Sony VAIO laptops are often seen as premium products, but the company is increasingly releasing a number of entry-level machines, such as the Sony VAIO VGN-NR31J/S (£500 inc. VAT).

The first thing you'll notice about this laptop is its appearance, as it's quite a striking machine.

The chassis is made from plastic, but Sony has added a ribbed design. It looks good and also gives it a more tactile feel.

The build quality is certainly high, as it feels tough to the touch and we found it could be carried around without feeling as though it would get damaged. The screen is held firmly in place and, overall, we were more than satisfied with the quality on offer for the price.

Gaming abilities

The keyboard is large and sits in the middle of the case. In comparison to many rivals, it's an incredibly spacious keyboard. The keys are firm and feel solid as you type. However, they have a long travel, which means the action is spongy. You'll find yourself having to strike each key quite hard for them to register.

The display is a 15.4-inch Super-TFT screen that Sony refers to as X-Black technology. It's a bright display, even when running on battery life.

If you're looking for a machine to handle gaming duties, you'll like the use of the nVidia GeForce 8400M GT. This is a mid-level GPU that will run the latest crop of games with a fair degree of success. You'll also find that it will handle video and image editing duties with ease.

Dual-core chip

However, it's not all good news, as in order to keep costs down, you won't find the most cutting-edge of specifications on offer. Instead, Sony has opted for an Intel Pentium Dual Core processor.

As the name implies, this is a dual-core chip. With a slower bus and clock speed, this is a budget chip intended to replace the Celeron M CPU.

When it came to performance, we found this machine offered reasonable power for daily use, but the MobileMark 2007 score of 77, which is remarkably low, highlights that it's not really intended for high-end use.

Basic features

In terms of features, there is enough here to make this a desktop replacement. However, you won't find anything out of the ordinary fitted.

There is a DVD rewriter and the standard array of ports. Wi-Fi and fixed Ethernet use the current base standards, which is fine for most homes.

The Sony VAIO VGN-NR31J/S is something of a mixed bag. We liked the build quality and style of the machine, which is great. We even like the screen and use of a dedicated graphics card. However, overall performance is lacking and the rather awkward keyboard makes it less than an ideal choice.