Except for an abrupt keystroke and uninspired sound, the Sony VGN-NR485 has few flaws. It performs well, looks handsome, and comes fairly loaded for a laptop that you can snag for well under US$1000.
A Windows Vista Home Premium laptop powered by a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T5750 and 2GB of RAM, the VGN-NR485 bagged a respectable WorldBench 6 score of 75. That's pretty solid performance for a laptop that stands among the cheapest machines on our current Top 10 All-Purpose Laptops chart (as of 10/29/08). It sells for $849 ($200 more than Toshiba's bargain-basement Satellite Pro L300D-EZ1001V, which the Sony bested by roughly 20 points in WorldBench 6 tests). It has the speed to handle almost any kind of application. The only performance problem we encountered was in our 3D gaming tests, which the VGN-NR485 couldn't run because of its lousy integrated Intel graphics chip.
The 6.2-pound laptop managed to last long enough in our battery life tests. It fell just short of 4 hours (3 hours, 56 minutes), ranking toward the top of the leaderboard. Surpassing this value unit was Lenovo's ThinkPad SL400, which costs $1223 and has an optional high-powered battery; it lasted 5 hours, 8 minutes in our tests as a result of the add-on.
As for features, the 14.2-by-10.6-by-1.5-inch VGN-NR485 packs a fair amount of punch, including dedicated front-mounted SD and Memory Stick slots, four USB ports, and an ExpressCard/34 slot. Typical for a sub-$1000 laptop, the optical drive is a standard (not high-definition) DVD burner. Beneath the stylish navy blue waffle exterior lies an impressively large 200GB hard drive. You can't reach it for upgrades, but barring a failure you shouldn't need to replace it. Though the 15.4-inch screen has a high-gloss finish that tends to reflect overhead lights, it's very bright and has an easy-to-read 1280-by-800-pixel resolution.
The keyboard is a matter of taste. If you can ignore the somewhat short stroke, it's comfortable, featuring keys with spacious flat tops. You also get two reprogrammable shortcut buttons, a mute button, and an A/V-mode button that launches the Windows Media menu.
The stereo speakers don't sound very good, not surprising for a Sony notebook. The volume is serviceable for low-key music and system sounds, but the bass tones are almost nonexistent. Don't leave home without your headphones.
One other small complaint: The on-screen manual, while thorough, doesn't link the laptop's labeled parts. Instead of being able to click on a label, you must type the part's name (for example, the A/V-mode button) into the search box to read a description. Pretty lame, but a minor issue.
If keeping to a budget is your top concern, these are small concessions to make. A solid performer with all the most important connections, loads of storage, and an eye-catching dark-blue finish, the Sony VGN-NR485 is a sweet little deal for the under-$1000 crowd.