Dial B for business
After nearly a decade of delivering laptops focused on entertainment, gaming, and high-end graphics, Sony's new VAIO B series turns the company's attention to business buyers. With a thin-and-light design derived from the VAIO Z line, the B series features standard fare: 14.1-inch screens, mobile processors, optical drives, and up to 100GB of hard drive capacity. Spec for spec, the VAIO B series challenges the , the IBM ThinkPad T42, and the .
Upside: Sony's thin-and-light design will appeal to businesspeople who live on the road, as it provides most of the comforts of a desktop PC in a 5.1-pound laptop. Measuring 1.7 inches thick at the hinge, 12.6 inches wide, and 10.1 inches deep, the wedge-shape VAIO B comes configurable with a range of components, including a choice of a 1.3GHz Celeron or 2.0GHz Pentium M processor, 30GB to 100GB of hard drive space, and a combo DVD/CD-RW or DVD burner. Video will likely be merely adequate, powered by Intel's integrated graphics that will draw up to 64MB of system memory. However, you have your pick of XGA (1,024x768), SXGA (1,280x1,024), or SXGA+ (1,400x1,050) native resolution for the system's 14.1-inch screen. Connectivity is key on the road, and Sony provides a decent array of ports: a pair of USB 2.0, external monitor, FireWire, and audio, as well as an Intel 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio, a modem, and 100Mbps LAN--unfortunately not the business-standard Gigabit variety. In addition to its Type II PC Card, the B series also comes with a proprietary Memory Stick flash card slot.
Downside: While the VAIO B-series laptop will likely please the typical road warrior, it can hold up to only 1.5GB of system memory--a bit short of the 2GB that some business power users will require. Sony offers the B series loaded with either Windows XP Pro or Home but not Windows 2000, which some businesses continue to use. Sony has beefed up its service-and-support department, adding dedicated technicians, though the quality of service is, as of yet, an unknown. Although the VAIO B series comes with a standard three years of coverage, many corporate buyers will be turned off by the system's anticipated life cycle of six months, instead opting for systems with a less-frequent refresh cycle that allow them to deploy machines over a longer period of time.
Outlook: Sony's effort to bring out a more businesslike VAIO is long overdue. However, the B series' baby step won't fit the bill for firms looking to buy a variety of business-oriented systems--from ultraportables to desktop replacements--from one vendor. Priced between $1,200 and $2,300, the VAIO B series may work well for small businesses looking for inexpensive laptops. It remains to be seen whether bigger companies, who demand longer life cycles, will be as impressed with its stability and after-sales portfolio of services. Check this page soon for a full review.