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Review: Sony's Build-to-Order Vaio

Sony's build-to-order model of the Vaio has a lot to like, with a nice story for VARs meeting customer needs.

Built/Configured-to-Order, the VGN-BZ560 mixes the best of Vaio's consumer line, while adding the durability and performance most road warriors demand. With a weight of 5.8 pounds, it isn't among the lightest laptops available, but it isn't the heaviest we've used either.

The screen's hinge spins around the tubular back of the unit, with the power adapter jack and power switch on either end of the tube. A glowing green light within the power button doubles as an indicator when the computer is on. The hinge has a nice stiffness to it; not too difficult to move, but firm enough to keep the screen at whatever angle you choose.

The magnesium alloy case is a sleek, matte black, with the signature Vaio logo embossed in mirrored chrome behind the screen, which is a 15.4-inch, widescreen XBRITE-ECO LCD. The display offers a bright, clear picture with its standard 1280 by 800 resolution (an optional display is available at 1440 by 900).

The BZ560's spill-resistant keyboard is one of the best we've seen from Sony (or any other manufacturer), rivaling IBM/Lenovo with full-sized keys that have a nice, solid, tactile feel and just enough of a click to let you know when a key has been pressed.

Using Intel's Centrino 2 (aka Montevino) line of processors, the BZ560 comes with a Windows Vista Business license that can also be downgraded to Windows XP Professional. Our evaluation unit was built with the T9400 processor at 2.53GHz and 2GB of RAM, running Vista.

With this configuration, the Vaio scored a respectable 2709 on Primate Labs' Geekbench2 benchmarking tests. In addition, the unit is one of the coolest notebooks we've seen, with the hottest spot measuring only 88 degrees Fahrenheit after being on for a few hours.

Sony rates the estimated battery life with the standard capacity battery at 2 to 5 hours. This is a pretty broad range, although we suspect 5 hours is possible if the planets are aligned just right. Our battery life test consisted of continuously playing a movie in Windows Media Player, with all power saving settings turned off. The movie played for 1 hour and 48 minutes before the unit died. Under normal usage, with typical power settings, the standard battery will probably last between 2 and 3 hours. A large capacity battery is also available with a rated life of 3 to 7.5 hours.

About the only major downside we found with this notebook was its charge time. It took almost 4.5 hours to charge a completely drained battery to 100 percent (while in use). This is a disproportionate amount of time, considering the short length of usage.

Boot time was extremely quick, with Vista completely loaded in just under a minute. This is at least partially due to Sony's almost complete elimination of pre-installed software. Except for QuickBooks Simple Start 2008, a few AOL applications, the trial version of Windows Live OneCare and a 60 day trial of MS Office Small Business 2007, there are no extraneous applications. The only other hint of revenue generation is an AOL branded IE7, with AOL Toolbar and a few easily deleted (if desired) AOL shortcuts on the desktop.

Other features include a shock prevention sensor to protect the HDD from damage, a Gigabyte Ethernet port and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, a webcam and microphone, integrated stereo speakers, a fingerprint reader, various card readers, and a user configurable "shortcut" button.

Overall, there is a lot to like about the BZ series. The beautiful display and fantastic keyboard make it comfortable to use, and the Centrino 2 processor gives it the power to stand up to most business users' needs. Unfortunately the short battery life almost necessitates buying at least one spare, but that seems to be the case with many notebooks in this class.

Additionally, Sony's decision to offer the model on a Configure-to-Order basis allows VARs and their customers the opportunity to get exactly what they need, without paying for features they won't use. Pricing for the VGN-BZ560 starts at just under $1,000, and Sony offers trade-in programs that can be applied to the purchase price.

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