GB of DDR3/1333MHz memory, and a 640GB, 7,200rpm hard drive. Battery life was also good for a machine in this class, lasting 123 minutes on full-screen DVD playback.
This big, shiny, black Vaio includes a backlit keyboard with a separate numeric keypad. The touchpad is textured, which we like, and looks slick integrated into the palm rest. There are two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0, IEEE 1394, HDMI 1.4, and VGA-out. The HDMI port can be connected to a 3D-capable TV, letting you play games or display 3D movies on the big screen.
Overall, we’re not convinced the stereo 3D on this system goes much beyond novelty. We doubt any serious gamer is going to take the performance hit to play games while wearing 3D glasses. The multimedia features work well, but it’s probably not worth the extra expense.
Slick industrial design; excellent 3D movie playback; fast on CPU-intensive tasks.
OFF THE DEEP END
Underpowered graphics can’t deliver smooth stereo 3D at high resolutions.
2GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM
640GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Blu-ray ROM drive
Nvidia GeForce GT 540M
16-inch, 1920x1080 LCD
HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, FireWire, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, headphone, mic, line-in, media reader, webcam
7 lbs, 1 oz / 8 lbs, 11 oz
Sony Vaio F21
Premiere Pro CS3 (sec)
Photoshop CS3 (sec)
Proshow Producer (sec)
Far Cry (fps)
Call of Duty 4 (fps)
Battery Life (min)
Our zero-point notebook is an Asus G73Jw-A1 with a 1.73GHz Intel Core i7-740QM, 8GB DDR3/1066, two 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drives, a GeForce GTX 460M, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. Far Cry 2 tested at 1680x1050 with 4x AA; Call of Duty tested at 1680x1050 with 4x AA and 4x anisotropic filtering.