Sony VAIO PCG-F430 14.1" (6 GB, Intel Pentium III, 450 MHz, 64 MB) Notebook - Black - PCG-F430

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Color Me Purple - Sony PCG-F430 Laptop - A solid choice

Jul 9, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Solidly built, great LCD

Cons:Excessive amounts of preinstalled software

I needed a laptop for my job that could function both as a second PC at work and as a development machine at home. Fortunately for me, the laptop my company had chosen to standardize on was the Sony PCG-F430. It's a wonderful little machine that I even sometimes prefer to use instead of the Dell sitting at my desk at work. Of course you have the normal pluses and minuses of a laptop over a regular machine so I will just cover what I think of this machine in regards to it's functionality, features, and usability.

I use this machine for two purposes - everyday word processing and email using Windows 98 with the standard slew of applications, and I use it as a portable software development machine running RedHat Linux 6.1. Therefore I will cover what I think are the pros and cons of this laptop from the perspective of how I use it.

Pros

The Physical

Let's get the superficial out of the way early. Sony makes a great looking laptop. They are very refined and have a lot of nice touches that are in their whole line of laptops, not just the PCG-F430. All corners are nicely rounded and curved and the look and feel is well thought out.

The LCD is stunning. It's a good size and crystal clear and sharp. If they weren't so expensive I'd love to get a flat panel display for my desktop because they're a pleasure to look at. Both the Windows 98 OS and the RedHat Linux OS drivers support the LCD flawlessly. I was worried about the Linux since I didn't have much experience with it, but the generic 1024x768 driver worked like a charm.

The keyboard has a great feel and most of the keys aren't cramped together. Of course you'll have to get used to the different size and placement of a lot of the supplementary keys (e.g. function keys and del, ins,etc), but you have to expect this with a laptop.

OS Installation

The laptop came preinstalled with Windows 98 so I was halfway there in terms of the operating systems I needed on the laptop. Luckily, the hard drive came partitioned with an empty partition I could use for the Linux OS. I was pleasantly surprised with how simple it was to install Linux on the Sony. Of course most of the credit goes to the Linux software and not the Sony, but at least there wasn't any strange hardware that wasn't supported by the standard Linux RedHat 6.1 software. Basically the only choice I had to make during the Linux installation was the monitor type (Generic LCD 1024x768).

Like I said above, the hard drive came pre-partitioned so I didn't have to repartition the disk before installation of Linux. The hard drive came with approximately 4.5 Gig for C and ~1.5 Gig for D drive. All that I had to do was just use fdisk from a DOS window to wipe out D and the extended DOS partition and then installing Linux was a breeze. The LILO (The Linux Loader) takes care of the choice to boot Win98 or Linux. Basically the bottom line was that I didn't have to do anything special to load Linux on this laptop and get it running smoothly. If I was partitioning the disk from scratch I probably would have made the Linux partition a bit larger, but I didn't want to mess with repartitioning it at the time.

Hardware installation

Memory upgrades on the PCG-430 is a snap. I did a memory upgrade from 64MB to 128MB. It was very simple to do, but the only thing is that you need a very tiny philips screwdriver to get the cover off. Actually the tip of the blade of my Swiss Army knife did the trick quite nicely.

Despite a minor glitch after I first installed it, the XIRCOM RealPort CardBus network card has worked like a charm in this laptop for both Windows 98 and for Linux. If you're interested in information about the XIRCOM card then you can read my other review on that.

Miscellaneous

It's not something you'd base your laptop purchase on, but the AC adapter cord is good and long, and the thin wire that comes out of the transformer is the long part, which is nice. Sometimes it's the little things that make the difference though.

What you get with it

The PCG-F430 comes with a firewire port. This is great if you want to do video editing or for future peripherals with firewire connectivity. The laptop also comes with a bunch of software to support video.

There is also an infrared port. This can be handy if you need to transfer something between the PCG-F430 and one of Sony's smaller laptops that don't come with a floppy drive. If you don't have network connectivity or you're on a plane and want to exchange something this could be handy. I haven't used the IR port yet but it does sound cool doesn't it.

It comes standard with two stacked, type II PCMCIA slots which I use for a XIRCOM RealPort CardBus network card.

There is a microphone jack and a headphone jack. I'll probably never use the microphone jack but the headphone jack will come in very useful on planes when I want to watch a DVD or listen to a CD. Let's just hope the batter can last through a whole DVD movie. Anything would be better than shelling out four bucks for junky headphones to see an overly censored movie on the tiny screens on a plane.

Now that more and more peripherals support USB, the 2 USB connectors on this machine will come in quite handy.

Of course there is the DVD ROM drive that comes standard. I expect to see more software delivered on DVD especially the way that Microsoft software seems to exponentially bloat over time. The added bonus of being able to watch movies on your laptop is wonderful too.

The PCD-F430 also comes with many other features, but you can see those in any spec sheet for the machine, and I refer you to Sony's web site for that or any retailer of the Sony laptops.

Cons

The hard drive on the PCG-F430 is not huge by today's standards so space may become an issue. It also doesn't help that it comes preinstalled with a LOT of junk that I will probably never use. Out of the 4.5 Gig on the C drive there was only about 1.5 Gig free when I took it out of the box. I wish they wouldn't preinstall some of the software because uninstalling never really truly cleans up correctly. You can always reformat the drive and install only what you want to use, but that's a royal pain.

There is no way that I have found to disable the touch pad pointing device. The pad is fine when you're mobile, but I like to use a mouse when I'm using the laptop at a desk. The problem is even when a mouse is plugged in the touch pad still works and I find myself inadvertently hitting it and causing some undesirable action to occur (such as closing my program or starting up some other program). If anybody knows of a way to do this I sure would appreciate hearing about it.

It's not the lightest laptop in the bunch, but that's not a concern to me. I prefer a nice screen and normal keyboard to portability given how I use it. I only tote it between work and home for the most part.

If you have an aversion to purple (albeit muted) you might not like the looks of this laptop (and for that matter all of Sony's laptops). I personally think it's understated enough that it's a nice touch. Some of Sony's other models are a much brighter purple, but it's certainly not overdone.

I haven't tested out the battery life too much yet because I'm usually always near an electrical outlet, but I worry from what others have said that the battery life may not be great. Fortunately, like many other laptops, you have the option of using an additional battery if you're willing to give up the floppy drive. If you're having problems with the battery life you may want to check out your Infrared Port settings to make sure that it is disabled. I believe that it draws a lot of power when it is enabled so if you're not using it you might as well disable it.

If you want to use a second battery you have to use an included piece of plastic that allows the battery to fit in the bay (because the battery is smaller than the drive bay). This is kind of a pain to have to carry around this extra piece of plastic, but if you need the extra battery life you have to have it.

The DVD ROM drive is a bit flimsy, but I've never seen a sturdy one on a laptop (weight and space are of utmost importance of course). It's also a bit of a challenge to snap a CD/DVD on/off of the spindle. You just have to exercise caution when using it.

The DVD ROM drive can be very loud sometimes. I don't know if it is the drive, the particular CD that I was using, or if the CD just wasn't quite in the drive right (though I don't think it would work very well if this were the case).

Overall

This is a great laptop for my needs and there is nothing about it that I strongly dislike. I would recommend the Sony brand to anyone looking for a laptop. Although I'm a die-hard Dell fan, I know of people that have had problems with some of Dell's lower end laptops plus I think the Sony's seem more solid and just plain look better.



Recommend this product? Yes

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