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Sony Vaio VGNBZ15GN

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The VGNBZ15GN is Sony's latest business laptop in the Vaio range, and includes the new Centrino 2 platform. A heavy machine with strong performance, but let down by poor battery life.

Test Procedure
We use PCMark Vantage and Battery Eater to assess system performance and battery life respectively. We also provide the "Windows Experience Index" scores provided by Vista. Aside from the VGNBZ15GN's raw performance, we also consider a number of physical design issues.

PCMark assesses the laptop's overall performance with specific scores given for a variety of usage models; this gives us a useful indicator of performance dealing with typical office tasks. Meanwhile, the VGNBZ15GN's battery life is tested with Battery Eater (Reader's Test), which gives scores very similar to MobileMark.

Battery life is assessed with the screen set at 40 per cent brightness. Usability issues include location (and type) of ports and buttons as well as image quality (where monitors are provided) and additional software utilities. Construction elements of interest are case material quality and ease of opening for maintenance and upgrades. Sound quality is also considered along with the software included with the machine.

Design and Features
Part of Sony's business range of notebooks is the painfully named, yet powerful, VGNBZ15GN. At 2.7kg it is also heavy. This all black machine presents well, however, especially after removing a few of the stickers advertising the machines specifications. Our first concern was, "where the devil did they hide the power switch?" Answer: on the side of the notebook near the screen hinge — directly opposite the power socket.

Powered by the new Centrino 2 platform, this machine offers performance that would do last year's desktops proud. The CPU is an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 with a clock speed of 2.26GHz. The Centrino 2 chipset technology should in theory provide better Wi-Fi and HD video performance since the new chipset takes more of the workload from the processor. The P (Penryn) series CPU are also said to be about 60 per cent more energy efficient than the previous generation of processors.

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The impressive 15.4-inch widescreen offers excellent colour at up to 1,280x800 pixels, but only at the usual 60Hz. The screen support is good with very little image distortion when the screen is flexed. The keyboard is standard for a notebook, which makes it look small on this laptop which has room for a dedicated numeric keypad rather than relying on function keys as it does. The scroll pad and associated buttons have a very good feel to them.

The configuration of ports is relatively modest with VGA, three USB ports, FireWire, modem, NIC and also basic audio jacks. Slots are also present for SD, Memory Stick (of course) and PCMCIA cards. Communication is via gigabit wired and 802.11 wireless LAN as well as by Bluetooth. Additionally there is a fingerprint reader and built in webcam.

While there is no volume control dial, there is a handy mute button. Sound quality is typical of most notebooks — adequate, but it's hardly of spellbinding Dolby quality. The Acer Aspire is far better in this regard.

The installed OS is Windows Vista Business SP1. Additional software includes Adobe Acrobat Reader and Adobe Photoshop Elements as well as trial versions of Norton Internet Security and MS Office 2007. Naturally, Sony also includes a range of its own system configuration tools and multimedia support applications.

Sony has sought to promote security through device durability. The machine has a lightweight, but strong magnesium alloy casing and a protective cover over the docking port. Also you will not be in a hurry to upgrade this machine — not only because it will last physically — but because it will retain its usefulness due to its state of the art processor and chipset technology and great data capacity provided by 2GB RAM and a great 200GB hard drive.

Benchmark Test Overall
PCMark Vantage Overall 2,777
Memory 1,735
TV and Movies 2,129
Gaming 1,794
Music 3,141
Communications 3,244
Productivity 2,315
HDD 2,377
Battery Eater 2.7 Reader's Test 156 minutes
Classic Test 92 minutes

Verdict
While this machine is not exactly light for a business traveller to carry around, it certainly beats carting a desktop computer home each night. A notebook like this is a really effective desktop replacement machine; it also gives you more desk space.

The Vaio performed very well all-round in PCMark scoring an excellent 2,777 for a notebook, although scores more dependent on graphics handling were a little lower (eg, memory and gaming test suites). Windows Vista provides the following performance scores which confirm the PCMark results: Processor, 5.2; Memory, 5.2, Graphics, 3.4, Gaming graphics, 3.6 and finally a hard drive performance score of 5.3. The battery tests provided a lacklustre result with little over two and a half hours offered under ordinary usage and only one and a half with heavy usage. (Note that a larger battery is available at an extra cost.)

Given its performance, AU$1,999 is a very reasonable price for such a machine although battery life spoils the value somewhat. Sony offers a basic 12-month warranty, but if you prefer, the company also offers an extended three-year warranty with either return-to-base or courier pick-up options.

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