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Sony VAIO NR review: Sony VAIO NR

Kudos to Sony for releasing the sub-$1,000 VAIO NR160. It's a perfectly functional, budget 15-inch laptop--we just wish it didn't stray so far from the excellent industrial design of the company's more expensive systems.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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5 min read

Sony's VAIO family of laptops has traditionally been known for its high style and high prices, making these sleek machines (second only to Apple in design chops) popular with upscale buyers. With the new NR series, Sony is making its first real stab at a lower-priced laptop. Starting at $829, the system is a decent value based on the components you get, but the Sony design aesthetic apparently doesn't translate well to cheaper parts. The 15-inch VAIO NR160 feels cheap and plasticky when compared to Sony's more expensive laptops, and even similarly priced mainstream systems from Dell, but at least the NR160 rigorously maintains Sony's traditionally thin profile. There's still much to like about this inexpensive VAIO, but Sony's penchant for weighing systems down with excessive bloatware and adware tips the scale away from a full-fledged recommendation.

6.6

Sony VAIO NR

The Good

Least expensive VAIO laptop yet; keeps Sony's excellent laptop keyboard, plus extras such as an Express Card slot.

The Bad

Looks and feels noticeably cheaper than more expensive VAIOs, loaded down with performance-killing bloatware.

The Bottom Line

Kudos to Sony for releasing the sub-$1,000 VAIO NR160. It's a perfectly functional, budget 15-inch laptop--we just wish it didn't stray so far from the excellent industrial design of the company's more expensive systems.
Sony VAIO NR160E/W

Price as reviewed $829
Processor 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300
Memory 1GB, 667MHz DDR2
Hard drive 160GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel 965
Graphics Mobile Intel 965GM
Operating System Windows Vista Premium
Dimensions (WDH) 14.1x10.4x1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.4 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 6.3/7 pounds
Category Mainstream

Like the rest of the Sony VAIO laptop family, the NR160 has a large VAIO logo embossed on the back of the lid, clearly advertising your brand preference to anyone sitting nearby. The biggest difference between this and other VAIOs is the textured plastic that covers everything except the screen bezel and bottom surface. It's not the worst look in the world, but it feels cheap compared to the design-oriented mix of metal and plastic materials found on other VAIO laptops.

At only 1.3 inches thick, it's slightly slimmer than Sony's 15-inch home theater laptop, the VAIO FZ180, but heavier, by nearly half a pound.

Sony's flat-key keyboard is one of the VAIO trademarks that made the leap to this budget system intact. It's among our favorite laptop keyboards, but we wish the touch pad mouse buttons were a little more substantial. The keyboard tray is sparse, with only a power button and two quick-launch buttons (one launches Windows Media Center, the other is a programmable shortcut key) above the keyboard.

The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is acceptable for a screen this size. The screen looks excellent--on a par with more expensive Sony laptops, and budget buyers likely won't miss having a higher resolution.

As a budget laptop, we don't expect much in the way of extras from the NR160, but the extras we did get weren't exactly the kind you'd want. At a time when other vendors such as Dell and HP are making conscious efforts to declutter their systems, removing desktop come-ons for Internet access and music subscription services, Sony is one of the most egregious offenders we've seen in recent memory. The default desktop background image is an advertisement for Sony's Spider-Man 3 movie, and launch buttons for shovelware come built right into the desktop, featuring pitches for various casual games and apps such as Napster. Desktop links included links to Xdrive, AOL, and Office Live.

Removing much of this junk, especially the programs that run in the background, can speed up a sluggish system, especially one with a long boot time. Check out this helpful video on removing crapware from your laptop for step-by-step instructions.

  Sony VAIO NR160 Average for mainstream category
Video VGA-out, VGA-out, S-Video
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a mulitformat memory card reader Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a mulitformat memory card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 slot PC Card slot or Express Card slot
Networking Modem, Ethernet, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi Modem, Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

Most new laptops we see include 802.11n Wi-Fi technology, but we can't fault Sony too much for not including it on a budget system. Bluetooth and an S-Video out are also fairly standard specs that we miss having on this machine.

As a fixed-configuration system, you're stuck with the default specs of the NR160. An extra $20 will get you the NR180, which has a slightly larger 200GB hard drive. Both versions are available in Wenge, Granite, and Silk--or brown, gray, and white, as we prefer to call them.

With a 1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 CPU and 1GB of RAM, the TR160 isn't as fast as the current crop of T7000-series laptops on the market but is perfectly acceptable for less than $1,000. For $899, you can configure a comparable Dell Inspiron 1520 (except the Dell defaults to a massive 320GB hard drive). It was considerably slower than its more expensive cousin, the 15-inch VAIO FZ180, which more than doubles the price, but adds a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 and a second gigabyte of RAM. For casual multitasking, such as playing media files while Web surfing and working on office documents, we suffered some stuttering and slowdown, but that improved somewhat after we cleaned out some of the bloatware running in the background.

The NR160 ran for 2 hours, 30 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included lithium ion battery. That isn't especially impressive, but falls with acceptable parameters and was half an hour better than the Sony's FZ180. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.

Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, which included on-site service. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $199. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line and an online support Web site, which helpfully gives you a custom page of links to manuals and drivers for your specific model.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony VAIO NR160
1,549 

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony VAIO NR160
758 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony VAIO NR160
288 

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony VAIO NR160
150 

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Acer TravelMate 6291
Windows Vista Business; 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel 945GM/GU Express Chipset; 120GB Seagate Momentus 5,400rpm

Averatec 2371
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 667MHz; 64MB Nvidia GeForce Go 6100; 120GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm

Lenovo 3000 N200
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7300; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO NR160
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Intel Mobile Express 965GM; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

6.6

Sony VAIO NR

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 6Battery 7Support 7