Sony builds pretty notebooks, and the VAIO NW series is no exception. The textured plastic enclosure looks fabulous in silver, and it resists fingerprints far better than the glossy finishes that have become so common. While it’s exciting to see a Blu-ray drive in a notebook at this price point ($880), it’s unfortunate that the battery doesn’t have enough juice to finish a feature-length movie.
The model VGN-NW150J/S sent for this review has a beautiful 15.5-inch display, but its reliance on an Intel integrated graphics solution renders it wholly unsuited for gaming. If your needs are more mainstream and you don’t mind lugging a bit of weight—the machine and its power supply weigh a hefty six pounds, seven ounces—the VAIO NW is a good value, however.
One of the NW Series’ hipper features is the inclusion of DeviceVM’s Splashtop, which enables you to hop on the Internet without having to boot Windows or even spin up the hard drive. Splashtop is a rudimentary operating system, based on Linux, that launches from the computer’s BIOS. Once we’d configured the system to access our wireless network, we were surfing the Internet within 20 seconds of pushing the Web button above the keyboard. This version of Splashtop can’t access your hard drive, but you can download and store files on a device plugged into any of the NW’s three USB ports. Sony ships this machine with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium and was offering a free Windows 7 upgrade at press time.
Sony tapped Intel’s Core 2 Duo T6500—a mid-range dual-core CPU that runs at 2.10GHz—for this setup, pairing it with Intel’s GM45 Express mobile chipset and 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory (the system will accommodate up to 8GB of RAM). The chipset includes Intel’s GMA 4500MHD graphics processor, which is a fine solution for surfing the web and watching Blu-ray movies, but it positively sucks with games: The system slowed to a crawl when we tried to play Far Cry 2, delivering the action at a pathetic six frames per second.
The 15.5-inch screen has a native resolution of 1366×768 (a 16:9 aspect ratio), but the chipset can drive an external HDMI monitor at a maximum resolution of 1920×1080 (the maximum res on its VGA port is 2048×1536). The integrated display is highly reflective—you can use it as a mirror while the machine is in sleep mode—but we had to purposely shift our focus to the reflections to notice them while the machine was active.
You can access 802.11a, b, g, or n wireless networks operating on either the 2.4- or 5.0GHz frequency bands using Intel’s WiFi Link 5100 AGN chipset, or you can make hard-wired network connections at gigabit speed using the Marvel Yukon 88E8057 Ethernet controller. There is no Bluetooth support.
This NW model comes with a modest 2.5-inch Fujitsu hard drive that spins its platters at 5,400 RPM and offers 320GB of storage capacity. Given the cost of Blu-ray burners, we’re not surprised that the NW-series’ Blu-ray drive can’t create Blu-ray discs; it can, however, burn CDs and DVDs. Sony preinstalls InterVideo’s WinDVD BD for watching movies, and Sonic Solutions’ Roxio Easy Media Creator 10 for burning discs.
In addition to the three USB ports we mentioned earlier, the NW series is also equipped with an IEEE-1394 port, an ExpressCard slot, an SD memory card reader, and a Memory Stick PRO card reader. A Sony Motion Eye webcam is integrated into the top of the display’s bezel, and you’ll find 1/8-inch mic and headphone sockets on the right-hand side. The NW has an excellent keyboard that offers just the right amount of tactile feedback. As is typical for a notebook this size, there is no dedicated numeric keypad. But there is a dedicated mute button, which is a far superior to the function-key combo that you have to hunt for on most notebooks. The trackpad has a pleasantly textured surface, with two raised buttons.
Benchmark Performance and Battery Life
As alluded to above, the VGN-NW150J is a lousy gaming notebook, but it turned in a more respectable performance with our productivity benchmarks, earning a score of 3,142 PCMarks from PCMark Vantage. Sony claims this notebook will operate for more than four hours on a fully charged battery, but don’t plan to mitigate the boredom of a long flight by using it to watch a Blu-ray movie: The battery in our eval unit died one hour and 26 minutes into Watchmen. The battery lasted just over three hours when we used the machine to surf the Web, check email, and write this review. You can reduce power consumption by turning off the wireless networking chip and the display (if you’re using an external monitor or using the machine to play music).
The inclusion of a Blu-ray drive sets the VAIO NW apart from the crowd, but that feature comes at the expense of others. You’ll find many notebooks in this price range with faster CPUs, larger hard drives, discrete graphics, less weight, and so on – then again, they won’t be capable of playing Blu-ray movies. Apart from Bluetooth support, though, we can’t think of any features that Sony left out, making the system a decent, if not standout performer overall.
- Blu-ray reader
- Attractive design
- One-button Web access
- HDMI port
- Integrated graphics
- Short battery life
- No Bluetooth