At 14.1in the F8Va isn't huge but it's also not an ideal travel companion. It's rather bulky to use while on the road and its battery life is poor. It's much better suited as a point-to-point type of notebook; that is, one which you can use at work or in class, and at home, but not while on the road. Powerful specifications ensure that you will be able to run most office applications and even photo editing and video encoding software.
With a Centrino 2 sticker proudly emblazoned on its palm rest, you know straight away that the F8Va has the latest in high-tech components: it runs an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 CPU, an Intel P45M chipset and an Intel WiFi Link 5100 wireless adapter. This adapter can connect to 802.11g and 802.11n access points and it supports dual-band operation, so you can connect to regular 2.4GHz access points as well as 5GHz ones. The notebook also has 4GB of RAM, an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 graphics adapter and a 320GB hard drive.
It's powerful enough to run a few games, as its score of 3798 in 3DMark suggests, and it's also a great unit for playing movies. Using its HDMI port, you can attach it to a big-screen TV or AV receiver, and you can play Blu-ray movies as well as DVDs using its optical drive. The notebook's ATI graphics card allows the desktop to scale easily when the laptop is attached to a TV, so you will be able to perfectly view the taskbar and your left-most desktop icons.
Conveniently, the unit also ships with a digital TV tuner. This means that it can be used as a full-blown media centre (using Windows Vista Ultimate's Media Centre software) for recording and time-shifting TV shows, and it comes with all the accessories you'll need to get it going (an antenna adapter cable and a remote).
If you want to watch movies and TV on the laptop itself, you'll want to plug in a decent pair of headphones or speakers, as its built-in speakers are not loud enough. The 14.1in screen possesses good contrast and brightness, but its vertical viewing angle can be a little bothersome if you move around a lot while you watch. Its native resolution is 1440x900, which is a little bigger than some notebooks in its class; this is wide enough for two documents or Explorer windows to be placed side by side.
The F8Va is very easy to use; its palm rests are roomy and its touchpad is huge. The touchpad is probably the biggest one we've seen to date. However, its buttons are stiff and make a clicking sound when pressed, which could be annoying when used in a quiet environment like a library. The keyboard is full-sized and its keys provide good travel and response, and there aren't any awkwardly shaped or oddly placed keys.
At 2.6kg, it's a little heavy for a 14.1in model, but it does pack a lot of ports. You get the afore-mentioned HDMI port, as well as five USB ports (which is a lot for a notebook), D-Sub, and External SATA and FireWire ports.
For networking, you get a Gigabit Ethernet port as well as wireless networking. Bluetooth is available for connecting phones and peripheral devices, and a 56Kbps modem is supplied for users unlucky enough not to have access to ADSL. It's definitely a well-stocked unit, and it can be used as a desktop replacement quite easily.
In WorldBench 6, it recorded a score of 99, which is fast for its class (check out the HP Pavilion DV5-1010TX_01 as a reference). Its MP3 encoding time of 1min 7sec in iTunes is also slightly faster than the norm. All up, this laptop won't be let you down if you're after something speedy.
Physically, the F8Va is boxy looking, and most of that probably has to do with the extra-wide framing around the screen, which houses a swivel-type webcam. It can shoot video either when looking towards you, or when looking away from the laptop. The Blu-ray/DVD burner drive sits on the left-hand side of the unit, just below the SD memory card slot. It's an unusual position, but then again, the unit's battery is also in an unusual position towards the front of the unit (the rear of the unit is home to a lot of the afore-mentioned ports). This works against the F8Va, as its 6-cell, 4800 milliampere hours–rated battery only lasted 1hr 10min in our DVD rundown test. There isn't an option to install a larger battery, which means that the unit won't useful away from an outlet for more than an hour unless you buy a spare battery or two.
But despite the unit's poor showing in our battery test, its wealthy feature set and ease of use gain high marks from us, as does its fast performance. It's definitely a good choice if you want a notebook that can be used for entertainment and work purposes.