It is when we get to the internals that we start spotting differences between the NS30E/S and its cheaper VAIO sibling. While the NS20 came with a 2.16GHz dual-core Intel Pentium with a 667MHz front-side bus, the NS30 features a 2.0GHz Intel Pentium T4200 with a faster 800MHz front-side bus. Thus, while the core clock speed on this system is slower, its faster front-side bus should cancel the difference out. In our testing we found the disparity to be pretty negligible.
You still get 3GB of RAM, which is about all the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Premium can handle anyway, but it's now running at 800MHz to match the front-side bus. Disappointingly, the graphics are still reliant on Intel's integrated Express 4 series chipset, whose frugalness ensures good battery life but means even remotely demanding games are out of the question. Likewise, the hard drive is still a 250GB 5,400 model, and Bluetooth hasn't made the grade either. Wi-Fi is up to Draft N, which is no less than we would expect at this price.
Battery life is excellent for this form factor, with the Sony managing just less than five hours in the low-intensity Reader test and four hours 20 minutes in the multi-tasking Productivity segment. Since it uses the same 4,400mAh (49Wh) battery as the NS20E/S, the extra 10 to 15 minutes are solely due to architectural changes.
Value is where the NS30E/S falls down, though. Just £50 onto its cheapest £550 price online (or the exact-same amount Sony sells it at direct) will get you a Dell Studio 15 laptop with an LED backlit display, a Core 2 Duo processor, discrete graphics, more RAM with a 64-bit version of Vista to utilise it and a larger hard drive, not to mention niceties like a 54mm ExpressCard slot, HDMI and eSATA. Moreover, if you'd rather buy from a retailer, there are many similarly priced systems that offer a greater variety of features.
Another compelling alternative, especially for the budget conscious, is the Samsung R522. It's now on sale for just £515 and has similar strengths to the Sony, including good battery life, an outstanding keyboard and attractive design, but costs less.
Finally, for those who absolutely must have the VAIO name plastered across their laptop's lid or who are after longer battery life, there's still Sony VAIO VGN-NS20E/S, which offers a very similar experience to its more expensive sibling in an identical wrapping. In time it's likely it will disappear in favour of this model, but until it does there's little reason to opt for this system over it, since £100 nets you little performance gain and no extra features.
Sony's VAIO VGN-NS30E/S might have class-leading battery life for its form factor, but with the physically-identical NS20E not far behind there's little reason to spend the extra £100 it demands until it comes down in price to match. If battery life is not that important, meanwhile, there are many more feature-rich offerings available at this price point.