The hard drive on the BZ11MN is a shock-protected 160GB SATA unit spinning at 5,400rpm; the high-end BZ11XN model has a 200GB drive. There's a good range of ports and connectors around the edges of the laptop.
On the front edge are separate readers for Memory Stick and SD-compatible flash memory cards. The front edge also contains 3.5mm jacks for microphone and headphones. The left edge has a single Type II PC card slot, a USB 2.0 connector and a VGA-out port. On the right edge is a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connector, two further USB 2.0 ports plus the Ethernet (RJ-45) and modem (RJ-11) connectors.
The two USB ports on this edge are very close to each other, and it may be difficult to use them both at once. Our own 3G modem dongle (a Vodafone USB Stick) obscures the port next to it for all but the smallest of connectors, for example.
Both laptops have an optical drive, located on the right-hand side. Our review sample had a fixed-position 1.3-megapixel camera, which is suitable for use in video conferencing -- although we always prefer cameras with a swivel mechanism. The preinstalled ArcSoft WebCam software allows you to capture stills and video, edit media files and use the camera for motion detection.
In typical Sony style, there's an awful lot of preloaded software, including Skype, which can be used for video conferencing as well as audio-only calls over Wi-Fi. Google's Picasa and Adobe's Photoshop Elements 6 are here too, as is Acrobat 8 Standard, Acrobat Distiller, Google Desktop, Google Earth, Google Talk, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007 plus a link to eBay on the desktop and a full copy of Microsoft Works.
Sony claims 3.5 hours of life from the supplied Li-ion battery. Anecdotally, we easily managed half a day's work on battery power, with heavy Internet use over Wi-Fi during that period. A full day's work will almost certainly require access to mains power at some point, which shouldn't generally be a problem for a 2.7kg machine that's likely to spend most of its time on the desktop.
The Windows Experience Index (WEI) rating of 3.4 (out of 5.9) puts the Vaio VGN BZ11MN towards the top end of the Windows Vista laptops we have reviewed to date.
The overall WEI rating corresponds to the lowest component score rather than an average. For the BZ11MN, that is Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) -- perhaps not surprising given the system's integrated graphics. Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) got 3.6, while the other three elements all scored over 5: RAM (memory operations per second) 5.1, Processor (calculations per second) 5.2 and Primary hard disk (disk data transfer rate) 5.3.
The Vaio VGN-BZ11MN is a cost-effective workhorse of an office laptop, whose integrated webcam could prove to be a boon for professionals who like to keep in touch with a set of distributed contacts. We like the manual switch for wireless networking, and the keyboard is good enough to allow fast touch typing.
There are some definite budget elements to this laptop, however. The screen resolution is lower than we would like, for example, and there aren't enough USB ports.
Build quality is solid, but the design uninspiring -- which is a surprise coming from Sony. And for a laptop aimed squarely at office use, we're puzzled by the enormous amount of preinstalled software. Some of it will be welcome, but many customers would prefer to have it on CD, available to install if it's required.
If you opt for the more expensive £748 BZ11XN model, you'll get a higher-resolution LED-backlit screen, 3GB of RAM and a 200GB hard disk.
Edited by Marian Smith