Sony VAIO VGN-N170G
At a Glance
Sony VAIO N170GT Notebook
This inexpensive, stylish notebook has modest processing power but lacks a user-upgradable hard drive.
Sony's N-series consumer notebook has a cool, minimalist look that would fit perfectly in a modern living room or office. This portable is a fine choice when your budget is modest but you don't want your laptop to look like it.
Available in white, black, and Wenge brown (named after an African wood), the N series is a budget line that uses last year's Core Duo chip instead of the Core 2 Duo, so it lags behind other new notebooks in performance. The creamy-white Sony VAIO VGN-N170G that we reviewed had a 1.6-GHz Core Duo T2050 processor and 1GB of DDR2-533 SDRAM. With a WorldBench 5 score of 85, it ranked below average among currently tested all-purpose notebooks, but its speed is fine for mainstream tasks. The VGN-N170G lacks a dedicated video card, relying on integrated graphics instead; our test unit stopped dead in its tracks both times trying to play Far Cry and Doom 3.
The battery life of our test unit's 4400-mAH battery was perfectly fine at 3.8 hours. Sony sells a $299, large-capacity, 7800-mAh battery (which the company says is meant to last 1.5 times as long as the standard battery) if you wish to work unplugged longer.
Since we tested the VGN-N170G, Sony has upgraded the N series with 1.73-GHz and 1.83-GHz Core Duo--but not Core 2 Duo--processors. Our review model's configuration, priced at $1100 (as of 1/17/07), is no longer available on Sony's Web site; however, N-series prices are still reasonable, ranging from $980 to $1150.
The 15.4-inch screen shows bright colors and crisp text, yet you can view it from most angles thanks to an antireflective coating laid over the glossy display. The WXGA resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels is standard for this screen size and easy on the eyes for almost any type of work.
The keyboard matches the white lid and contrasts nicely with the silver casing, with black and orange lettering that really pops out on the white keys. Although the keystroke is a bit short at 2.5mm, the keys are spaced slightly farther apart than standard with a 19.05mm pitch, allowing extraflat tops for comfortable typing. In keeping with the price and minimalist design, however, the laptop has no shortcut, volume, or application quick-launch buttons of any kind, which some people might miss.
Our test unit came with the Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system, but it did not include a TV tuner or remote control for taking full advantage of the entertainment applications. The stereo speakers were disappointing, too. I would expect such design decisions in a budget notebook, however.
The quality of the rest of the components--including a dual-layer DVD burner; separate Memory Stick, SD, and ExpressCard/34 card slots; a FireWire port; and built-in Wi-Fi wireless communications--is solid. Bluetooth is an ExpressCard option.
Unfortunately, the VGN-N170G has a sealed hard drive. The 100GB drive in our test model should be big enough to keep most people happy for the life of the notebook--but if it fails, you'll have to go without your laptop until a service center can install a new one. The two 512MB memory chips, thankfully, are user accessible.
If style is important to you, the Sony N series is worth a look for mainstream computing, particularly given the price.