Getting onto connectivity we encounter our first major disappointment: analogue VGA is the only type of video output you'll find here, with no sign of digital HDMI. Since the latter is a connection that's found on most consumer laptops (even ones around the £400 mark), its omission here is difficult to forgive.
Together with the VGA port we find headphone and microphone jacks, two USB ports and a mini-FireWire port on the VAIO's left. There's also an ExpressCard slot of the thinner 34mm variety, with a great little flap to keep the dust out - a much better solution than the easily-lost placeholders found in most other laptops.
Along the front is a wireless switch, SD card reader and separate reader for Sony's somewhat unpopular proprietary Memory Stick format. There are also three LED indicators for power, battery life and hard drive activity that are plainly visible with the laptop closed. On the right there are a further two USB ports and the DVD-writer, while the back houses modem, Gigabit Ethernet and power connections.
Another area where there has been some obvious cost-cutting is in processing power. Rather than the Core 2 CPUs we're used to seeing, Sony has used the older Mobile Pentium T3400. This dual-core processor still runs at a relatively nippy 2.16GHz, but less cache, a slower 667MHz front-side bus and a less efficient architecture mean performance isn't as impressive as lower-clocked Core 2 Duos. Still, it should handle the average user's demands with ease.
Since the NS20 comes with the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Premium pre-installed, the provided 3GB of RAM is as much as the system can use. Likewise the 250GB hard drive is about what you'd expect at this price point. Though there's no Bluetooth, Wi-Fi is surprisingly up to Draft-N standard and there's also a 1.3 megapixel webcam to take care of video chatting.
Graphics are handled by an integrated Intel Express 4 series chipset, so the poor score of 12.7fps in TrackMania Nations Forever (on medium detail at the screen's native resolution of 1,280 x 800) is not unexpected. Basically, you won't be able to run any but the most basic games on this Sony.
Unlike the latest laptops, the NS20 still employs a 16:10 aspect display. In this instance it's a 15.4in display with a typical 1,280 x 800 native resolution and it's a pretty good effort, too. If you can get past the reflections, the glossy finish does lend a hint of extra verve to colours and manages to make blacks appear slightly deeper. Other positives of the display include even backlighting and reasonable colour fidelity, though viewing angles could be better, being shallow enough to make it difficult for more than two people to view the screen at once.
Audio, on the other hand, leaves more to be desired. Though the speakers go up to high volume levels, strong distortion means they aren't usable at anything above medium. Even at lower levels audio lacks clarity and a severe bass deficiency leaves relevant material sounding decidedly tinny.