Sony VAIO NR Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (197,251)

by Jerry Jackson

The Sony VAIO NR is the latest family of stylish, colorful, consumer friendly notebooks from Sony. What makes the NR series genuinely unique for Sony is that the starting price is less than $800 … making the NR the lowest-priced notebook the company has ever produced. You can configure a VAIO NR online at SonyStyle.com in a variety of colors or buy a stock configuration from various retailers.

The VAIO NR is available in three colors (brown, white, and silver) with a full range of Intel processors (from the 1.46GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core Processor T2310 to the 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5450) starting at $799. The only screen offering is the 15.4" WXGA but the notebook can take up to 4GB of RAM. Built-in wireless 802.11 a/b/g is standard.

We reviewed Sony’s silver version of the NR (VGN-NR160E), priced at $829. Following are the specs for the notebook as reviewed:

  • Screen: 15.4-inch screen WXGA (1280 x 800) with XBRITE-ECO (glossy finish)
  • Processor: 1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250
  • Hard Drive: 160 GB hard drive (SATA, 5400RPM)
  • Memory: 1GB RAM (PC5300, 667 MHz, DDR2 SDRAM, 2 x 512 MB) — 4GB max memory
  • Optical Drive: DVD+-R Double layer / DVD+-RW Drive
  • Ports and Slots: Four USB 2.0, one FireWire 400 port, one ExpressCard 34, one VGA, one MemoryStick Pro reader, one SD card reader, headphone / line-out, microphone-in, modem, 10/100 Ethernet
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g)
  • Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 (965 Express chipset with up to 251MB of shared RAM)
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Dimensions: 14.2 x 10.6 x 1.5 inches (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 6.2 pounds


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Build and Design

The overall first impression that one has when looking at the NR series is that this notebook was designed to look nice yet be affordable. From the range of available colors to the fabric-like textured LCD cover and palm rests the NR is a simple yet striking design. The "granite" silver version looks like metal at a distance but upon closer examination it’s clear that the notebook exterior is made of thick plastics.

As mentioned above, the lid of the VAIO NR also has a nice textured finish with the VAIO lettering in a recessed silver plastic. Overall the look is very clean. After opening the lid and seeing the matching silver plastic interior of the NR I expected a cheap feel to the case with a significant amount of flex to it. Surprisingly the case is very sturdy with relatively thick plastic and metal interior reinforcement in just the right places.


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The VAIO NR lid does not have a latch to hold it closed, but the hinge mechanism works well and firmly holds the lid in place. There is some flex to the screen lid but it’s just enough to keep the LCD from being too rigid. There certainly isn’t enough screen flex to worry about.

Sony officially classifies the VAIO NR as a "portable" notebook. We’re pretty sure all laptops can be considered "portable" but the NR is reasonably thin for a 15.4" notebook (1.5" at its thickest point) and has a weight of only 6.2 pounds. That said, the depth (front to back) of the NR is a little large compared to other notebooks in the same class. In fact, we couldn’t get the NR to fit in some smaller 15.4" notebook bags.

Performance and Benchmarks

The dual core processors that come with the VAIO NR-series provide more than enough performance for average use, even at the 1.5GHz Core 2 Duo configured in our test unit. We would have liked to see an option for an even faster Core 2 Duo "Santa Rosa" processor for those consumers willing to pay a little more … particularly since the NR doesn’t offer a dedicated graphics option. The 3DMark06 benchmarks are low, but this is due to the fact that the NR uses the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 which shares the notebook’s system RAM. If the NR was equipped with 2GB or more these benchmarks might have been slightly more impressive.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz) 38.327s
Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s
Samsung Q70 (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.218s
Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi (Core Duo T2500 @ 2.0GHz) 42.947s
Samsung X60plus (Core 2 Duo T7200 @ 2.0GHz) 44.922s
Zepto Znote 6224W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 45.788s
Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz) 46.274s
Samsung R20 (Core Duo T2250 @ 1.73GHz) 47.563s
Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile 1.6GHz) 231.714s

PCMark05 comparison results:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 3,283 PCMarks
Sony VAIO CR (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Intel X3100) 3,612 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks



3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Toshiba Tecra A9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 256MB) 932 3DMarks
Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB) 1,115 3DMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
LG R500 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GS 256MB) 2,776 3DMarks
HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,055 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

HDTune results:


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Screen

The 15.4" glossy screen is a WXGA 1280 x 800 beauty with excellent color and contrast. The display features fairly bright and even backlighting with eight levels of brightness. Horizontal viewing angles are excellent, making the screen an ideal choice for two or more people to watch a DVD or streaming video. However, vertical viewing angles are far from impressive for a notebook in this price range. If the screen is tilted just slightly forward the entire screen “washes out” making it all but impossible to see low contrast details.


