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Internally the NW11 is no slouch, bringing together a powerful set of components. Admittedly the Intel Core 2 Duo T6500, which runs at 2.1GHz on an 800MHz FSB with 2MB L2 Cache, isn't as fast as Intel's latest offerings, but it's still very capable and it's matched to 4GB of DDR2 RAM and a 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570.
It's the latter that's particularly important, since it means you can play moderately demanding games on the NW11 quite easily. In Track Mania Nations we managed to crank things up to high detail and still get a playable 33.3 frames per second, while adding 4x anti-aliasing and switching to medium detail produced a silky smooth 46.3fps. It's just a shame the provided Windows install isn't 64-bit, rendering a portion of the system memory redundant. Still, it's a problem that could be solved by going 64-bit when Windows 7 arrives.
For storage there's a 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive, which is about what you'd expect and more than sufficient for most needs. Draft-N Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth are all present, too, so the NW11S ticks most of the boxes where basic features are concerned. While this version comes with a DVD writer, a Blu-ray ROM/DVD-RW combo drive version is also available, though given the lack of a Full HD display option we'd advise against it unless you absolutely must have Blu-ray.
Since we're on the topic of the display, Sony describes this as a 15.5in laptop - not 15.6in like everyone else. We're not sure whether there's a real physical difference or whether Sony is just being perverse (more on the latter), but it has the same 16:9 aspect, 1,366 x 768 native resolution as every other laptop of its type, so the argument is moot. And, while the 'X-Black' finish has always been 90 per cent canny marketing and 10 per cent truth, the NW11 does deliver richer colours and deeper blacks than many. This makes it an above average effort, but on the other hand viewing angles are narrower than some contemporaries, so it's not the best laptop for watching a DVD with a few friends.
If there's a chink in the NW11's multimedia amour, however, it really lies with the speakers. Unlike the similarly priced and featured Dell Studio 1555, the NW11 doesn't have a mid-range woofer, so relies entirely on a couple of largely underpowered speakers. These are passable for the occasional online video and might even suffice for a TV show, but they're too tinny and lacking in body for anything more serious.