Sony's extensive family of Vaio laptops includes plenty of office-orientated systems. The recently launched BZ series comprises a pair of 15.4-inch Centrino 2 workhorses. We reviewed the most affordable BZ11MN model, which includes a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo P8400 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive for around £650. On paper, it sounds like good value for money -- but is it in reality?
As far as design is concerned, the BZ11MN lacks the glamour of some of the company's smaller, more consumer-friendly laptops. The mostly black outer shell is rescued from blandness by the Vaio branding, which stands out in reflective silver on the lid. A row of back-lit status icons along the front long edge add another splash of colour.
The BZ11MN might lack charm, but it feels very solid with its magnesium alloy chassis, which bodes well for its robustness on the road. This is no ultraportable though, and you may balk at carrying its 2.7kg on a day-to-day basis. The laptop's 15.4-inch screen ensures a sizeable footprint, but it's reasonably thin (30-37mm).
The hinge mechanism has plenty of tension except for the last few centimetres of descent, where the lid drops down with a thump. The tension returns when you try to raise the lid, though, and you'll need to hold the keyboard section down to stop it from simply following the lid as you pull it up. This could become irritating over time.
The screen is an anti-glare LCD with a matte finish, which is a welcome change from the shiny screens on Sony's consumer laptops. If you work outdoors, or with a light source to the rear, you'll appreciate the lack of reflectivity.
The display measures 15.4 inches across the diagonal and has a native resolution of 1,280x800 pixels. This should be enough to accommodate two document windows on-screen simultaneously, but it's a disappointingly low resolution.
Among the features in the more expensive BZ model -- the £748 BZ11XN - is a more acceptable 1,440x900-pixel resolution, plus an LED backlight for reduced power consumption. The XN model's screen also uses Sony's X-black layer for improved image clarity, however, which results in a more reflective screen.
The keyboard is very well constructed, with large and well-sprung keys that deliver a satisfying click when pressed. Touch typing at normal speeds is no problem at all.
A full-height row of number keys is topped by a half-height function key row. There's plenty of space for an set of inverted-T cursor controls on the right side of the keyboard. A large inverted-L-shaped Enter key helps boost typing speed too.
The touchpad is a wide-format unit with horizontal and vertical scrolling built into the bottom and right edges respectively. The left and right mouse buttons beneath the touchpad are large and click solidly when pressed.
Above the keyboard is a grille concealing a pair of stereo speakers. To the left of this grille, nestled in the corner, is a slider switch for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, a speaker mute button and a user-configurable shortcut button. Both BZ models include fingerprint reader, which sits on the top right of the keyboard area.
The Vaio VGN-BZ11MN is built around an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor running at 2.26GHz. With 2GB of RAM installed and a maximum of 4GB supported, the laptop is easily powerful enough to run the pre-installed operating system -- Windows Vista Business with Service Pack 1. The more expensive model, the BZ11XN, has the same CPU but comes with 3GB of RAM.
Graphics are handled by Intel's GMA 4500MHD, which is integrated in the Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset. Our review sample limits the available graphics memory, which is shared with system RAM, to a maximum of 780MB; the more expensive BZ11XN, which has 3GB of RAM, elevates the graphics complement to 1.3GB.
Intel's WiFi Link 5100 provides 802.11a, b, g and Draft-N wireless networking; Bluetooth (2.0 + EDR) is also integrated, and there's a 56Kbps modem too. There's no native support for 3G data communications, although this is easily added via a USB dongle. Gigabit Ethernet comes courtesy of Intel's 82567LM module.