One of the unwritten laws of the electronics world is that Sonys are expensive. Whether it be TVs, games consoles or in this case, laptops, people usually pay a premium for anything the Japanese manufacturer produces.
But it's not impossible to find a bargain Sony, as we've found with the Vaio NR series. These laptops are extremely low priced but still bear the prestigious Vaio logo. The entry-level VGN-NR11M/S costs £549, while the top-rung VGN-NR11Z/S, reviewed here, will set you back £649 and according to the Sony Web site, is available soon.
There are good and bad aspects of the NR series' design. Our biggest peeve is the colour -- it has a dull zinc finish with a mottled surface. This gives it a sort of industral appearance, and we're not big fans of it. The colour is offset slightly by the laptop's soft, curved corners, though, which the women in our office seemed to appreciate.
The NR11Z/S is a fair-sized machine. Its chassis weighs a lardy 2.8kg and measures 360 by 31 by 269mm. It's hardly the most portable of laptops, but it's the right size if you're looking for an everyday machine that can replace a desktop PC. It would be great for students, in fact, because the 15.4-inch screen is big enough to replace that of a television in a small room.
The NR series has a large, comfortable keyboard. There's no dedicated numerical keypad, but the each key is of a decent size so stray fingers are less likely to hit one by mistake. The laptop also has four USB ports, one of which you may want to dedicate for a USB mouse.
Towards the front of the machine, there are SD and Memory Stick Pro card readers and a hardware switch for enabling or disabling the wireless LAN. We're also happy to see the Ethernet and modem ports sit at the rear of the laptop and not the sides -- meaning your arrangement of cables is less intrusive.
That's about all that is of note on an otherwise bland-looking laptop. If you like no-nonsense devices the NR series should be right up your alley.
You get a fair share for your money on this laptop. Our review sample packed a speedy 2GHz Intel T7250 CPU and 2GB of DDR 667MHz memory -- specs you can often find on laptops costing twice as much. If for some reason you require more memory, the NR11Z/S can facilitate up to 4GB.
Cheap laptops with good graphics cards are as rare as four-leaf clovers -- and long will they continue to be. The NR11Z/S uses the undeniably rubbish graphics adaptor from the Intel GM965 Express chipset, which is only just fast enough to play back video without dropping frames. If it's games playing ability you're after, you should look elsewhere.
At least the screen is pretty good. It has a native resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, which isn't particularly high, but apart from a slightly narrow vertical viewing angle, it's difficult to find fault with the quality of the display itself.
Amazingly, Sony has fitted the NR11Z/S with a 200GB hard drive, which is massive for a laptop. It doesn't quite reach the current 250GB ceiling, and neither does it allow dual hard drive configurations, but it still gives you a fantastic amount of space to play with.
Though it isn't listed on the Sony Web site, the NR11Z/S does come with a DVD rewriter drive. In this case it's a Panasonic 8x dual-layer model, which comes in handy for making backups or watching DVDs.
Our NR11Z/S sample came with 158GB of free space after the operating system and various applications were installed. The laptop uses Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium edition -- which comes with Media Center -- and a bunch of software including Microsoft Works, a trial version of Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader.
The NR11Z/S has enough wireless capabilities to keep most people happy. There's no built-in infrared port and it lacks Bluetooth, so you can't wirelessly synchronise your phone with the laptop. But it does feature a Wi-Fi adaptor that can connect to the near-ubiquitous 802.11a/b/g networks.
The NR series isn't going to wow anyone with its performance, but fell in line with our expectations. It scored 3,570 in PCMark05, and 206 in 3DMark06, which indicates it's fast enough to run Vista smoothly, provided you aren't doing any serious video editing or playing games. Again, this computer won't blow your mind -- unless you're a hardcore user, it won't let you down.
Just because the Vaio NR series is a budget Sony doesn't mean it's a bad laptop. We were pleasantly surprised that it had a great specification for a very good price. If you're after a bargain laptop from a recognised and respected manufacturer, look no further.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday