Sony's VAIO laptops are sometimes seen as offering something a little more than your average Windows notebook. And one of the additions, aside from more software bloat than just about any other vendor we test, is found in the bottom line.

In recent months we've tested Sony laptops pegged at £850 (for a netbook...!), £1,270, £1,420, £1,950, and even £2,500. So we strived to see what Sony could do for under £500 - and discovered the Sony VAIO NS20.

At £479, the Sony VAIO VGN-NS20 is a replacement for the NS10 we reviewed in March this year.

Like that starter model, the Sony VAIO VGN-NS20 features a plastic construction, all industrial-cloth-textured on lid and around the keyboard area, and finished in silver paint. It feels reasonably solid and chunky but not especially light at over 2.7kg.

To the left we have two USB, a mini FireWire port, ExpressCard|34 and audio ins and outs. There's a video output here too, although limited to VGA analogue. On the right of the Sony VAIO VGN-NS20 are two more USB and a tray-loading dual-layer DVD drive. An ethernet port and modem reside at the back below the lefthand screen hinge, while on the front lip are card slots for standard SD cards and Sony's proprietary MemorySticks.

We found the Sony VAIO VGN-NS20's keyboard action and that of the touchpad and click buttons hearteningly comfortable to use. The latter buttons, for example, fell easily below the thumb and had a soft but positive click to use.

Since these are all make-or-break interface points, the Sony VAIO VGN-NS20 earns praise for getting the basics right here. The 15in LCD screen, meanwhile, suffered from the usual gloss sheen issues but was held good contrast and brightness.

Inside the Sony VAIO VGN-NS20 we have the same low-power Intel graphics chipset, a 250GB hard drive and 3GB RAM.

The principal update comes in the shape of a later generation Intel 2GHz CPU, helping the Sony VAIO VGN-NS20 turn in a good WorldBench 6 score of 79 points. Battery life measured by MobileMark 2007 Productivity was ranked adequate at around 3 hours 20 minutes (203 mins).


Sony has built a solid and decently specified 15in laptop for £479. It may lack the niceties of Bluetooth and digital video out, but the Sony VAIO VGN-NS20 is powerful enough to be used for more creative purposes than any low-cost netbook. It would be a sound choice for anyone looking for an affordable but comfortable-to-use laptop.