In the past few months, Sony's AR-series has proved a solid performer for those seeking a high-end multimedia machine.

You don't need to spend a fortune to get one either, and the VAIO VGN-AR51J can be yours for £799 (inc. VAT).

As with the other laptops in the AR-series range, the screen is particularly vivid, helped by the Sony's glossy X-Black Super-TFT technology. Unfortunately, this model features a lower resolution than more expensive models, and images lack crispness as a result.

Decent gaming performance

It's just a shame you won't be able to get the most out of the integrated Blu-ray drive, with High-Definition (HD) movies looking similar to regular DVDs.

Thankfully, there's an HDMI port, so you will be able to watch movies in full HD on an external screen. You'll also be able to copy files onto blank Blu-ray discs.

The Sony provides reasonable multimedia performance, thanks to the inclusion of an nVidia GeForce 8400M GT graphics card. With 256MB of graphics memory there's enough performance for gaming, though you'll have to turn down the settings in newer titles.

The AR51J is sturdy enough for everyday use, and the large display is firmly attached. The keyboard is excellent, proving responsive and with a comfortable amount of travel. Raised centres on the keys also make it easier to avoid mistakes when typing rapidly.

Awkward laptop layout

The biggest problem with this laptop's interface is the location of the mouse buttons, which have been placed on the front of the case, and we found ourselves accidentally knocking them on several occasions.

Connections are the fastest you'll find, with Gigabit Ethernet and an 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter in place. Sony also offers the biggest software bundle - with applications including Roxio Easy Media Creator and Microsoft Works. A lot of these programs are, however, trial versions and can slow the system down.

The Sony also struggled in our benchmarks. This backed up our initial impressions, which saw more lag than the other laptops when running multiple progams. Thankfully, Sony has also released a replacement machine - the AR51M, which comes with a 2.2GHz processor.

Let down by its flaws

The hard drive is a capacious 250GB, with plenty of space for your files. It spins at 4200rpm - compared to the 5400rpm of most of its rivals - which makes it slower to access and save documents.

The vibrant screen and features make this an impressive laptop for the money. Unfortunately, it's let down by a fiddly interface and poor performance.