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Keyboard, Touchpad and Other Input Buttons

The keyboard on the VAIO NR is perhaps just standard fanfare for Sony notebooks, but it is one of the more unique features of this notebook when you first open it. Unlike most traditional PC notebook keyboards the keys on the NR keyboard look more flat. The keys are well cushioned and responsive to light touch though there is a somewhat noticeable degree of travel. If you prefer the traditional “indented” shape of keys then you might not like the flat surface of the keys on the NR. The keyboard is quite solid with no flex whatsoever. Overall, if you can get used to the lack of dedicated keys and the shape of the keys themselves then you will find this keyboard a genuine joy to use.


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The touchpad is nice and large with a very usable and responsive surface. The mouse buttons are likewise nicely sized, the buttons have a reasonably deep feedback with noisy clicks. Along the top of the keyboard is a dedicated “AV Mode” quicklauch button that in theory lets you activate the media player functions without booting Windows. I had to say "in theory" because the AV Mode button didn’t work on our notebook. We updated the notebook with the latest software and drivers from Sony but every time we pressed the AV Mode button the notebook would just start Windows.

Input and Output Ports

Let’s take a quick tour around the port offerings of the VAIO NR:


Front side: Memory Stick reader, SD card reader, indicator lights, and WiFi on/off switch. (view large image)


Back side: Nothing except the battery, DC power jack, and the modem and Ethernet ports. (view large image)


Left side: Kensington lock slot, optical drive, and two USB 2.0 ports. (view large image)


Right side: ExpressCard 34 slot, two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire port, headphone and microphone jacks, VGA out, and heat vent. (view large image)

Why Sony included a separate reader for the MemoryStick Pro card and another reader for the SD card is likely one of those mysteries that will never be solved. Many notebooks save space and weight by providing a single 5-in-1 memory card slot that reads SD/xD/MMC/MemoryStick type cards. I can only guess that Sony wants to draw attention to their proprietary memory card format.

Audio

The VAIO NR has stereo sound via speakers located above the keyboard. With the speakers located on the top of the interior in this way they tend to direct the sound at you and make for a surprisingly enjoyable listening experience. While the built-in speakers aren’t the best that I’ve heard in a notebook of this size, they are certainly better than most notebooks of this size. The headphone jack is located on the right side (a less than ideal location for people who like to plug in external speakers and use an external mouse at the same time).

Heat and Noise

The VAIO NR runs extremely quiet with the 1.5GHz Core 2 Duo processor. The bottom side gets a bit warm, but temperatures remained comfortable enough to keep the NR on the lap. Temperatures are likely kept within acceptable limits thanks to a rather large heatsink visible through the vent on the side of the NR. Below are images with the temperatures listed in degrees Fahrenheit.

The system fan is quiet when running. You have to put your ear down at desk level to hear it over any other ambient noise in the room. Despite the lack of noise the fan pushes out a significant amount of heat … enough to make your hand uncomfortable if you put your left hand next to the vent during benchmarking.


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Battery

Sony claims the battery life of the standard 6-cell battery at 2.5-4.5 hours of use depending on how you use the notebook. During my test I obtained 3 hours and 2 minutes of battery life using the notebook at half screen brightness, wireless on, and a mixture of web browsing and idling. Clearly you would need to have the screen brightness turned even lower and do little more than let the notebook idle if you want to obtain the full 4.5 hours that Sony claims. You can get a large capacity battery for an advertised 4.0-7.5 hours of usage time unplugged, but the larger battery will add weight to the notebook.

One issue of note regarding the battery is the unusual amount of “battery wiggle” in our test unit, similar to what we found in the Sony VAIO CR. Even with the lock switch in the “locked” position the battery is loose in the back of the NR and makes an audible shaking sound as it moves inside the battery compartment. If the locking switch is set to the unlocked position the battery is so loose that you can accidentally disconnect the battery from the power connectors just by picking the notebook up and tilting it backward. This wouldn’t be an issue if the battery lock switch stayed in the locked position. Unfortunately, the lock switch has a tendency to easily slide into the unlocked position. This is an unacceptable design flaw because it means users can unintentionally power off the notebook while using it. The last thing you want is for your notebook to shutdown while you’re in the middle of typing an important document.

Conclusion

The Sony VAIO NR is a stylish, affordable notebook with a solid set of features that is sure to be appealing to college students or anyone looking for an attractive notebook on a budget. It features enough performance and build quality to keep most users happy. However, thanks to the non-functioning AV Mode, lack of dedicated media buttons, and what can only be called a “design flaw” regarding the battery, consumers might be able to find more attractive choices in the same price range.

Overall, the Sony VAIO NR is a genuinely impressive notebook for Sony, in no small part thanks to the low selling price. That said, there is room for improvement.

Pros

  • Very nice looks with a variety of colors you can choose
  • Acceptable Intel processors and up to 4GB of RAM provide plenty of system performance
  • Screen has excellent horizontal viewing angles
  • Solid build quality and sturdiness (with the exception of the battery)
  • Stays cool and makes little noise
  • Good keyboard with some exceptions (see below)

Cons

  • Unacceptable amount of battery wiggle (design flaw)
  • Too much bloatware installed
  • Screen has bad vertical viewing angles
  • Flat keyboard keys and lack of some dedicated keys
  • AV Mode doesn’t work


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